President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will travel to South Africa next week to pay tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, the White House confirmed Friday.
“President Obama and the First Lady will go to South Africa next week to pay their respects to the memory of Nelson Mandela and to participate in memorial events,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
The White House said further details of the visit will be announced later.
Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95.
In remarks at the White House Thursday evening, Obama called the former South African president an inspiration to the world.
“He achieved more than could be expected of any man,” he said. “Today, he has gone home. And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us -- he belongs to the ages.”
Mandela’s funeral is set to be held on Sunday, December 15.
NBC News: "World leaders, politicians, celebrities and public figures all across the globe mourned the passing of Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist and South Africa's first black president, who died Thursday at home at the age of 95. Statements on his passing poured in from around the world, with President Barack Obama at the White House saying he was one of the countless millions of people who drew inspiration from Mandela's life and his 'fierce dignity.' 'He achieved more than could be expected of any man," Obama said, visibly emotional. 'Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us,' he added, referring to Mandela by his affectionately used clan name."
Gallup: “After two months of glitches with the new federal healthcare website and attempts to fix it, the percentage of Americans who prefer that Congress scale back or entirely repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or ‘Obamacare,’ has changed little. Fifty-two percent favor scaling back (20%) or repealing (32%) the law, similar to the 50% from mid-October.”
Another Gallup point: “President Barack Obama's job approval rating averaged 41% in November, down 12 percentage points from 53% last December, his high-water mark since his first year in office. Hispanics' approval has dropped 23 points over the last 12 months, the most among major subgroups, and nearly twice the national average.”
MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin: "In a reflective mood Thursday, President Barack Obama spoke candidly to msnbc’s Chris Matthews about the challenges of being commander in chief and the legacy he will leave behind. Above all, he urged young people not to lose faith in the notion that government could genuinely improve Americans’ lives. 'The interesting thing about now having been president for five years is it makes you humbler as opposed to cockier about what you as an individual can do,” Obama said. “You recognize that you’re just part of the sweep of history and your job really is to push the boulder up the hill a little bit before somebody pushes it up a little further and the task never stops at perfecting our union.”
Politico: “Washington has tried very hard this year to crush the economy with debt ceiling fights, clumsy budget cuts, a government shutdown and complete legislative gridlock. It does not appear to be working. Nearly every recent report shows an economy picking up at least a little speed heading into 2014: The jobless rate is falling, house prices are rising, the stock market is soaring and overall economic growth just handily beat expectations. Friday’s employment report is expected to show another gain of somewhere close to 200,000 jobs, suggesting the economy has shrugged off the most recent Beltway blows.”
The National Archives released more RFK files yesterday. It is 26 boxes and 7,500 pages of “memos, correspondence, reports, and notes from Robert F. Kennedy’s participation in White House meetings,” the Boston Globe writes.
The minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, dating back to 1938.
Today's minimum wage is on par with what it has been, adjusted for inflation, over the last 20 years. But the flattening of the minimum wage is part of a generational decline.
In short, as fast-food workers protest their wages today across the country and urge a minimum-wage increase, public policy has not kept up with how much things cost.
The minimum wage peaked in 1968. Even though it was just $1.60, it had the buying power today of $10.74. But from then on, despite the raw minimum wage being increased 14 times, it has not kept pace with inflation.
Someone working full time - 40 hours a week - at the minimum wage today of $7.25 an hour, would make just $15,080 for the year.
In his State of the Union in February, President Obama called for a minimum-wage hike to $9 an hour, declaring, "Let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty."
The government considers any individual making less than $11,490 a year to be in poverty. A single mother supporting two children, however, would be considered poor if she made less than $19,350 a year, certainly below the minimum wage.
Even at $9 an hour, she would only make $18,720 for the year.
The minimum wage back to its federally mandated inception in 1938 side by side with what that amount would be in 2013 terms.
President Obama plays Hardball tonight and then hosts Hannukah receptions at the White House.
The Hill looks at the potential problem of young people not signing up for the health-care law.
National Journal also notes that “white women” have soured on the law in the past month: “Polling provided to National Journal by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that white women have soured considerably on the law, especially in the month since its botched rollout. The skepticism runs especially deep among blue-collar women, sometimes known as “waitress moms,” whose deeply pessimistic attitudes toward the Affordable Care Act should riddle Democratic candidates with anxiety.”
USA Today: “The 20 states choosing not to expand Medicaid will lose billions of dollars in federal funds, according to a new study released Thursday. By 2022, Texas could lose $9.2 billion by not expanding Medicaid as allowed under the Affordable Care Act, while Florida could lose $5 billion over that period, the study conducted by The Commonwealth Fund shows. Commonwealth was founded in 1918 to improve health services for Americans.”
USA Today: “The number of visitors to the HealthCare.gov website Wednesday hit 310,000 by noon, an 80% increase from the same day last week, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.”
Politico: “The U.S. has transferred two Guantanamo prisoners to their home country of Algeria, rejecting pleas from the men that they not be released because they were likely to be tortured or mistreated in that country.”
Former President George H.W. Bush, who loves his socks, wore a pair yesterday adorning his own face.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell talks to "Outside" magazine about her experiences inside and outside of the office. She's climbed Antarctica's Vinson Massif and summated Mount Rainier seven times, but now she faces a very different uphill climb--a hostile Congress, recent government shutdown and President Obama's wavering commitment to environmental issues. But, as Obama notes, "For Sally, the toughest part of this job will probably be sitting behind a desk."
Obama will talk about income inequality today. He won’t call for new policy initiatives, but he will again stress the importance of raising the minimum wage – as there is a renewed fight going on about that in Congress – and he will again tout the economic benefits of the Affordable Care Act.
After his speech at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, the president holds another health-care event, what the White House is calling a “Youth Summit.” For the Affordable Care Act to work the way it is intended White House officials have said they need a ratio of one young and healthy person to sign up for every three older and sicker people.
Gallup: “Most Americans who currently lack insurance say they are likely to get it for next year, as required by the 2010 Affordable Care Act… But a substantial minority, currently 28%, say they are more likely to pay the government fine imposed for not having insurance.” Incredibly, the biggest difference isn’t by age, it’s by party: “45% of uninsured Republicans plan to pay the fine, compared with 31% of independents and 15% of Democrats.”
Bill Clinton explained his comments last month about President Obama and health care in an interview with CNN Espanol: “I was trying to be supportive of it. I don’t think you can find anybody in America who has worked harder for (Obama’s) re-election or supported this bill or went out of his way to explain the bill to the American people more than I did.” He added, “"I've got a lot at stake here personally. And the work I have done for health care and the work I've tried to support and the support I've tried to give the President - and Hillary does, too. We've been working on this health care thing for 20 years."
The L.A. Times after yesterday’s Obama health-care event: “The White House's renewed effort to tout the law has two aims: to encourage Americans to sign up for coverage and to reassure nervous Democratic lawmakers and other allies who have watched Obama's so-far unsuccessful efforts to contain the political damage.”
The New York Times notes the location Obama is doing his event today – Anacostia in Southeast DC, one of the most impoverished and hard-hit sections in America: “Mr. Obama chose an arts and education town-hall-style meeting in the Anacostia neighborhood of Southeast Washington to lay out his proposals. The location symbolizes his message: Federal and local governments, corporations, foundations and philanthropists shared the $27 million cost of the community campus, which is intended to help residents seeking to escape poverty.” More: “The prospects for Mr. Obama’s aspirations in his final three years is hardly promising. His speech on Wednesday comes at the close of a year in which none of his other economic legislative initiatives have made it through Congress.”
Vice President Biden’s meeting with China’s Xi lasted an hour longer than scheduled, “but they've made no public comments about a new Chinese air defense zone that’s become a major friction point in Asia,” AP notes. Biden and Xi have another meeting and working dinner scheduled today.
As the U.S. deals with a growingly bold and confident China, Pew finds that Americans see the country’s power in decline: “For the first time in surveys dating back nearly 40 years, a majority (53%) says the United States plays a less important and powerful role as a world leader than it did a decade ago.” More: “An even larger majority says the U.S. is losing respect internationally. Fully 70% say the United States is less respected than in the past, which nearly matches the level reached late in former President George W. Bush’s second term (71% in May 2008). Early last year, fewer Americans (56%) thought that the U.S. had become less respected globally.”
And by a 56%-34% margin, Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of foreign policy. There’s also a growing isolationism, but not when it comes to economics: “Currently, 52% say the United States ‘should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.’ Just 38% disagree with the statement. This is the most lopsided balance in favor of the U.S. “minding its own business” in the nearly 50-year history of the measure.” But: “Fully 77% say that growing trade and business ties between the United States and other countries are either very good (23%) or somewhat good (54%) for the U.S. Just 18% have a negative view. Support for increased trade and business connections has increased 24 points since 2008, during the economic recession.”
Americans want to give the recent U.S. deal with Iran a chance before passing new sanctions and are opposed to military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program, a poll conducted by Hart Research for liberal group Americans United for Chance. (Hart Research is the Democratic half of the NBC/WSJ poll.) Here's the full poll.
By a 34-22 percent margin, people are in favor of the Iran deal with 41% having no opinion or haven’t heard enough. When the terms of the deal are described, that jumps to 63-24 percent with Democrats, independents and Republicans all in favor, though the GOP is split:
Here is the description:
“Under this agreement, Iran will freeze its nuclear development program and will neutralize its entire stockpile of uranium that has already been enriched at a level that is close to what is needed to make a nuclear weapon. Iran will submit to international inspections to verify that it is living up to the terms of the agreement. In return, the United States and other countries will reduce some economic sanctions on Iran, while leaving most economic sanctions in place, and agree not to place any new sanctions on Iran while the agreement is in force. This agreement is for six months, during which time there will be negotiations to reach a long-term, comprehensive solution that would ensure that Iran's nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful. If a permanent deal is not achieved during this period, sanctions could be reinstated and toughened.”
Some disagree with the notion that this deal is a "freeze," because they say Iran could be developing without the world knowing and they don't believe any Iranian nuclear enrichment will be used for "exclusively peaceful" purposes.
But even when told the criticism that the U.S. is “giving away too much” and that Saudi Arabia and Israel are against the deal, a majority still support it, 54-41 percent.
The clear message, according to the poll -- which should send a message to wavering Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) -- is to closely monitor how the agreement is being implemented but don’t pass new sanctions – 68-21 percent.
The poll also finds that people would support members who are in favor of the efforts to negotiate a deal with Iran (64-16 percent), wants to give the agreement a chance to work before doing anything else (58-18 percent), and supports the Obama administration’s effort to negotiate an agreement (57-23 percent).
More than two-thirds (67-25 percent) agree more with members of congress who want to give the agreement and further negotiations a chance to work versus ones who want to pass new economic sanctions. And that holds true across party lines and even with those who are strongly pro-Israel.
Strongly pro-Israel: 52-37
Americans are not in favor of military action – 27-52 percent. When read the best arguments on both sides, they are even more opposed to military action – 70-22 percent.
If Democrats are looking for talking points, the best one in favor of the deal is: “Must try to reach negotiated resolution preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon; alternative likely to be military action, U.S. in another Mideast war.”
Second-best, and a close second: “Six-month agreement is best opportunity to negotiate a permanent ban on Iran's development of a nuclear weapon; in U.S. interests to give it a chance to work.”
The least convincing argument: “Part of agreement is Iran makes important concessions beyond freezing its nuclear program; Iran agreed to dilute/neutralize entire stockpile of uranium.”
“Seeking to move past its website woes, the Obama administration is launching a two-pronged health care strategy this month aimed at avoiding enrollment snafus come January while also trying to refocus the public’s attention on broader benefits of the sweeping law,” AP writes.
Politico: “After two months of intense coverage of the botched HealthCare.gov rollout, the president will host a White House event kicking off a three-week drive to refocus the public on the law’s benefits, senior administration officials” said.
National Journal: “Insurance companies are still waiting for key parts of HealthCare.gov to be built—and still having trouble with the parts that are in place. Important pieces of the Obamacare site are still glitchy, or missing altogether. And the site’s botched rollout is hardly boosting confidence in the vital components that still need to be built, including the systems for processing payments to insurers and squaring away the details of who has enrolled in which plans.”
That said…USA Today: "A software bug that caused 80% of the problems with information forms insurers received from the HealthCare.gov website has been fixed, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Monday."
USA Today: “President Barack Obama is hosting Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the White House, just days after the Latin American leader announced his intent to seek re-election in the midst of peace talks with the nation's leading rebel group.”
AP: “U.S. Vice President Joe Biden voiced strong opposition Tuesday to China’s new air defense zone above a set of disputed islands, showing a united front with an anxious Japan as tension in the region simmered.”
Don’t send packages by drone in Deer Trail, CO.
First Read confirms that about 100,000 Americans successfully selected health-insurance plans in the federal exchange in November -- up from the nearly 27,000 who did so in October, according to a source familiar with the numbers.
The source adds that the enrollment data is still being scrubbed, but it will either be at 100,000 or slightly above it. And the source emphasizes that the administration is still expecting most enrollment will occur towards the end of the six-month enrollment period, which expires on March 31.
Bloomberg News was the first to report on the 100,000 figure -- and it doesn't include those who have enrolled in states (like California, Kentucky, and Washington) that have set up their own exchanges.
For October, 26,794 had selected plans through the federal exchange, while 79,391 had picked plans through state-based marketplaces.
If that same ratio holds true for November, it's possible that a total of 300,000 to 400,000 Americans could have enrolled last month -- in federal and state exchanges.
But that would still be behind the administration's earlier projections.
Obama’s rough year… How to tell if HealthCare.Gov is truly better: 1) watch the advertising spending, and 2) watch the red-state Dems… Website 2.0’s very soft launch so far… What’s better with the site (error rates are down, more can use it)… What’s not better (the backend information)… Bloomberg News also reports that enrollment is up, but it’s still lagging behind earlier projections… Watching Ryan and Murray before the Dec. 13 deadline to get a budget conference report… Watching the possible retirements for 2014… RNC declared racism has ended?... And other stories you might have missed over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Mike Segar / REUTERS
A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the HealthCare.gov website.
*** Obama’s rough year: Now that we’re into the final month of the year, it’s worth recapping how rough 2013 has been for President Obama. The struggles with the federal website (more on that below) have dominated the last two months, and have sent his approval ratings to new lows. But before that, it was the damaging NSA/Snowden leaks. Before that, it was the IRS-Benghazi-leak stories (which have definitely lost their punch since the summer). And before that, it was the failure to get gun-control through the U.S. Senate. As the Washington Post’s Dan Balz writes, “This is hardly what Obama could have envisioned as he looked toward his second term in the weeks after his reelection. He took his 51 percent popular vote … as a mandate to press forward with a progressive agenda (although some around him warned not to over-interpret the voters’ message). With much to accomplish, he sounded a note of impatience in his inaugural address as he sketched out his ambitions.” And expect to see more and more examinations of Obama’s tough first year of his second term -- and even the “pre-obituaries” of his presidency. Just how bad are things, perception-wise, even among high-powered Democrats in Washington? Check out this blind quote from a supposed Clinton and Obama supporter who apparently turned down a job at the Pentagon. “Why take the risks of working in a second Obama administration, when you can make $300,000 in the private sector and then go work for Hillary?” But here’s the thing about politics: It can change in the blink of an eye. Who’s up can go down; who’s down can go up. And as we found out on Saturday, someone can run back a missed field goal kick 108 yards for an improbable come-from-behind victory.
The Obama administration says it met its December 1 deadline to improve the Healthcare.gov website, and some insurance professionals are still having trouble gathering patient information. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.
*** How to tell if the website is truly better: The Obama administration’s Nov. 30 deadline to have a better-functioning federal website for the “vast majority” of consumers has come and gone, and here’s what we know: The website is significantly better than what it was back in October (of course, that was a very low bar). Yet two months after its initial rollout, it’s still far from a perfect product, especially the information insurance companies are receiving on the backend. Beyond that, however, what you’re likely to see over the next several days are mostly anecdotes and spin. Democrats will point to examples of Americans having success with the website (and there are more and more of those). And Republicans will point to examples of continued problems (and those still exist). But to gauge if the website is truly better, there are two things to watch for in the next two weeks. One, are the insurance companies and government beginning to air their multi-million TV ad campaigns? “The big tell of if/when people finally believe it's working is when you see the states, insurance companies, etc., restart their ad buys and outreach programs that they put on hold to drive people to the site,” a Democrat paying close attention to health care’s implementation told First Read. Two, are skittish Democratic politicians -- especially those from red states -- a little less skittish than they were last month? Or more skittish? That will be another tell.
*** Website 2.0’s soft launch: Still, our read from the White House is that they are nervous. If anything, the Website Rollout 2.0 is a VERY soft launch. President Obama isn’t out there telling Americans to check out HealthCare.Gov; the health insurance companies aren’t bombarding Americans with TV ads; and Katy Perry isn’t tweeting to promote the site.
*** What’s better and what’s not: On Sunday, the Obama administration held a conference call to list the improvements to the website. They said page-response times are now under a second; error rates are below 1%; the site can serve 50,000 simultaneous users and 800,000 total visits a day; and the site’s “uptime” is now consistently above 90% -- up from a paltry 42.9% on Nov. 2. “The bottom line: HealthCare.Gov on Dec.1 is night and day from where it was on Oct. 1,” Jeffrey Zients, who is overseeing the administration’s website recovery effort, said on the conference call. But all of those statistics about the improvements were on the consumer-side end. As the Washington Post writes, “There were no details yet on the back end of the system, the part that sends out enrollment data to insurance plans when someone signs up for their products.” And then there are the enrollment numbers. Bloomberg News is reporting that about 100,000 people signed up for health insurance on the federal website in November -- a four-fold increase from October. So that’s the good news; the bad news is that’s still below where the administration hoped it would be at this point. That’s why it needs a well-functioning website -- at both the frontend and backend -- to begin driving up enrollment in December. Right now, it’s hard to imagine they’ll get to 1 million non-Medicaid enrollees by the end of the years, and even if they did get to 1 million, they’d still be behind schedule.
*** Watching Murray and Ryan: Meanwhile, we’re now 11 days away until House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R) and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D) are supposed to produce their conference report on a budget. And the chatter we’ve heard is there’s some optimism about reaching a very small deal. House Republicans would like to buy down sequester; Senate Republicans are less itchy on that. But what’s being debated between Ryan and Murray is a very small deal.
*** Watching the possible retirements: The holiday season also brings another story to watch: retirement season. It’s typically this time of year -- after Thanksgiving and into Christmas -- when some politicians announce they won’t be running for re-election for next year. It’s something to keep an eye on. We already know Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is going to announce a GO or NO-GO for a seventh term sometime this month -- perhaps this week. But his announcement is expected; it is the unexpected to watch.
*** RNC declares racism has ended? For all of the political problems that President Obama and Democrats have had since the government shutdown ended in mid-October, it’s worth reminding everyone that the Republican Party’s long-term political problems -- especially when it comes to race and demographics -- are far from over. The latest example: The Republican National Committee yesterday tweeted the following: “Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in ending racism.” Ending racism? That remark due ridicule on Twitter, and the RNC later issued this clarification: “Previous tweet should have read ‘Today we remember Rosa Parks' bold stand and her role in fighting to end racism.’”
*** Stories you might have missed over the holiday: Lastly, these are some of the stories you might have missed over the Thanksgiving holiday:
- Tensions in Asia are high after the U.S. sent two B-52s to protest China’s attempt to control airspace over disputed Pacific islands, and Vice President Joe Biden is now headed to the region.
- The New York Times reported that Hillary Clinton is wooing the African-American community (it’s the latest sign that she’s more than thinking about a presidential bid).
- And Obama said he might live in DC after his presidency ends -- due to the fact that youngest daughter Sasha would still be in high school come 2017.
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