Day: March 1, 2017


March Fed hike appears more likely as key official Lael Brainard signals readiness

The prospects for an interest rate hike in March got a lift Wednesday night as one of the most dovish members of the Federal Reserve signaled openness to tightening monetary policy.

Lael Brainard, a member of the Fed’s Board of Governors, said in a speech prepared for delivery at Harvard that “it will likely be appropriate soon” to raise rates.

In recent years, Brainard has been among the Fed members most skeptical of raising interest rates, on the grounds that inflation is below the Fed’s target and the central bank can’t count on it rising just because unemployment has dropped.

But on Wednesday, she suggested that the U.S. economy is in “transition” and that her concerns about too-low inflation have abated.

Several other members of the Fed hinted this week that they are prepared to raise the interest rate target at the next meeting, scheduled for March 14 and 15. Investors now expect the Fed to move, a factor driving stock markets to record highs Wednesday.

With the economy turning a corner, Brainard said, the Fed must begin weighing how and when to allow its $4.5 trillion balance sheet, swollen by emergency bond purchases meant to stimulate the economy, to begin shrinking.

One factor that likely played into Brainard’s relatively optimistic comments Wednesday evening was a report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the morning showing that inflation was running at 1.9 percent in January, according to the metric preferred by the Fed, just below the Fed’s 2 percent target. The Fed hasn’t hit its target since early 2012.

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Media applaud Trump's first joint session speech

Journalists applauded President Trump’s first joint session address on Tuesday, calling it presidential and predicting that it will be popular beyond his core base of supporters.

“This will be, I think, a very well-received speech for Donald Trump,” said liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddow after the speech. She said part of the reason was “because of expectations” for Trump are lower, since he is not a typical politician.

In his speech, Trump maintained his campaign message to push for American interests on international trade and foreign policy, while calling on unity between Republicans and Democrats.

He acknowledged recent crimes that targeted Americans Jews and other minorities and said they “remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”

Trump also reiterated some of his campaign things, like insisting that his administration will operate on “two core principles: Buy American and hire American.”

Chris Matthews said that Trump’s message of “economic nationalism” was likely to resonate. “I think left, right and center, people have a sense of righteous indignation,” he said. “It’s probably the reason [Trump] was elected in [swing states] Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio.”

“This is Trump at his most presidential — his most effective speech yet,” said ABC White House correspondent Jonathan Karl on Twitter.

Los Angeles Times White House Correspondent Mike Memoli said on Twitter that Trump’s speech was “playing out well” for Trump.

And Fox News anchor Chris Wallace described the speech was the moment that Trump “became president of the United States.”

Beau Biden's widow is dating his brother Hunter

Also from the Washington Examiner

“Hallie and I are incredibly lucky to have found the love and support we have for each other in such a difficult time,” said Hunter Biden.

03/01/17 4:27 PM

“It was one of the best speeches in that setting I’ve ever heard any president give,” said Wallace.

One of the most remarked upon moments during Trump’s speech was when he acknowledged Carryn Owens, a widow of slain Navy Seal William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed in the recent raid in Yemen.

Owens, seated in the first lady’s box, received a two-minute standing ovation.

Van Jones, a CNN contributor and former Obama administration official, said Trump “became president of the United States in that moment, period.”

He continued, “There are a lot of people who have a lot of reason to be frustrated with [Trump], to be fearful of him, to be mad at him. But that was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period.”

House votes to reduce regulatory costs by 15 percent

Also from the Washington Examiner

Smith maintains that compliance with all federal rules has cost businesses and others affected by them $2T.

03/01/17 4:12 PM

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Jake Tapper calls out White House after Pence does interviews with all major networks except CNN

The White House ruffled CNN anchor Jake Tapper after Vice President Mike Pence was made available for several interviews Wednesday but not with the network the administration fights with the most.

In a Twitter message that morning, Tapper suggested the White House was being petty.

“‘Trivial fights’ should be ‘behind us,'” Tapper wrote, quoting a piece from Trump’s joint session speech from the night before, “but hours later White House offers Vice President Pence interviews to every major U.S. TV broadcaster except CNN.”

Sure enough, Pence’s official schedule did include several interviews, including with NBC, ABC and CBS.

CNN’s direct competitors, Fox News and MSNBC, were also on the schedule for interviews, as were conservative radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham.

Trump has repeatedly targeted CNN for what he has called unfair coverage and he has dubbed the network “very fake news.”

CNN was also one of many news outlets excluded from a press gaggle White House press secretary Sean Spicer hosted last week.

Beau Biden's widow is dating his brother Hunter

Also from the Washington Examiner

Former Vice President Joe Biden confirmed that Hallie Biden, the wife of his late son Beau, is in a relationship with the politician’s youngest son, Hunter.

“We are all lucky that Hunter and Hallie found each other as they were putting their lives together again after such sadness. They have mine and Jill’s full and complete support and we are happy for them,” Biden told Page Six.

Beau Biden died from brain cancer at the age of 46 in May 2015. Hunter has three daughters from his wife Kathleen, who he is separated from in October of that year. The two engaged in a romantic relationship at some point after that, but it’s unclear when they started seeing each other.

03/01/17 4:27 PM

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Trump meets with GOP leaders to 'start the process' of Obamacare reform

President Trump met with Republican congressional leaders at the White House on Wednesday to kickstart the process of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, just one day after he laid out a blueprint for healthcare reform in his speech to a joint session of Congress.

“Thank you very much, we are here to start the process,” Trump said at the outset of the meeting. “It begins as of now and we’ll have tremendous success.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were joined by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, House majority leader, Rep. Steve Scalise, House majority whip, Sen. John Cornyn, Senate majority whip, and Sen. Cory Gardner, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, among others.

Vice President Mike Pence, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus also attended the lunch.

Trump outlined several of his top priorities for an Obamacare replacement during his speech Tuesday evening. The president said any replacement plan should allow Americans to purchase health insurance plans across state lines, give states more flexibility on Medicaid and increase the use of Health Savings Accounts, among other provisions. He called on Democrats to help Republicans fix the crumbling healthcare system.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said earlier Wednesday that Trump will meet with Democratic leaders as well as other “rank and file” members in the coming weeks, but stressed that the event “has always been a Republican lunch.”

“The Republicans control the agenda, and this is about charting out the agenda and the timeline,” Spicer said of the lunch meeting.

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Republicans stall on approving Obamacare chief Seema Verma

An insufficient number of Senate Republicans showed up Wednesday morning to approve President Trump’s pick to lead a top healthcare agency.

The Senate Finance Committee tied on a 9-9 vote on whether Seema Verma should lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency that oversees the federal government’s health insurance programs including the Obamacare marketplaces.

Verma, who helped Indiana and several other states craft alternative Medicaid expansion programs, is expected to eventually be approved as administrator of CMS, although Democrats have raised some ethical concerns and dislike her views on Medicare and Medicaid.

Sen. Ron Wyden, the committee’s top Democrat, voted against approving Verma, saying she hadn’t sufficiently answered his questions about how she would approach the issue of drug prices and Medicaid eligibility.

“What I read was a lot of happy-talk that didn’t amount to much substance,” Wyden said. “That’s deeply troubling for me when considering a position that’s responsible for a trillion dollars of spending on healthcare — something that touches every American family.”

A spokesman for committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said the plan is to hold a second vote later in the day, once enough members are present.

Verma’s nomination has attracted some bipartisan support, unlike HHS Secretary Tom Price, so opposed by Senate Finance Democrats that they boycotted his confirmation vote. Hatch said he hopes some Democrats will vote in favor of Verma.

“I think she is a highly qualified nominee,” Hatch said. “I really don’t think there’s anyone who reasonably disputes that.”

White House: Conway plugged Ivanka Trump brand 'inadvertently'

Also from the Washington Examiner

“Ms. Conway has acknowledged her understanding of the standards” and will abide by them.

03/01/17 12:32 PM

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Dow surges past 21,000 in wake of Trump speech

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose past 21,000 Wednesday morning as investors processed President Trump’s address to Congress and bullish comments from Federal Reserve officials Tuesday.

Stocks surged, led by big banks, and the dollar strengthened as markets priced in expectations about growth and earnings.

If the Dow finishes above 21,000, it would tie the record for the fastest time from one thousand-point milestone to another, according to the Wall Street Journal. The index first hit the 20,000 mark on January 25.

Wednesday’s rally came after Trump’s major speech, in which he pledged to pursue tax reform, regulatory reform, and several other items pleasing to investors. Some analysts were giving the speech credit for the Wednesday surge.

“The belief is it will be a more pro-business agenda and create better optimism and better opportunity, and you’re seeing that play through in terms of sentiment,” said Baird Advisors chief investment officer Mary Ellen Stanek, speaking on Bloomberg TV.

Another factor buoying markets was the reassurance from Fed officials throughout Tuesday that the recovery has momentum and that they are on track to continue raising interest rates later this year, perhaps as soon as March.

On Wednesday, investors saw greater than a 50-50 chance that the central bank would raise its interest rate target three times in 2017, according to bond market prices published by CME Group. Fed officials projected in December that they would hike three times in the year, but until Wednesday investors had remained skeptical.

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Democratic bill would kick Steve Bannon out of National Security Council meetings

A handful of House Democrats proposed legislation on Tuesday that would prevent White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon from participating in National Security Council meetings.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., introduced the bill over worries that Bannon last year described himself as someone who wants to destroy the government.

“During an interview on August 22, 2016, Bannon referred to himself as a ‘Leninist’ and stated his goal was to destroy all of today’s establishment,” Espaillat said.

That’s a reference to a Daily Beast story in which Bannon was quoted as saying, “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

Espaillat’s bill would change federal law so that Bannon or anyone else who makes these kinds of statements cannot serve on the NSC.

“I refuse to stand idle as Bannon along with others within the Trump administration try to dismantle our democratic process,” Espaillat said.

“Anyone who makes statements in threat to our government or to the security of our nation, similar to the remarks made by White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon about overthrowing the U.S. government, should not have a security clearance, no less a seat on the National Security Council,” he said.

Bannon last week stressed that a major goal of his is the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” which he described as efforts to eliminate federal regulations and move power back to the states and the people.

Pence on immigration compromise: 'We'll see'

Also from the Washington Examiner

Pence refuses to comment on why Trump has delayed the immigration order.

03/01/17 12:17 PM

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Rep. Ryan Zinke confirmed as Trump's Interior secretary

The Montana Republican won a relatively easy confirmation vote on the Senate floor, 68 to 31, although most Democrats voted against him. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Rep. Ryan Zinke as President Trump’s first secretary of the interior.

The Montana Republican won a relatively easy confirmation vote on the Senate floor, 68 to 31, although most Democrats voted against him.

As interior secretary, Zinke will oversee energy development on federal lands and waters, the protection of endangered species and the operation of the country’s national parks.

The vote in favor of Zinke was not expected to be particularly constrained or controversial. Many Democrats said they believed they could work with him, although his views on climate change weren’t completely in line with their own.

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Trump's Labor Department to delay conflict-of-interest rule by 60 days

President Trump’s Labor Department will delay the implementation of a rule cracking down on conflicts of interest in retirement investing, the first step in reversing one of President Obama’s late-term priorities.

The Labor Department announced on Wednesday that it planned to delay by 60 days the start date of the “fiduciary rule,” giving it time to reassess the rule and scrutinize its financial and legal costs.

Originally slated to go into effect April 10, the rule would require that all investment advisers and brokers working with tax-privileged retirement accounts, such as Individual Retirement Accounts, are required to act in their clients’ best interests.

Obama and congressional liberals backed the rule as necessary to prevent some advisers from steering clients into inappropriate high-fee financial products in order to get kickbacks. Those conflicts of interest, the Obama White House claimed, cost people billions annually.

Yet Republicans have criticized the rule as overly burdensome, saying it would make it impossible for some middle-income savers and small businesses to access retirement advice.

“We commend the Department of Labor for its swift action to protect retirement savers by issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking to delay the fiduciary rule, which will help ensure all Americans have access to the advice and choices needed when saving for their future,” said Thomas Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Trump demanded that the Labor Department review the rule as one of his first acts in office.

The agency, however, is still without a head. Trump’s original nominee, fast food executive Andy Puzder, withdrew from consideration in February. His replacement selection, law professor and former President George W. Bush appointee Alexander Acosta, has not yet been vetted by the Senate.

Are the 'trivial fights' really 'behind us'?

Also from the Washington Examiner

A CNN survey found 7-in-10 Americans “said the speech made them feel more optimistic about the direction of the country.”

03/01/17 9:56 AM

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Sen. Jack Reed says Trump taking credit for F-35 savings he didn't achieve

The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee slammed President Trump for his repeated attempts to “take credit” for jobs he didn’t create and savings that were achieved before he took office.

In Trump’s joint address to Congress on Tuesday night, the president touted his achievements since taking office, including several companies announcing they will create “tens of thousands of new American jobs.” He also said he’s been able to save money on the contract with Lockheed Martin to build the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

“We’ve saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by bringing down the price of the fantastic new F-35 jet fighter, and will be saving billions more dollars on contracts all across our government,” Trump said.

Experts have previously said that statements like this amount to Trump taking credit for savings that were achieved through hard work by people in the procurement system during negotiations that took place long before the inauguration. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and ranking member on the panel, echoed that sentiment following Trump’s speech.

“President Trump has a serious credibility problem. He tries to take credit for jobs he didn’t create and, with respect to the F-35 program, savings that were achieved before he even took office,” Reed said.

Reed also criticized Trump’s speech for not mentioning Russia, a key point of tension in the Trump administration after former national security adviser Mike Flynn resigned over allegations of inappropriate communications with Russia. The Senate’s intelligence panel is investigating Russia’s influence operations during the presidential election.

“Americans cannot afford to turn a blind eye to Russian interference in our democracy. We need to get to the facts and learn lessons to prevent future misconduct by foreign governments,” Reed said. “But this administration and its allies are throwing up roadblocks to a fair, impartial investigation. We need bipartisan action in Congress to ensure no foreign attack on our electoral process goes unchecked.”

Are the 'trivial fights' really 'behind us'?

Also from the Washington Examiner

A CNN survey found 7-in-10 Americans “said the speech made them feel more optimistic about the direction of the country.”

03/01/17 9:56 AM

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