Beltway Briefing

The top stories from US politics today.

1. US payroll figures are in for June and they are bad, bad news for Obama. Unemployment was up to 9.2 per cent; wages were stagnant and a pitiful 18,000 jobs were created. With jobs set to be the defining issue of 2012, these figures are a huge blow for Obama. Mitt Romney has so far based his attacks on Obama almost entirely around jobs. It plays to Romney strengths (his background in business) and focuses the debate away from his weaknesses (healthcare and his religion).

 

2. Michele Bachmann hates it when you suggest she's a flake, but likes it when you say she has sex appeal.

"Well, listen, I'm 55 years old. I've given birth to five kids and I've raised 23 foster kids, so that sounds like good news to me."

Woof. Now how this sits with the next Bachmann story, though.

3. Michele Bachmann was the first Republican candidate to sign marriage pledge put forward by The Family Leader, a prominent Iowa group that promotes Christian conservative social values. The organisation's chief executive, Bob Vander Plaats, a conservative evangelical leader, has said the Family Leader will not support any candidate who declines to sign. Presidential candidates who sign the pledge must agree to fidelity to his or her spouse, opposition to any redefinition of marriage (generally taken to be a ploy against same-sex marriage), and reform of uneconomic and anti-marriage aspects of welfare policy and divorce law.

4. A Republican-leaning fundraising group have launched a new phase of its $20 million advertising campaign attacking Democrats. Crossroads GPS, which has links to GOP strategist Karl Rrove, is running television ads that target five Democratic senators who are up for re-election in 2012. The group is also running ads on US national cable TV outlets and in presidential battleground states criticising Barack Obama.

 

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Britain is running out of allies as it squares up to Russia

For whatever reason, Donald Trump is going to be no friend of an anti-Russia foreign policy.

The row over Donald Trump and that dossier rumbles on.

Nothing puts legs on a story like a domestic angle, and that the retired spy who compiled the file is a one of our own has excited Britain’s headline writers. The man in question, Christopher Steele, has gone to ground having told his neighbour to look after his cats before vanishing.

Although the dossier contains known errors, Steele is regarded in the intelligence community as a serious operator not known for passing on unsubstantiated rumours, which is one reason why American intelligence is investigating the claims.

“Britain's role in Trump dossier” is the Telegraph’s splash, “The ‘credible’ ex-MI6 man behind Trump Russia report” is the Guardian’s angle, “British spy in hiding” is the i’s splash.

But it’s not only British headline writers who are exercised by Mr Steele; the Russian government is too. “MI6 officers are never ex,” the Russian Embassy tweeted, accusing the UK of “briefing both ways - against Russia and US President”. “Kremlin blames Britain for Trump sex storm” is the Mail’s splash.

Elsewhere, Crispin Blunt, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, warns that relations between the United Kingdom and Russia are as “bad as they can get” in peacetime.

Though much of the coverage of the Trump dossier has focused on the eyecatching claims about whether or not the President-Elect was caught in a Russian honeytrap, the important thing, as I said yesterday, is that the man who is seven days from becoming President of the United States, whether through inclination or intimidation, is not going to be a reliable friend of the United Kingdom against Russia.

Though Emanuel Macron might just sneak into the second round of the French presidency, it still looks likely that the final choice for French voters will be an all-Russia affair, between Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen.

For one reason or another, Britain’s stand against Russia looks likely to be very lonely indeed.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.