*** Out like a lamb: Congress leaves town Friday for five weeks (returning Sept. 9th), and they leave a lot of unfinished business on the table. In short, September and October now are going to be a mess. The assumption was there would at least be some spending bills moved, the Farm bill dealt with, and possibly progress on immigration. And, yet, nothing really happenedother than a few deals on nominations in the Senate and the student loan compromise (which took ALL MONTH to get done). And there is one common thread for the lack of progress and stunning inertia, inability of the GOP to get on the same page on any of these issues. The only thing they can get on the same page about are symbolic items that have no chance of becoming law. (See today’s 40th vote in the House against Obamacare, which, per NBC’s Frank Thorp is slated to take place around 11:00 am ET.) After the failed spending bill written by Republicans (the transportation and housing bill known as THUD, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) tried to save face by letting it be known that he was not in favor of pushing for a government shutdown and endorsed a temporary continuing resolution to fund the government. He really has no choice. The president and Democrats know what they want out of the issues going forward. And as long as Republicans don’t have a realistic strategy, they’re going to find themselves with a losing hand and Boehner knows it. He’s simply hoping he can keep kicking the can until something changes. But that comes with risks…
*** GOP risks defections: If Boehner and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) don’t have a coherent strategy, they risk a whole bunch of defections, especially in the Senate. In fact, some GOP senators are already acting on their own. A few were down at the White House yesterday -- Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and even Tea Party Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), for example, meeting with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, looking for some way out, some compromise. But even if the White House can forge a consensus with enough Republican senators to get something bipartisan passed, it’s unclear whether Boehner can deliver a similar compromise. It’s clear no one wants a government shutdown (other than Democratic strategists for 2014 who are convinced it will destroy the House’s GOP majority). But there’s a chance, thanks to inertia, fear of conservative criticism, that suddenly there isn’t a way out. The White House believes it has the upper hand in all these negotiations, it sees the lack of a cohesive GOP message as an opportunity to divide and conquer, er, compromise. This also means the White House is not interested in caving the way some Democrats believe they did back in 2010, 2011, or even 2012. The White House believes it has the higher ground and, supposedly, a stiffer spine. The fall is going to be a wild ride.
*** Unemployment drops to 7.4%: The July jobs numbers out this morning show the unemployment rate dropping to 7.4%, the lowest since December 2008, before President Obama took office. But just 162,000 jobs were added (which was below expectations). Beyond the expectations, though, 162,000 jobs is still basically treading water, let’s remember this. There is still something holding the recovery back – one can’t call this a boom recovery until there is monthly jobs growth of 200,000, 250,000, 300,000 jobs because of how many people keep coming into the jobs market. (By the way, the public sector actually added jobs this time – only 1,000 but at least it’s on the positive side. That’s something to watch, as it’s been one thing that has held back the recovery.) As AP noted, calling the report “otherwise lackluster”: “Americans worked fewer hours and their pay dipped. The figures suggest weak economic growth may be making businesses cautious about hiring.” That’s one reason the president will be continue to make a push for increased infrastructure spending, etc. Congress leaves town, and Obama has one more week to set his own terms of the debate for this fall. He’ll be traveling across country, delivering another economic speech, and going on Jay Leno Tuesday. And he traditionally does a press conference before vacation week, which is the week after next.
*** Recovery Summer? While the jobs report wasn’t inspiring for the economy, this summer is actually on pace to be the best since Obama has taken office and the economic downturn of 2008. If the economy adds just 70,000 jobs next month, it will be the best June, July, and August since then. Here are the numbers:
2009: -1.033 million
2013*: +350,000 (so far – with just June and July)
*** Lindsey Graham likely to get a challenger: It looks like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is about to get his most serious primary challenger to date on Saturday with a pretty good-on-paper resume – Nancy Mace, a small-business owner who the Charleston Post and Courier notes is “one of The Citadel’s first two female graduates.” (There’s one other Republican already running, Richard Cash, a businessman from Upstate.) On paper, she could be a more pressing challenger to Graham than McConnell’s challenger in Kentucky.And Graham has the added hurdle of a potential runoff. Low turnout elections are how Republican incumbents have lost in the past and if Graham can’t avoid a runoff, he’ll be in a world of hurt. Just ask David Dewhurst how runoffs go.
*** Feeling Fancy? Speaking of primary challenges to Republican senators, we give you Mitch McConnell. And if you like conflict in politics, then Saturday’s Fancy Farm is for you. The annual Kentucky event features its share of “heckling and sharp barbs,” and all three major Kentucky Senate candidates will be there – McConnell, his Republican primary challenger businessman Matt Bevin, and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state. NBC’s Kasie Hunt, who will be reporting from Fancy Farm, tees up the event: “McConnell is the biggest Republican target that some in the tea party have ever set their sights on -- and the 2014 candidate that Democrats are most eager to take down. That will all burst into view this Saturday.” More: “The spectacle -- the St. Jerome's Church picnic in tiny Fancy Farm has evolved into a political shouting match complete with barbecue, thousands of people (some in costumes), and the occasional arrest -- will highlight that critical dynamic: McConnell the top party leader is able to do no right for McConnell the Senate candidate. ‘It would be much easier if we weren't the leader,’ acknowledged a top McConnell aide who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the contest.” McConnell’s been to plenty of these over the last 30 years and is a known quantity, but it will also be interesting to see how Bevin and Lundergan Grimes hold up. Grimes spoke last year, but Bevin has never been in the spotlight at one of these.
*** The Clinton World-Weiner connection: The New York Times notes the involvement of Hillary Clinton’s top spokesman in the Anthony Weiner-New York mayor’s race. Philippe I. Reines has advised Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin, a friend and Clinton confidante, been on conference calls with campaign, and even traveled from Washington to New York to greet the crew from People magazine at the Weiners’ apartment building and was present for that infamous interview and photo shoot. But here are key lines from the story: “For his part, Mr. Reines plays down his interactions with the Weiner operation, saying he is unpaid and primarily concerned with assisting Ms. Abedin … At times, he cannot hide his exasperation with Ms. Abedin’s husband.” So this strikes us as Clinton World essentially sending the message: “We’re with Huma, not with Weiner.” Tough to pull off but amazing how many anecdotes were included in this piece that specifically made Weiner look like an unwanted member of the extended Clinton family.