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First thoughts: Unemployment at 9.5%

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Unemployment at 9.5%: Right before the long July 4th weekend, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy lost 467,000 jobs in June, and that the unemployment rate is now 9.5%, a 26-year high. Expect Republicans -- once again -- to pounce on these numbers and question the stimulus (but they're also forgetting that the economy lost 3.1 million jobs in Bush's last year in office; in Obama's first five months, the total loss has been 1.9 million). Not surprisingly, of course, Obama will today talk about jobs, innovation, and the economy at 2:20 pm ET. These remarks will follow a closed-press meeting with business leaders. Later in the afternoon, the president departs to Camp David to begin his July 4th holiday.

*** Home cookin' at the town hall? Did the White House get a tad carried away in its attempt to stay on message at yesterday's town hall? Says the Washington Post, "Of the seven questions the president answered, four were selected by his staff from videos submitted to the White House Web site or from those responding to a request for 'tweets.' The president called randomly on three audience members. All turned out to be members of groups with close ties to his administration: the Service Employees International Union, Health Care for America Now, and Organizing for America, which is a part of the Democratic National Committee. White House officials said that was a coincidence." Then again, Republicans who are pouncing on this news have probably forgotten when only party faithful were even allowed into Bush town halls and rallies. Still, the optics here for Obama -- someone who usually doesn't shy away from answering tough questions -- aren't good. For those complaining that Obama is being held to a different standard than Bush, remember that he set his own standard, and that's why the media is pushing back so hard on him.

*** Operations Khanjar (Strike of the Sword): According to NBC's Jim Miklaszewski, the U.S. Marines announced last night that 4,000 Marines and 650 Afghan military launched a major offensive in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan -- aimed at driving out the Taliban to "secure the population from the threat of Taliban and other insurgent intimidation and violence." It is the first large-scale operation of its kind under the new emerging U.S. military strategy for Afghanistan. Unlike previous operations in the country, Mik says, the Marines intend to set up a series of bases and remain in Helmand. The objective is to create long-term security and stability that will enable the local Afghans to establish legitimate government. In other Afghanistan news, Mik reports that American officials believe that the Taliban has kidnapped a U.S. soldier in another part of that country.

*** North Korea and Russia: But Afghanistan isn't the only international issue the White House is closely following today. Also on its radar screen is a potential North Korea missile launch tied to July 4. "Asked if North Korea is likely to conduct a July 4 Taepodong-2 test, as occurred in 2006, Gen. Renuart said in an interview this week with The [Washington] Times at Northern Command headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, 'I think we ought to assume there might be one on the Fourth of July and continue to be prepared and ready.'" And then there's Obama's upcoming trip to Russia. The Wall Street Journal writes, "Obama will explore with Russian leaders a longstanding proposal by Moscow to install U.S. missile-defense components on Russian soil, aimed at growing threats such as the Iranian and North Korean missile programs. The White House and Kremlin do expect progress on negotiations to reduce strategic nuclear warheads to about 1,500 for each side." Bottom line on the Kremlin visit: If the Russians insist missile defense needs to be a part of the nuke talks rather than a parallel discussion, then it'll be hard to call this part of the trip a success.

*** 2009 vs. 1993-1994: The narrow passage of the House energy bill had many Republicans drawing parallels to 1993-994, when contentious legislation (BTU, gas-tax increase) helped the GOP take back control of Congress. But there's one big difference between then and now: Back in 1994, Democrats had controlled the House of Representatives since the 1950s; now they've controlled it for less than three years. The energy vote victory, National Journal's Ron Brownstein writes, "suggests that Democrats learned something from their 12 years in the minority, when they watched narrower Republican House majorities, however reluctantly, surmount their differences to pass almost all of their party's agenda. 'The example of 1994 looms over everything," says White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. 'We learned that if we don't hang together, we die separately. It brought unity and pragmatism to the party.'" One could argue Rahm lives by the following credo: WDCDin'94 (What Did Clinton Do In '94?), and then he advises the president to do the opposite. Speaking of '94, Politico notes that several members of that GOP freshmen class (Sanford, Ensign) have been caught up in affairs or sex scandals. 

*** The GOP's brand problem: This Washington Post piece has a fascinating take on why Norm Coleman lost to Al Franken: It's all about the Republican Party's brand. "[S]ome Republican strategists said the Coleman defeat ought to generate a broader reexamination of the party's status rather than simply a review of its legislative tactics. 'For [Coleman] to lose to Al Franken has to be a wake-up call to Republicans that the brand is what brought Coleman down,' GOP strategist John Feehery said. 'Hopefully that will spark a bigger strategic discussion about how to prevent the brand from bringing other people down.'" In 2010, we'll get some good tests about the state of the GOP brand in the Ohio (Rob Portman) and Missouri (Roy Blunt) Senate races. 
 
*** My Bodyguard (or not): Will the drip-drip end up being South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's undoing? Earlier this week, of course, Sanford gave that bizarre interview to the AP, in which he admitted more contacts with his Argentine mistress than he previously revealed, and then said he had "crossed the lines" with other women. (The interview became more damaging when the audio was released. It was one thing for folks to read the excerpts; it was another to listen to Sanford.) Now comes a report from the State newspaper noting that Sanford left the governor's mansion without a security escort 38 times in 2008, and 39 times in the first six months of this year. "Those trips are about one-third of the 195 trips Sanford made from the mansion, with or without security, over that 18-month period… The information was obtained from security logs provided to The State newspaper under open-records laws." 

*** Happy Fourth of July: Finally, we won't be publishing our morning note tomorrow, although we'll update the Web site as news warrants. We'll see you bright and early Monday morning. Have a happy and safe holiday. And for some good holiday reading, check out this Wall Street Journal story about cracking Thomas Jefferson's code. "For more than 200 years, buried deep within Thomas Jefferson's correspondence and papers, there lay a mysterious cipher -- a coded message that appears to have remained unsolved. Until now…" Could this be the next plotline for Nicholas Cage? 

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 124 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 488 days

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