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Pablo Martinex Monsivais / AP

White House press secretary Sean Spicer today was asked if President Trump stands by his unsubstantiated claims last fall that America's real unemployment figure could be upwards of 42% and, if not, what figure the Administration would use as an employment baseline.

Spicer punted, instead saying: "Too often in Washington we get our heads wrapped around a number, a statistic... For too long it's been about what number are we looking at rather than what face are we looking at."

The reality, however, is that employment numbers matter a lot. Not just for political talking points, but also for determining economic policy. Moreover, today we got updated data from the Richmond Fed, which regularly calculates an alternative unemployment rate that is higher than the official figure of 4.7%, but still well below Trump's 42% doomsday.

It's called the NEI:

Source: Richmond Federal Reserve

NEI differs from the traditional unemployment figure in two major ways:

  1. It counts not only those who are actively seeking work, but also the broader group of people out of the labor force.
  2. It weights that latter group based on their labor force attachment. For example, someone casually seeking work is weighted more than someone who is contently retired, or a college student.

The Richmond Fed reported an 8.4% NEI in December 2016, which is basically the same number as the prior month and down 0.2% since December 2015. When including workers who are only part-time for economic reasons, the figure climbs to 9.5%. That's also unchanged from the prior month, and down 0.3% from the year-earlier period.

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Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.

Exclusive: Hundreds of kids held in Border Patrol stations

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More than 700 children who crossed from Mexico into the United States without their parents were in Border Patrol custody as of Sunday, according to an internal Customs and Border Protection document obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The current backup is yet another sign of a brewing crisis for President Biden — and a worsening dilemma for these vulnerable children. Biden is finding it's easier to talk about preventing warehousing kids at the southern border than solving the problem.

Pompeo plots 2024 power play

Mike Pompeo in Washington on Feb. 12. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Mike Pompeo has quickly reentered the political fray, raising money for Republicans, addressing key political gatherings and joining an advocacy group run by Donald Trump's former lawyer.

Why it matters: The former secretary of state is widely considered a potential 2024 presidential contender. His professional moves this week indicate he's working to keep his name in the headlines and bolster a political brand built largely on foreign policies easily contrasted with the Biden White House.