The latest jobs numbers are good, and Sen. Jim DeMint's exit might make fiscal-cliff negotiations easier.
(The Root) -- It looks like Christmas may have come early for the Obama White House, with Santa delivering not one, but two welcome surprises.
First comes some positive jobs numbers -- not just positive but extraordinary. As reported in the Huffington Post, unemployment fell to a four-year low, to 7.7 percent in November. The numbers must be a source of some vindication for the White House, which faced subtle and not-so-subtle allegations from conservative critics that the positive jobs numbers released in October were the equivalent of an "October surprise" -- part of some possible conspiracy to influence the election. The conspiracy theorists got some help from last month's jobs reports, in which unemployment increased a bit.
Then, on Thursday, it was announced that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), one of the Senate's most conservative stalwarts, would be retiring, effective immediately, to head the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. No one serious about politics believes that DeMint is leaving on a high note, or even on his own terms. DeMint has been the Tea Party's most prominent voice in federal office. The rift that has been brewing in the Republican Party for the last few years, a sort of political civil war, has pitted conservative purists -- some would say extremists -- like DeMint and his Tea Party brethren against the party's more moderate wing.
DeMint famously backed Tea Party darling (and Ron Paul's son) Rand Paul in a Kentucky Senate primary over the GOP establishment's chosen candidate. Though Rand won, it is widely believed that the Tea Party seriously damaged the overall party's brand with the public at large, particularly independent voters. Two high-profile Tea Party candidates lost to Democrats in Senate races that Republicans should have easily won this election cycle: Richard Mourdock, who defeated legendary Indiana senator, and widely respected moderate, Dick Lugar in a primary before being defeated by Joe Donnolly in the general election; and North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg, who was upset by Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in his race for Senate.
So what does all of this mean for the Obama White House? For starters, the president may soon have a new high-profile African-American adversary. There is rampant speculation that Tim Scott, soon to be the lone African-American Republican in Congress following the defeat of Allen West, is the front-runner to replace DeMint in the Senate. Scott has been dubbed a rising GOP star as a Tea Party-approved candidate who isn't as polarizing as West but who also helps the party in terms of diversity.
But the more immediate impact is that fiscal-cliff negotiations just got a lot easier -- for the president most of all, but also for Republican House Speaker John Boehner. Here's why. It has been widely reported that Boehner is actually open to compromise, and has been all along, but the challenge has been corralling the most extreme members of his party, those for whom the word "compromise" is synonymous with defeat. The exit of DeMint should empower Boehner to reclaim the reins with some of the Tea Partiers who looked to DeMint for guidance, as opposed to the speaker. If he can get some of them in line sooner rather than later, then he and the White House should be able to hammer out a deal and avoid taking our country over the fiscal cliff.
And the jobs numbers help, too. As I wrote previously, President Obama is already winning the public relations battle on the fiscal cliff. It was just revealed that his current approval ratings are now at the highest they have been since the death of Osama bin Laden. This latest jobs report will only reinforce the idea that the president is actually getting things done, while his opponents in Congress are focused on avoiding compromise at the expense of the American people.
During a discussion on NPR's Tell Me More, I mentioned that the real battle over the fiscal cliff would not be between the president and Republicans but among Republicans as they started to turn on one another during fiscal-cliff talks in the interest of self-preservation. In the eyes of some, DeMint's departure represents the first casualty in this brewing GOP civil war, but he is unlikely to be the last.
According to a poll, most Americans will blame Congress if we go over the edge.
(The Root) -- Though political pundits, economic experts and others increasingly discuss the nation's fiscal cliff in apocalyptic terms, referring to its potentially disastrous consequences for the majority of Americans, there is one person for whom going over the fiscal cliff might not be such a bad thing: President Barack Obama.
In a new Washington Post-Pew poll, 53 percent of Americans will blame Republicans if America goes over a fiscal cliff, while just 27 percent will blame the president. Some might call this déjà vu all over again.
In 1995 then-President Bill Clinton clashed with Republican leaders over finalizing a budget. After they failed to reach an agreement, the federal government shut down, with nearly a million workers temporarily out of work. A CNN poll conducted at the time found that 49 percent of Americans blamed GOP leaders for the shutdown, while only 26 percent blamed President Clinton. Furthermore, while 48 percent said that they approved of the president's handling of the talks, just 22 percent approved of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich's.
The fallout from the shutdown laid the groundwork for a number of political dominoes that would eventually fall. It solidified Gingrich's image as someone willing to put partisanship ahead of working with others to actually get things done for the American people, and that perception spread like a toxin affecting his party. After the Republican Revolution of 1994, when Republicans gained seats and, more important, control of the House, the GOP would lose seats in 1996 and President Clinton would gain re-election, despite an impeachment scandal.
By 1998 Gingrich, the architect of the Republican Revolution, was on his way out the door, having just barely survived a coup attempt at the hands of his own party, which had deemed him a liability. His departure paved the way for new leadership. Among the up-and-comers? Rep. John Boehner of Ohio.
It remains to be seen if Boehner -- having seen the costs to his party as well as to the man who once held his post -- has learned lessons from the past and will strive accordingly for bipartisanship and compromise. If he doesn't, history is a reminder that his job and reputation may be on the line, not the president's.
Furthermore, if history is our guide, not only is President Obama's job safe, but it is possible that any fallout from going over a fiscal cliff could actually weaken Boehner's party, leaving Democrats in a position of strength going into the midterm elections of 2014. President Obama may not want to take the country over a fiscal cliff, but he may not mind leading Democrats back to power.
As the nation celebrates Minority Enterprise Development Week, it's a question worth asking.
(The Root) -- On Nov. 30, President Obama issued a proclamation to mark the 30th anniversary of Minority Enterprise Development Week. The proclamation reads in part:
The belief in tomorrow's promise is guiding minority entrepreneurs across our country to start the kinds of businesses that make up the backbone of our economy.
The proclamation goes on to highlight the importance of minority entrepreneurs to the American economy and communities at large. One thing the proclamation does not specify is the importance of minority entrepreneurs to African-American communities, particularly when it comes to addressing one of the most daunting issues the Obama administration has struggled to address: African-American unemployment.
While the Obama campaign received a boost from a relatively positive jobs report released just before Election Day, not all Americans were celebrating. African-American unemployment rose from 13.4 percent in September to 14.3 percent in October while the jobless rate for black teens rose to 40.5 from 36.7 percent. The administration's lack of progress on this issue has been a source of criticism and concern, even among some of his supporters, including Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), outgoing chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who shared his disappointment in a previous interview with The Root.
But while some have argued that the president needs to focus on improving the overall economy -- which will then ultimately help all Americans, including black Americans, improve their opportunities for employment -- one of the most potentially effective solutions has not received that much coverage. According to research, increasing the number of minority entrepreneurs has an automatic net positive effect on minority employment numbers. The reason? Minority employers are statistically more likely to hire other minorities.
To put in perspective just how important the issue of diversifying the employer pool is to diversifying the ranks of the employed, consider this. A Princeton study conducted just over five years ago found that white males who report a felony conviction on an employment application were nearly twice as likely to receive a callback for that job as a black applicant without a felony conviction. This means that just a year before our nation elected its first black president, being black was proved to be a significant barrier to even being interviewed for a job -- not just hired for one.
According to Tarrus Richardson, CEO of IMB Development Corp., minority entrepreneurship plays a crucial role for African-American job seekers and the African-American community at large. "It creates jobs and institutional stability to our community. Research has shown that minority businesses are three times as likely to hire minorities as non-minority-owned businesses," he said. "Statistics have shown minority-owned businesses are more likely to hire our own, buy from our own and support local institutions. It [minority entrepreneurship] is the fuel that helps build jobs, wealth and stronger institutions in our community."
For this reason, Richardson left a lucrative career working in financial institutions for others, including stints at Gold Coast Securities and Salomon Smith Barney, to join the ranks of African-American entrepreneurs by launching IMB. The company's core mission is to help increase the number of African-American entrepreneurs. "Those who have and can must be committed to building large minority-owned businesses," Richardson said. "So we [he and his co-founders] decided to build a billion-dollar minority-owned business that we can all be proud of the next seven to 10 years, and that will help other minority businesses along the way."
The work of Richardson and others could also prove helpful to the Obama administration as it seeks to finally address the issue of unemployment that has plagued one of the president's most loyal constituencies, one that played a key role in his re-election: African Americans.
We don't know what the two rivals discussed, but here are three challenges that we hope came up.
(The Root) -- Just before the election, I wrote a column for The Root: "The 9 Debate Questions We Want to Hear." The eighth question on the list was this:
If, on election night, your opponent offered to meet with you on a regular basis in a spirit of bipartisanship to discuss ideas for moving the country forward -- the way many ex-presidents work together in solving issues across party lines -- would you be willing to do it, regardless of which one of you wins?
The premise was that these were questions we all wanted answered but knew that we would never hear asked at a debate, let alone answered. But in his election-night victory speech, President Obama did what he has done throughout much of his political career: surprised people. He said, "From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service and that is the legacy that we honor and applaud tonight ... In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Gov. Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward."
And Thursday Gov. Romney did something surprising, too: He actually took the president up on his offer, joining him at the White House for an hour of conversation over turkey chili. In my previous post, I concluded:
Candidates pay a lot of lip service to things like "bipartisanship," but that's talk. You learn by watching what people do. For instance, John McCain (R-Ariz.) was one of the Senate's greatest champions of bipartisanship, until he lost to someone he didn't really like. But if Romney or Obama committed to working together in some way, regardless of who wins, that would tell us more about their commitment to bipartisanship than their speeches.
Though no one is expecting the two men to leave lunch as BFFs, the fact that they agreed to meet at all speaks volumes about their characters. Most presidential rivals don't engage this way.
So below is a list of the topics that, in an ideal world, the two men will have covered in their lunch, even if it is unlikely that they did. But just as we learned from my previous column, we can always hope that they will surprise us.
1. What can we both do to help heal the racial divide?
According to studies, race relations have actually become more strained since President Obama became commander in chief instead of better, as many had hoped and assumed they would. But as I have previously written, I believe in the long term that the Obama presidency, particularly his re-election, will prove a boost to race relations. But the president can't do it alone. Though GQ magazine recently named Romney one of the country's least influential people, millions of Americans did pull the lever (or fill in a bubble) for him at the voting booth, and Romney could help lead them by example.
For instance, there were hundreds of racist tweets written by Romney supporters in the wake of the president's re-election. Just think of how effective it would be if Romney said, "I may not agree with President Obama on every issue, but I never agree with racism or racist comments in any context, including those directed at our president. I expect more from my fellow conservatives."
2. How can we both help tackle poverty?
In case you haven't heard, Obama and Romney have a difference of opinion on taxes, specifically whether or not wealthy Americans should pay more of them. But according to both men, they care about helping the poor. While Romney will never become an advocate for the president's efforts to raise taxes on wealthier Americans to fund services for poorer Americans, they could find common ground on securing more commitments from the country's wealthiest Americans for charitable efforts that aid the poor.
The idea is not as far-fetched as it may seem. Recently a group of billionaires, including Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates, met to discuss how to use their fortunes in the most philanthropically generous yet strategic way. Imagine if the former governor convened a group of his wealthiest donors for a similar discussion. Think of it this way: There are wealthy Americans who may not want to see their tax dollars support FEMA because they consider it to be incompetent, but they might write a hefty check to the American Red Cross or another, similar private organization to do similar work.
It is worth noting that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tapped wealthy heiress Caroline Kennedy to run a nonprofit aimed specifically at raising private funds for the city's public schools. Kennedy's connections took the Fund for Public Schools from around $3 million to more than $200 million in its coffers. Romney could play a similar role at a national level, if he is willing to do so.
3. How can we both help end partisan gridlock?
One of the most common criticisms of the Obama presidency is that he has not "reached across the aisle" and displayed the spirit of bipartisanship that he promised on the campaign trail. However, the president has had little help on this. According to various accounts, Republican senators -- even those who were willing to work with the Obama administration on various issues -- were warned by Republican leaders not to do so.
Though Romney is not exactly a darling of the conservative movement, if he lent his voice to championing moderate candidates -- like the one he was as governor of Massachusetts -- over Tea Party extremists, and criticized both parties honestly when they engaged in behavior and rhetoric that undermined bipartisanship, he could be remembered for having more of an impact outside of the White House than he would have had inside.
Updated: Will a new pick at least add gender diversity to 19 proposed chairs for House committees?
(The Root) -- Updated Friday, November 30: This afternoon it was announced via Huffington Post's Politics Twitter account that Rep. John Boehner, would appoint a woman, Rep. Candice Miller, chair of the congressional Committee on House Administration. That means the likely Republican congressional committee chairs will be filled by eighteen men, one white woman and zero racial minorities.
After the Republican Party's disappointing showing in the 2012 election, which included a convincing win by President Obama in both electoral and popular votes as well as the party's failure to reclaim the Senate, there was a lot of talk about "diversity" -- as in the GOP's need to get some. After all, President Obama won not only nearly all of the black vote in the presidential election but also an overwhelming majority of the Latino and Asian votes, two of the fastest-growing demographics in the country.
Even Sean Hannity, the conservative firebrand on Fox News, not known for his warm and fuzzy feelings about racial minorities or immigrants, changed his tune after the party's Election Day thumping, saying, "I've evolved on immigration." Now he doesn't support mass deportation of undocumented immigrants; instead, he said, "You create a pathway for those people that are here. You don't say you've got to go home." His reasoning? Sheer numbers: the growth of the Hispanic electorate and decline of the white electorate.
Ted Cruz, the newly elected junior senator from Texas who is of Hispanic descent, said in a recent interview that the GOP had done a "lousy job" of communicating to Hispanic voters, citing the tone that the party had used to discuss immigration and other issues. Yet Cruz also heralded the fact that the Republican National Convention had four keynote speakers of Hispanic descent who are statewide elected officials, while the Democrats did not.
But despite Cruz's attempts at framing the GOP as a more welcoming tent for minority elected officials, a photo of the party's likely House committee chairs (from The Rachel Maddow Show via Gawker) tells a different story.
All 19 of them are white and male. All of them. There is currently a Latina, Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, serving as chair of a committee -- Foreign Affairs -- but Ros-Lehtinen, who is the most senior female Republican committee chair in the House, is stepping down because of chair term limits.
To be clear, as Cruz pointed out and Ros-Lehtinen confirms, the GOP does have minority members of Congress, among them Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is black. But the bigger issue is that the party has very few. It has so few that there is an incredibly small pool even to begin the selection process for leadership posts. (There are more women, and some of them will have leadership roles in the coming Congress, but likely not as chairs. Since President Obama also won handily with female voters, this also presents a problem for the GOP.) By contrast, for the first time in American history, the Democratic congressional delegation will not be majority white men, a watershed moment.
If the GOP expects to have any hope of maintaining its relevance in future elections, the composition and tone of its leadership must change. Those GOP presidential candidates looking ahead to 2016 already seem to know this.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has made his a message of diversity and a willingness to embrace a less conservative stance on immigration policy cornerstones of his political life. A co-founder of the Hispanic Leadership Network, he has a Hispanic wife and children. His son has also recently filed papers to begin his career in the Bush family business of politics. (George P. Bush is already being touted by some as a possible Latino rising star within the party.)
Then there is the former governor's likely 2016 opponent: fellow Floridian Sen. Marco Rubio, who has already visited the early-primary state of Iowa. The junior senator is Cuban American. As the party's woes with minorities mount, many are more likely to view Rubio as a great brown hope.