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Is The Jobs Report A 'Kick In the Gut'?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, mention the word immigration and you might get yourself into a hot argument, but now a diverse group of faith leaders are trying to lower the temperature and find some common ground on this issue and just who they are might surprise you. We'll talk with two evangelical leaders who are normally at different points on the political spectrum who've come together in what some consider a surprising way. They don't. We'll tell you more about that in a few minutes.

But, first, there is news to report on another issue that could be on the minds of voters in November: the economy. New unemployment numbers released earlier today show 80,000 jobs were created in June. That was below expert projections and it wasn't enough to push down the unemployment rate, which held steady at 8.2 percent.

While money might not be rolling into paychecks for a lot of potential voters, it certainly is finding its way into the coffers of superPACs. The latest numbers show that Republican-leaning superPACs have an overwhelming advantage over their Democratic-leaning counterparts, at least right now.

We wanted to talk about these issues and more, so we've called upon two of our trusted guides. Corey Ealons is a former White House communications advisor for the Obama administration. He's currently a senior vice president with the strategic communications firm VOX Global. Ron Christie is a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush. He is now the founder and president of Christie Strategies. That's a media and political strategy firm.

Welcome back to you both. Thank you for coming.

COREY EALONS: Always good to be back.

RON CHRISTIE: Always a pleasure.

MARTIN: Let's start with today's unemployment numbers, which I don't believe will be a pleasure for Mr. Ealons to talk about. Not unexpected, but certainly not news that the Obama administration would have hoped for. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney - of course, he's the presumptive Republican nominee for president - had this to say about the report this morning. Let's listen.

MITT ROMNEY: The president's policies have not gotten America working again and the president's going to have to stand up and take responsibility for it. I know he's been planning on going across the country and celebrating what he calls forward. Well, forward doesn't look a lot like forward.

MARTIN: Ron, your thoughts? What the latest numbers tell you and why does the president have to take responsibility for it?

CHRISTIE: Well, the president has to take responsibility, Michel, because before he came into office in January of 2009, his economic advisors predicted that, if we passed an $800 billion stimulus package, that unemployment not only wouldn't rise above eight percent, but at this point here in 2012, it would be closer to six percent.

So the president got his package through the Congress. The president went out and has been speaking with the American people about his vision and his ideology and, right now, people are scratching their heads and wondering, are the president's policies that were enacted in the past good for America's economic future? And I think that's what Governor Romney is taking to the airwaves today and will do so in the days to come to have the president stand up for his record. So it'll be a very interesting thing for all of us to watch.

MARTIN: Corey, how does the president answer just the simple argument that you've had your turn to fix this? It might not be your fault, but this is on your watch. You haven't fixed it. Time to try something else. How does the president answer that?

EALONS: Well, again, I think you have to look at this totally in context. First, it didn't take us one term to get into this economic mess and it's certainly not going to take us one to get out of it. That's the first thing. Second thing, you have to look at the trends and, while today's numbers are somewhat disappointing, it continues to define the trend, which is 24 straight months of job growth.

And what we saw is 80,000 jobs added to the more than four million jobs that the president has created over the past three and a half years. Now, you compare that to the previous administration where we had zero jobs created, that means something. And then why does that matter? That matters because the policies that Romney and the Republicans in Congress are advocating are the same policies - are the policies that got us into this mess in the first place, so if we elected them, we would actually be going backwards and not forwards.

MARTIN: You know, I assume you still have relationships over at the White House. How are they taking this news? Is it harshing their mellow?

EALONS: No. Well, I tell you, it is - like I say, it is disappointing. No doubt about that. I mean, certainly, the president and members of the administration want to see more people working, but at the end of the day, what's unfortunate is that the president sort of has his hands tied. He's put a package on the table for Congress to consider called the American Jobs Act that would rehire teachers who have been laid off, that would rehire firefighters and other workers who have been laid off and the Congress refuses to act and we don't believe they're going to act before the end of the year. So we're just kind of where we are right now.

But, again, the trend is moving in the right direction.

MARTIN: Ron, there was good money news for somebody and that was Mitt Romney's camp. According to the Boston Globe, the top superPACs supporting Republicans in the fall elections have raised more than three times as much money as superPACs aligned with the Democrats. That's $158 million to $47 million. You know, on its face, that would just seem to be astonishingly good news for Mitt Romney.

CHRISTIE: Well, I think it's certainly good news for Governor Romney and those who not only hoped to have a Republican in the White House, but also to regain control of the Senate and keep the House.

The fact of the matter is that we Republicans have historically been outspent. The Democrats have long had labor unions and other individuals who have been contributing to Democratic-leaning causes. And, if I were Governor Romney, I would feel somewhat confident knowing that not only is he really raising a lot of money for his personal campaign, but that there are affiliated groups out there that will be on the airwaves to draw distinctions between the governor and his vision and President Obama and his record, so...

MARTIN: Ron, couldn't the other side make the argument that - so, basically, policy and law have aligned to tilt the balance from groups to individuals, from groups that have the ability to raise money as a group, which are unions, to wealthy individuals. Why is that good for the country?

CHRISTIE: Well, I think it's good for the country for people to be able to exercise their First Amendment rights. I think we can have a legitimate conversation about whether or not the Citizens United case was rightfully decided, which I think it is.

But, at the same time, you have people who are able to contribute to political action committees to get their word out, to have their views articulated. I think that's a good thing. The Democrats have been very good about that in the past about using waiver money to have their voices out and I think it's important for constituents to hear what the facts are before they pull the lever in November.

MARTIN: Corey, how does the president's team answer this? Or how do Democrats, in general, answer this? And just to give some additional context to this, the former Massachusetts governor's presidential campaign topped Mr. Obama's for the first time in May. They brought in more than $76.8 million, along with Republican groups. Mr. Obama and his allies raised $60 million in the same period. How do they answer that? I mean, you could just sort of say - just sort of, intellectually, just on sort of the basic seat of the pants argument that wealthy individuals, for whatever reason, are tilting Republican this year, how on earth do the Democrats answer that?

EALONS: Well, I think you're exactly right. There were three big decisions that were brought down by the Supreme Court last week. One was health care, the other was immigration and, finally - and very quietly - we had a ratification of Citizens United. That is going to be the single biggest and longest sustaining impact on elections for years to come.

And you're exactly right. It tilts the balance from organizations to individuals and the president, just yesterday, acknowledged - or this week - acknowledged, look, I may be the first sitting president to be outspent and, quite frankly, for that, I blame the president. He is the one who slept on this issue as far as embracing his own superPAC and encouraging them to raise the number of forces - the number of resources that they need in order to effectively communicate their message. He still has the bully pulpit, but he's...

MARTIN: Is it too late? Is it too late for him to catch up? You're saying he slept on it, but is it too late for him to wake up and smell the coffee?

EALONS: No, it's not. Because he still has the advantage of the bully pulpit, as I was saying before, and that is something that Mitt Romney doesn't have. He also, quite frankly, has the ability to energize communities that have been - let's just say - not supported by Mr. Romney over the past several months.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about the latest political news with Corey Ealons, a former Obama White House communications advisor, and Ron Christie, a former advisor in the George W. Bush administration.

Before we let you go, Ron, the money situation is favoring candidate Romney right now, but there's still a lot of grinching among influential conservatives. They're calling for a shakeup within the Romney camp over the weekend. Rupert Murdoch, for example, the head of News Corp, a very influential conservative figure, media figure, media executive, tweeted that President Obama's team will be hard to beat unless Romney, quote, "drops old friends from team and hire some real pros. Doubtful," unquote. What's that about? What's all that about?

CHRISTIE: Well, it's about a gentleman who I have a great respect for, Eric Fehrnstrom, who is a senior advisor to Governor Romney. Eric Fehrnstrom infamously said a few months back that the Romney campaign was like an Etch A Sketch campaign and, earlier this week, Mr. Fehrnstrom went on MSNBC and said that he knew that the governor believed that the individual mandate that was validated by the Supreme Court was, in fact, a penalty and not a tax. And that is something that Republicans and Governor Romney have been attacking the president on and then yet you have the governor's senior advisor out echoing the president's sentiment that it's a penalty rather than a tax.

And so there's a sense amongst some conservatives that Governor Romney is on the verge of a historic upset of beating the president, but in order to cross the finish line, he's got to get away from an insular group of officials who have advised him from his days in Massachusetts to the present.

MARTIN: We're hearing about how some Democrats, particularly in more vulnerable districts, are trying to either distance themselves from the president or they're kind of a bit disheartened. Are there conservatives and Republicans who have similar angst about the Romney team? I mean, do they feel that these difficulties might have effect down the rest of the ballot?

CHRISTIE: Well, we still have time. I think that these gaffes need to be corrected. Governor Romney - any time - and Corey knows this, as well - any time that you're a staffer, the issue is never about you. It's always about your principle and it's always about the message that that principle is trying to articulate.

And when you're starting to talk about staff and what staff said and what staff did, that's disheartening. But, no. I don't think, down the ticket, this will hurt Republicans. Governor Romney's got to be very cognizant that the issue has to be a contrast between himself and the president and not Governor Romney's staff and the president.

MARTIN: Corey, very briefly, final thought.

EALONS: I'll tell you this. Having been on three presidential campaigns, you always have these shakeup questions. What's interesting is Romney has run a very competent campaign, very Bain-like. The challenge is that, when the gaffes have come, they come from the principal, not from his team. So, if anybody needs to be changing right now, it may be the principal himself. It may be Romney.

MARTIN: Interesting. All right. Corey Ealons is a former Obama White House communications advisor, currently senior vice president with the strategic communications firm VOX Global, here with us in Washington, D.C. Ron Christie is the founder and president of Christie Strategies. That's a media and political strategy firm. A former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush, he was with us from our bureau in New York.

Thank you both so much for joining us once again.

EALONS: Always a pleasure.

CHRISTIE: Glad to be here.

MARTIN: But, before we move on, I'd like to take a moment to remember an important political figure who passed away earlier this week. Yvonne Bond Miller might not be a household name, but she was a trailblazer. She was the first African-American woman elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. That was in 1983. Four years later, she became the first African-American woman elected to the state Senate, but that's not all.

She was longest serving woman in the Virginia Senate, where she ranked third overall in seniority at the end of her tenure. She began her career as a teacher in Norfolk. Education, along with advocating on behalf of Virginia's poor and minorities became the centerpieces of her political career.

She died July 3rd, just one day shy of her 78th birthday. She suffered from stomach cancer and our condolences to her family and those who loved and cared for her. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.