Why have a chief of staff at all?

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On the roster: Why have a chief of staff at all? - Shutdown fears worsen – Russian agent cuts deal with feds – Brexit bungle rolls on - An anonymoose culprit

Like a lot of Republicans of his day, John Nicolay was a German from Cincinnati. 

What set him apart, aside from his keen intellect, taciturnity and gifts as a writer, was his ferocious loyalty. 

Nicolay moved to Illinois where he became a newspaperman and eventually threw in with the new Republican Party. That’s when he met Abraham Lincoln just as the one-term congressman was beginning his rise. Nicolay became Lincoln’s devoted disciple and eventually his personal secretary. 

Throughout the 1860 election, Nicolay, then 28, was what we now call a “body man” — the young person who “staffs” (God forgive us for the abuse of our beautiful language in this city) the candidate or official. He’s got the schedule, makes sure the boss gets a snack/water/potty break/hypoallergenic neck pillow when he needs one and, most importantly, protects and spares the boss from friends, admirers, favor seekers and the rest of the remoras who swim in the great waters of politics. 

But he was more than that. He functioned as a demi chief of staff, making sure meetings were run according to Hoyle and blocking out Lincoln’s schedule, thereby helping decide Lincoln’s priorities. 

Helping Nicolay was John Hay, a child of privilege from Springfield whose influential uncle kept his law office in the same building as Lincoln. Just 22, Hay came aboard the campaign after Lincoln’s surprise victory at the Republican convention in Chicago. 

Hay was in charge of Lincoln’s correspondence. Before you consider it drudgery, though, remember how much the world relied on letters in those days. Everything from the intensely personal to the weightiest matters of state came and went through the mail. Hay not only needed to understand Lincoln well, he had to sound like him when need be. 

He functioned like a demi-demi chief of staff, writing as he did with the authority of Lincoln himself. 

When Lincoln went to Washington, Nicolay and Hay went with him. They were his first hires and shared a shabby room in the White House, a space necessary to accommodate the demands of Lincoln’s work schedule. When the boss is on duty for 16 hours a day, seven days a week and never takes a vacation, going home isn’t really an option. 

There wasn’t enough money in the White House budget for two secretaries so they got Hay a gig at the Interior Department where Secretary Caleb Smith obligingly had him placed on permanent loan to the White House. 

Lincoln was known to appear in their room before they woke to discuss the latest dispatches from the front. They travelled with him. They ate with him. They dealt with the manias and machinations of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln. They became, in short, an extension of the president himself.

Lincoln adored them and treated them as sons, especially Hay, who was a great comfort to Lincoln during his shattering grief following the death of his 11-year-old son, Willie, from typhus in 1862. And while Hay had been a later convert to Lincoln adoration than Nicolay, he was no less ardent in his reverence or devotion to the great man.

“I have to a great extent stopped questioning where I don't agree with him. Content with trusting to his instinct of the necessities of the time and the wants of the people,” Hay wrote to a friend about Lincoln’s risky gambit of issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. “I hardly ever speak of him to others than you because people generally would say ‘Yes! Of course: That's how he gets his daily bread!’ I believe he will fill a bigger place in history than he even dreams of himself.”

The position of chief of staff grew out of presidents’ personal secretaries. 

Starting in the middle of the last century, presidents wanted a more public, official role for the job — i.e. being the top cop of the West Wing. Tell Secretary So-and-so to resign. Call a cabinet meeting. Tell the Vice President’s office to knock it off. Get the first lady’s office to hold off until after the election. Etc.

In part, the new title, which originated under Harry Truman, was a reflection of the changing meaning of the word “secretary” to mean what Joan and the gals on “Mad Men” did for a job.

No matter what we call it, though, the job remains the same one that Nicolay and Hay did for Lincoln: executor of executive privileges, protector and, most importantly, secret keeper. But that, of course, relies on having something like the mutual trust and esteem they had. 

The word “secretary” comes from the same place as “secret.” It is supposed to mean one two whom personal, secret and sensitive can be entrusted. A secretary is a keeper of secrets. 

So what happens when a president really trusts no one outside of his own family? What if a president does not allow anyone to act with his imprimatur? What if a president seeks advice from hundreds of friends and acquaintances at all hours of the day and night by phone? What if a president shuns the protective restrictions a secret keeper must deploy to keep the grasping and ambitious away from the boss? What if the president is pro-remora?

The world seems to be waiting for President Trump to find his own Nicolay and Hay and are addressing the current search for a replacement for the doomed John Kelly as chief of staff. But that’s not going to happen. There is no one who can command or deliver that kind of devotion and trust with this president. 

So maybe we’ve been asking the wrong questions. Why have a chief of staff at all? The post is only useful to a president who will treat such a person with an empowering respect and deference. That’s not going to happen. 

Trump can use his personal secretary to communicate with cabinet officials or, as is his wont, communicate directly. Given the ignominy visited on Reince Priebus and Kelly what serious person would want the job? And given how brutally taxing the coming months stand to be, what sane person would take it?

Unless the president picks his own daughter or another member of his family it’s hard to imagine anyone who will command his trust and respect to a sufficient degree. Why not just pass?

“The extravagant surmises of a distempered jealousy can never be dignified with that character.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 59

History: “[On this day in 1901] The first Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. The ceremony came on the fifth anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite and other high explosives. In his will, Nobel directed that the bulk of his vast fortune be placed in a fund in which the interest would be ‘annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.’ Although Nobel offered no public reason for his creation of the prizes, it is widely believed that he did so out of moral regret over the increasingly lethal uses of his inventions in war. … Today, the Nobel Prizes are regarded as the most prestigious awards in the world in their various fields. Notable winners have included Marie Curie, Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, Winston ChurchillErnest Hemingway, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Nelson Mandela. … The Nobel Prizes are still presented annually on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death.”

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Trump job performance 
Average approval:
 41.4 percent
Average disapproval: 52.2 percent
Net Score: -10.8 points
Change from one week ago: up 2.4 points 
[Average includes: NPR/PBS/Marist: 43% approve – 49% disapprove; IBD: 39% approve – 55% disapprove; Grinnell/Selzer: 44% approve – 47% disapprove; Gallup: 40% approve – 56% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve – 54% disapprove.]

Politico: “Donald Trump’s meeting Tuesday with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer may go a long way toward determining whether the government enters a partial shutdown before Christmas. But as Democrats seriously re-engage with Trump for the first time in nearly a year, their broad distrust of the president has expectations for a deal at rock bottom. … The House and Senate Democratic leaders have been here before. Multiple times over the past two years they thought they'd cut a deal with Trump only to see him swiftly trash ‘Chuck and Nancy’ and demand hefty conservative concessions. Now Trump is threatening to shut down a large swath of the federal government if he doesn’t get billions in funding for his border wall. But Democrats say they have no reason to think talks this week will end differently than they have in the past, according to interviews with more than a half-dozen House and Senate Democrats. And the Democratic leaders — constrained by an aggressive left flank in the party — are in no mood to even try to strike a sweeping immigration deal like in past negotiations.”

Trump backtracks, wants to boost defense budget to $750 billion - Politico: “President Donald Trump has told Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to submit a $750 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2020, in a reversal from his pledge to trim defense spending, two people familiar with the budget negotiations have told POLITICO. The $750 billion figure emerged from a meeting Tuesday at the White House among Trump, Mattis and the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, both people said. … That would dwarf the $733 billion budget proposal Mattis and other top military leaders have been fighting to preserve and would represent a stunning about-face for a president who recently called the fiscal 2019 top line of $716 billion for defense spending ‘crazy.’ In October, Trump said the defense figure for 2020 would be $700 billion, a roughly 5 percent cut in line with decreases planned for other agencies.”

USA Today: “Maria Butina, a Russian national charged with conspiracy and acting as the agent of a foreign government, joined prosecutors Monday in asking a judge to schedule a hearing for her to change her plea. Butina has pleaded innocent so far in the case in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She has been jailed since July, largely in solitary confinement. But now lawyers for both sides are asking for a plea hearing Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. ‘The parties have resolved this matter,’ the two-page filing said. On Friday, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan appointed public defender A.J. Kramer as an advisory counsel to Butina without further explanation. The move came after Chutkan held a phone conference with Butina's defense lawyers, Robert Driscoll and Alfred Carry, and assistant U.S. attorneys Erik Kenreson and Thomas Saunders. Chutkan earlier placed a gag order on both the federal prosecutors and the defense team that prevents them from speaking publicly about the case. … The Russian Embassy has called repeatedly for her release, most recently on Thursday.”

Cohen opened door for to Trump family business dealings – NYT: “When federal prosecutors recommended a substantial prison term for President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, they linked Mr. Trump to the crimes Mr. Cohen had committed in connection with the 2016 presidential campaign. What the prosecutors did not say in Mr. Cohen’s sentencing memorandum filed on Friday, however, is that they have continued to scrutinize what other executives in the president’s family business may have known about those crimes, which involved hush-money payments to two women who had said they had affairs with Mr. Trump. After Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty in August to breaking campaign finance laws and other crimes — he will be sentenced on Wednesday — the federal prosecutors in Manhattan shifted their attention to what role, if any, Trump Organization executives played in the campaign finance violations, according to people briefed on the matter. Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s self-described fixer, has provided assistance in that inquiry, which is separate from the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.”

During the 2016 campaign Russians interacted with 14 Trump associates - WaPo: “The Russian ambassador. A deputy prime minister. A pop star, a weightlifter, a lawyer, a Soviet army veteran with alleged intelligence ties. Again and again and again, over the course of Donald Trump’s 18-month campaign for the presidency, Russian citizens made contact with his closest family members and friends, as well as figures on the periphery of his orbit. Some offered to help his campaign and his real estate business. Some offered dirt on his Democratic opponent. Repeatedly, Russian nationals suggested Trump should hold a peacemaking sit-down with Vladi­mir Putin — and offered to broker such a summit. In all, Russians interacted with at least 14 Trump associates during the campaign and presidential transition, public records and interviews show.”

Trump calls Cohen hush money for sex worker a ‘simple private transaction’ – Fox News: “President Trump on Monday denied the hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election were campaign contributions, instead calling them a ‘simple private transaction.’ ‘So now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution,’ Trump tweeted. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, recently admitted in a plea deal to violating federal campaign finance laws by arranging payments to Daniels and McDougal on Trump's behalf, according to the plea. Prosecutors on Friday released a sentencing memo calling for Cohen to a ‘substantial term of imprisonment’ for the president’s former fixer. On Monday, Trump took aim at Cohen, saying that if a mistake was made and it was considered a contribution, the ‘liability’ should be with the lawyer.”

WaPo: “Faced with a devastating loss in Parliament, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Monday that she would delay a vote on the Brexit deal she negotiated with the European Union and instead return to Brussels to ask for more concessions. ‘If we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow, the deal would be rejected by a significant margin,’ May conceded to a packed chamber in the House of Commons. Nearly 100 members of her own Conservative Party had signaled they would vote against her half-in, half-out version of Brexit. The pound sterling plummeted and the stock markets in the United States and Europe sank on news of Brexit chaos. May was clear she would not tear up the negotiated 600-page withdrawal agreement — she said again it was the best available deal — but will ‘do all that I can to secure the reassurances this House requires to get this deal over the line and deliver for the British people.’”

David Brooks: ‘Liberal Parents, Radical Children’ - NYT

Pelosi will be part time speaker, part time party referee come 2019 - Bloomberg

Elizabeth Warren is full-steam ahead, naysayers or not - Politico

Nebraska goes back to primary system after Dems vote to discontinue caucuses - Omaha World-Herald

U.S. Census shows America's wealth concentrated around Washington - Axios

Kevin Williamson: Republicans have to pay attention to urban America - National Review

“No comment!” – Sen. Tom Cotton’s three-year-old son said to reporters while walking through the Capitol with dad.

It’s time again for our annual year-end edition saluting the year’s best journalism, and we need your input. What stories stood out? Which journalists helped you understand the world in a better way? Who did it with integrity and an unflinching commitment to the truth? What about the ones who made you think or laugh? You can read last year’s winners here to get an idea of what we’re looking for. Share your suggestions with us by email at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM 

KTVA: “It wasn't an aftershock that woke up some Alaskans earlier [Wednesday] morning. Around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, Kyle Stultz woke up to his doorbell going off. Security cameras catch all sorts of things here in Alaska, for Stultz and his partner Allie Johnstone, they had an unexpected visitor caught on camera. … After checking on their dogs and looking out the door to find nothing, Stultz assumed some neighborhood kids were playing a prank. ‘We were thinking kids coming through playing ding dong ditch or maybe a neighbor coming through. We had no idea,’ Stultz said. So they checked their security system and were surprised to see a moose caboose. ‘We had this nice moose behind waiting for us right here,’ Stultz said. ‘And he decided to back up right into it and that’s how he got our doorbell.’ … The couple said they're just happy the security camera caught something positive this time. ‘It makes you feel safe and that it could catch moments like that where it’s not just security,’ Johnstone said. ‘It’s also a bit of comic relief. It’s really nice.’”

“Which is why my default view of espionage is to never believe anyone because everyone is trained in deception. This is not a value judgment; it’s a job description.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on March 9, 2017.  

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.

Manfort’s multiplying woes

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On the roster: Manfort’s multiplying woes – It's Election Day (again) in Mississippi – GOP tries to get Trump off of lame duck shutdown – Bloomberg heading to Iowa – The reception was so crisp 

AP: “A British newspaper alleges that Paul Manafort secretly met WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London within days or weeks of being brought aboard Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. If confirmed, the report Tuesday suggests a direct connection between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which released tens of thousands of emails stolen by Russian spies during the 2016 election. The campaign seized on the emails to undermine Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton. … Assange’s Ecuadorian lawyer, Carlos Poveda, said the Guardian report was false. … The Guardian cited two unidentified sources as saying Manafort first met Assange at the embassy in 2013, a year after Assange took refuge there to avoid being extradited to Sweden over sex crime allegations. The Guardian said Manafort returned there in 2015 and 2016 and said its sources had ‘tentatively dated’ the final visit to March.”

Manafort threatens legal action against Guardian after report he met Assange – Fox News: “Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort suggested on Tuesday in a statement obtained by Fox News that he might bring legal action against The Guardian, after the newspaper published what he called a ‘totally false and deliberately libelous’ report claiming that he met with Wikileaks head Julian Assange the same month he joined the Trump team. … ‘This story is totally false and deliberately libelous,’ Manafort said in the statement. ‘I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him. I have never been contacted by anyone connected to Wikileaks, either directly or indirectly. I have never reached out to Assange or Wikileaks on any matter. We are considering all legal options against the Guardian who proceeded with this story even after being notified by my representatives that it was false.’”

Trump ratchets up attacks as Mueller bears down – USA Today: “President Donald Trump denounced Russia special counsel Robert Mueller as a ‘rogue’ prosecutor on Tuesday, a day after Mueller's office said that ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has lied repeatedly to the FBI and violated a plea agreement. ‘The Phony Witch Hunt continues, but Mueller and his gang of Angry Dems are only looking at one side, not the other,’ Trump tweeted. ‘Wait until it comes out how horribly & viciously they are treating people, ruining lives for them refusing to lie.’ He added that ‘Mueller is a conflicted prosecutor gone rogue…’ Prosecutors have also looked at whether Trump knew about Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election by hacking Democratic emails and pushing fake news about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and whether the president has tried to obstruct the investigation.”

McCarthy: Manafort’s pardon play – National Review: “Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office has informed a federal court that Paul Manafort violated his plea agreement by repeatedly lying to investigators. … On the surface, it doesn’t seem that Manafort’s dispute can get him very far. But when we look closer, we realize that this is about more than a plea; it is about a pardon. … Pardons, then, are virtually certain not to be issued until Mueller has completed his investigation. That is one reason why, unlike many Mueller watchers, I am not convinced that the special counsel is in a big hurry to close the case and file his much anticipated final report.”

“As theory and practice conspire to prove that the power of procuring revenue is unavailing when exercised over the States in their collective capacities, the federal government must of necessity be invested with an unqualified power of taxation in the ordinary modes.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 31

USA Today: “Stephen Hillenburg, the visionary creator of ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ died Monday, Nickelodeon and Jessica Berger, a rep for his family, confirm to USA TODAY. The cause of death was ALS. … Hillenberg's cheery SpongeBob, awash in puns and happily flipping Krabby Patties at the Krusty Krab eatery, became a pop culture sensation. … ‘The fact that it's undersea and isolated from our world helps the characters maintain their own culture,’ Hillenburg told The Associated Press in 2001. ‘The essence of the show is that SpongeBob is an innocent in a world of jaded characters. The rest is absurd packaging.’ … Hillenburg first parlayed his fascination with ocean life into a career as a biology teacher at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California. In 1987 he began his career in animation, and from 1993 to 1996 got his start at Nickelodeon on ‘Rocko’s Modern Life.’  From there, Hillenburg began work full time, writing producing and directing an animated series that would eventually become ‘SpongeBob SquarePants.’” 

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Trump job performance 

Average approval: 40.6 percent
Average disapproval: 55 percent
Net Score: -14.4 points
Change from one week ago: down 2.4 points 
[Average includes: Gallup: 38% approve – 60% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve – 54% disapprove; CBS News: 39% approve – 55% disapprove; Monmouth University: 44% approve – 49% disapprove; CNN: 41% approve – 57% disapprove.]

AP: “Mississippi voters are deciding the last U.S. Senate race of the midterms, choosing between a white Republican Senate appointee backed by President Donald Trump and a black Democrat who was agriculture secretary when Bill Clinton was in the White House. History will be made either way: Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, 59, would be the first woman ever elected to Congress from Mississippi, and Democrat Mike Espy, 64, would be the state’s first African-American U.S. senator since Reconstruction. Mississippi’s past of racist violence became a dominant theme after a video showed Hyde-Smith praising a supporter in early November by saying, ‘If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.’ … With the Mississippi election undecided, Republicans hold 52 of the 100 Senate seats. Mississippi last elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1982, but Espy was trying for the same kind of longshot win that fellow Democrat Doug Jones had nearly a year ago in neighboring Alabama, another conservative Deep South state where Republicans hold most statewide offices.”

Report: MLB donated to Hyde-Smith's campaign as favor to McConnell - Fox News: “Major League Baseball has wrapped itself into a political controversy after requesting Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith’s campaign to return thousands in donations stemming from her ‘public hanging’ comments. The donation to Hyde-Smith’s campaign came after a lobbyist who works for MLB couldn’t attend a mid-November fundraiser for Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Yahoo Sports reported Monday, citing sources. The league was reportedly asked to donate to Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., instead. MLB donated to her campaign on Nov. 12 or 13, sources told Yahoo Sports, which would pinpoint the donation to a day or more after she made the hanging remarks. Her campaign reported the $5,000 contribution Nov. 24, according to campaign filings. A request for comment from Sens. Hyde-Smith and McConnell by Fox News weren’t immediately returned.”

Dem takes lead over Republican incumbent Valadao - LAT: “Democrat TJ Cox slipped past Republican incumbent David Valadao on Monday to take the lead in the country’s sole remaining undecided congressional race, positioning Democrats to pick up their seventh House seat in California and 40th nationwide. Cox, who trailed by nearly 4,400 votes on election night, has steadily gained as ballot counting continues nearly three weeks after the Nov. 6 election, a pattern consistent with the state’s recent voting history. On Monday, he pulled ahead by 436 votes after Kern and Tulare counties updated their results. ‘Every update has kept us on track to win,’ said Phillip Vander Klay, a Cox spokesman, ‘and we're still on that track.’ Valadao's campaign did not respond to requests for comment.”

Maine Republican requests recount – Portland Press Herald: “Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin requested a recount Monday of results in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District race, citing concerns about the transparency of the ‘computer-engineered’ ranked-choice voting results. To overturn the election results, Poliquin will have to erase a more than 3,500-vote lead Democrat Jared Golden holds following the nation’s first use of ranked-choice voting to decide a congressional election. In a statement, Poliquin’s campaign talked about ‘frightened’ voters as well as the use of ‘artificial intelligence’ and ‘black box’ voting systems to decide the outcome of Maine’s historic election. ‘We have heard from countless Maine voters who were confused and even frightened their votes did not count due to computer-engineered rank voting,’ said Brendan Conley, a spokesman for the Poliquin campaign.”

Politico: “House Republican leaders are heading to the White House on Tuesday afternoon as GOP leaders try to placate President Donald Trump and avoid a partial government shutdown on Dec. 7. Senate GOP leaders have discussed with the president the possibility of providing Trump with $5 billion in guaranteed money for the wall but spread over two years, according to two Republicans familiar with internal discussions. Trump has not ruled out the idea, according to a Republican senator, but it's unclear whether Democrats will go along with that minor concession. Speaker Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise and new GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney — in her first Oval Office meeting since being elected to the Republican leadership — will huddle with Trump to strategize about how to get through the lame-duck session.”

House Republicans surprise Senate with tax bill - Politico: “House Republicans on Monday evening unexpectedly released a 297-page tax bill they hope to move during the lame-duck session of Congress. The legislation would revive a number of expired tax provisions known as ‘extenders,’ address glitches in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and make a range of changes to savings- and retirement-related tax provisions. Other parts of the bill would revamp the IRS, provide new tax breaks for start-up businesses and offer assistance to disaster victims. The measure amounts to House Republicans’ opening bid in negotiations with the Senate. They’ll need Democratic support there to move any changes, and it’s unclear lawmakers will agree to any of the provisions before adjourning for the year. The bill’s unveiling came only hours after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, complained the House GOP had provided little inkling of what exactly they want to do on taxes in the lame duck.”

Des Moines Register: “Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will visit Iowa next week as he mulls a possible run for president in 2020. Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie confirmed that Bloomberg will host a panel discussion and screening of his new film about climate change, ‘Paris to Pittsburgh.’ The event is Dec. 4 in Des Moines. Bloomberg, who was elected mayor as both a Republican and an independent, announced in October that he had re-registered as a Democrat. The 76-year-old billionaire also funneled more than $100 million into U.S. House races to help boost Democrats during the 2018 midterms. He told the Associated Press earlier this month that he expects to make a decision about whether he will run for president by early 2019.”

O'Rourke changes tune on potential presidential run - Texas Tribune: “Beto O'Rourke, coming off a closer-than-expected race against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is no longer ruling out a 2020 presidential run. During his Senate campaign, the El Paso congressman declared he would ‘not be a candidate for president in 2020’ regardless of the outcome. But on Monday, O'Rourke kept the door open to a White House bid during a town hall in El Paso and admitted his resistance to higher office was no longer as unequivocal. During the town hall, an audience member asked O'Rourke if he was running in 2020. In response, O'Rourke said he is currently focused on spending time with his family and finishing his term in the House, which ends Jan. 3. ‘And then,’ O'Rourke added, ‘Amy and I will think about what we can do next to contribute to the best of our ability to this community.’ Speaking with reporters after the event, O'Rourke acknowledged his answer on 2020 had changed from what it was during the Senate race.”

Cuomo rules out 2020 run - WashEx: “New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he isn't running for president in 2020. ‘I am ruling it out. I ran for governor, I have a full plate, I have many projects. I'm going to be here doing the job of governor,’ Cuomo told WNYC's Brian Lehrer in a radio interview Tuesday. ‘I am governor of New York and I have a lot to do.’ Cuomo, whose name has been mentioned frequently as a potential Democratic challenger to President Trump, was re-elected earlier this month to his third term as governor. Cuomo said in August that he planned on serving his full four-year term if re-elected in November, unless ‘God strikes me dead.’ He said Tuesday that has not changed.”

Poll: Most Americans believe the country is divided and will become more divided - Monmouth University 

Days before summit Trump says US to move ahead with boost on China tariffs - WSJ

Trump pushes Senate on criminal justice deal - Roll Call

DOJ: California can’t prove 2020 census would harm state, should drop challenge - Fox News

“…if my name weren’t Trump, if it were John Smith, they would say I’m the greatest president in history and I blow Ronald Reagan away.” – President Trump in an interview for the new book from Trump’s former deputy campaign manager David Bossie.

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Time: “A Connecticut man who was pulled over for talking on his cell phone while driving continues to maintain that he was actually just eating a McDonald’s hash brown. After Jason Stiber was issued a $300 distracted driving ticket in April when police allegedly mistook his crispy potato snack for a cell phone, he decided to fight the charge in court. ‘I was eating a hash brown and he thought he saw a cell phone near my mouth,’ Stiber said of the incident… But despite the fact that Stiber says phone records show he didn’t make any calls around the time he was ticketed, he lost at trial in August. Stiber also said that he has Bluetooth and therefore has no need to hold his phone up to his face. He’s now scheduled for a retrial on December 7 at state Superior Court. ‘I’m going to trial for justice,’ Stiber said.”

“I mean, life and consciousness are the two great mysteries. Actually, their substrates are the inanimate. And how do you get from neurons shooting around in the brain to the thought that pops up in your head and mine? There's something deeply mysterious about that. And if you're not struck by the mystery, I think you haven't thought about it.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) in an interview with Frontline on Jan. 29, 2009.   

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.

What to expect in Mississippi

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On the roster: What to expect in Mississippi – Pelosi’s got a problem with the problem solvers - Dems: Spending bill and Mueller measure a package deal - Harris may lose prime Senate perch - Not an *ahem* clean getaway 

Mississippi? Really? 

There has been a tremendous amount of attention paid to what, by all rights, should be an absolutely boring Senate runoff in Mississippi. 

But with no reliable polling to speak of and a six week political void stretching out until Democratic 2020 primary campaigns begin in earnest, all eyes in the political press have fallen to the Magnolia State. 

We have said many times before and will repeat again now: The greatest bias among reporters is for drama, even above their own personal political predilections. And in this case, the two impulses will tend to align. 

If former Democratic congressman and Clinton administration cabinet member Mike Espy wins in Mississippi one year after the Republican debacle with Roy Moore in neighboring Alabama it would be a heck of a story. It would also reinforce the growing narrative about Republicans losing their grip on the South and the rise of Democrats of color. 

But is it really a thing? 

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith has been just awful this campaign. When confronted with her mangled message – jokes about public hangings and voter suppression in Mississippi, sheesh – Hyde-Smith has been evasive. Rather than taking these issues head on, she has fled from the press and hidden behind press releases. 

Hyde-Smith is now taking heat for the fact that she and her daughter attended “academy” schools. Across the South many school districts shutdown rather than integrate in the wake of Supreme Court decisions in 1954 and 1955. In other places white parents and teachers simply fled newly integrated schools. In both cases, the recourse was the establishment of academies for white students. 

Mississippi, as the current controversy has reminded us, was among the last to succumb to desegregation, holding out until 1970. Hyde-Smith attended such a school and, reportedly, so did her daughter a generation later.

By then, though, the academy system had changed into something else. As it is for wealthier families in the entire nation, these private schools offer special privileges, advantages and protections for children of privilege – and most of those children are white.

While this may come as something shocking to 25 year-old political reporters who grew up in New York or California, voters in Mississippi are well acquainted with the facts of the case, just as they are not shocked to find out that schools had “Rebel” mascots. 

Even so it does serve the narrative that Hyde-Smith is some sort of a Theodore Bilbo in disguise. Espy is certainly embracing the idea that Hyde-Smith, a Democrat until 2010 and absolutely anodyne state agriculture commissioner, is the vanguard of the new neo-segregation.

What’s funny here is that the knock on Hyde-Smith in the primary was that she was too squishy. Her Republican rival, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, proudly spoke to Confederate groups and espoused all manner of impolitic positions on the culture wars. Hyde-Smith was supposed to be the safer choice, and here she is getting treated like a grand Kleagle.

Republicans are taking it seriously enough that they have been dumping money into the state ahead of Tuesday’s vote and President Trump is staging a double header of MAGA rallies tonight, one in Tupelo in the northern part of the state and one in Biloxi on the Gulf Coast. 

But are we really going to see an upset? 

The short answer is almost certainly not. Mississippi is a highly polarized state in which almost all of the black voters are Democrats and almost all of the white voters are Republicans and the result is a long string of 20-point Republican victories – a spread reflecting the ethnic makeup of the state. 

And while Hyde-Smith only edged out Espy in the first round by less than half of a point, third place finisher McDaniel took more than 16 percent of the vote, and trust us when we say these are not potential Espy voters. 

The very narrow path to which Espy must cling relies on radically altering the electorate through a surge in African American turnout. We do have some history on that since the previous occupant of the Senate seat, Thad Cochran, managed to do exactly that to defeat McDaniel in a runoff in 2016. But Espy would probably need more than that. 

There will be McDaniel voters who decline to come out to support the squishy Hyde-Smith (ironically and lamentably, all of the fearmongering about Hyde-Smith’s racial views may sadly help her with some of these voters). Like Doug Jones in Alabama Espy would take office as a likely one-term senator, which might be preferable to some Mississippi GOP hardliners to what would be almost certainly the permanent incumbency of Hyde-Smith. 

Weirder things have happened than a former Democratic congressman winning an upset in the Deep South. After all, if they make Flexible Flyer sleds in West Point, Miss., not a town famous for its frosty flakes, anything’s possible.

But if the expected comes to pass, don’t be surprised that a story that produced a ho-hum outcome got so much attention. Reporters love a good yarn. 

“The genius of republics (say they) is pacific; the spirit of commerce has a tendency to soften the manners of men, and to extinguish those inflammable humors which have so often kindled into wars.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 6

Lapham’s Quarterly: “Operation Ajax (or TPAJAX, as it was called in official documentation) was the first covert regime-change operation carried out by Central Intelligence Agency, then only six years old, and it very nearly failed. But in the end, under [Kermit Roosevelt’s] leadership, the CIA carried it off and deposed the popular and populist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, a democratically elected leader who sought to reverse decades of foreign influence and exploitation in his country. In so doing, he threatened British oil interests, which set him on a collision course with the world’s preeminent postwar powers. Those powers arrived in 1953, as Kermit Roosevelt began organizing the coup that would force Mossadegh from power and into house arrest. But the story of Operation Ajax begins long before 1953…”

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Trump job performance 
Average approval: 40.6 percent
Average disapproval: 55 percent
Net Score: -14.4 points
Change from one week ago: down 3.8 points 
[Average includes: Gallup: 38% approve – 60% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve – 54% disapprove; CBS News: 39% approve – 55% disapprove; Monmouth University: 44% approve – 49% disapprove; CNN: 41% approve – 57% disapprove.]

WaPo: “A group of nine centrist Democrats vowed anew Monday to oppose Rep. Nancy Pelosi or any other candidate for House speaker unless they agreed to rules changes aimed at easing bipartisan legislating. … The fresh demands from Democratic members of the cross-aisle Problem Solvers Caucus come after pushback from Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a young liberal star of the incoming freshman class who in a holiday weekend tweet called them ‘GOP-friendly rules’ that ‘will hamstring healthcare efforts from the get-go.’ The nine Democrats initially threatened to withhold their votes in a Nov. 13 letter. Now, with behind-the-scenes talks sputtering, they are renewing their demands. The tiff stands as an early test of Pelosi’s ability to balance the wishes of more moderate lawmakers — ‘majority makers’ who have been able to win swing and Republican-leaning districts — against an aggressive new crop of young progressives more interested in confrontation than compromise.”

Dissident drops threat to vote against Pelosi for speaker – Politico: “Another Democrat who has threatened to vote on the House floor against Nancy Pelosi for speaker seemed to soften that stance on Sunday, giving the California Democrat the appearance of momentum before a key test vote on Wednesday. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), one of 16 lawmakers or members-elect who had signed a letter promising to vote against Pelosi on the floor, said on Sunday he would back her over a Republican during the critical Jan. 3 vote. Pelosi allies have been insisting that a vote against her on the floor, where she needs a majority of the House to win the gavel, would effectively be supporting a Republican for speaker — though technically members can vote for a Democrat other than the nominee. Lynch appeared to concur with that line of thinking rather than push back on the suggestion that other Pelosi critics have deemed a ‘false choice’ and tried to combat privately for weeks.”

WSJ: “Congressional Democrats heading into the critical stretch of the lame-duck session increasingly say they will tie their support for a high-priority spending bill to a measure protecting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference. That sets up a potentially contentious several weeks as Democrats continue to pressure Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to recuse himself from the Mueller inquiry. … The concerns over the Mueller probe join broader questions about whether Mr. Whitaker, whom President Trump appointed after ousting Jeff Sessions on Nov. 7, can serve without Senate confirmation. … Democrats will gain some power when they take control of the House in January, but they say their most immediate leverage comes from Congress’s need to pass spending bills by Dec. 8. Republicans in both chambers say they want to avoid a partial government shutdown, and they need Democratic votes to do so. Spending bills need 60 votes to clear procedural hurdles in the Senate, where Republicans currently hold 51 seats. The GOP tentatively gained two seats in the recent election, but the newcomers won’t take office until January.”

WaPo: “Senate Democrats’ midterm losses have created a dilemma for the party’s leadership over a key committee seat held by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.)… Yet unless Democrats strike a deal, either with the Senate’s Republican majority or with fellow Democrats on the committee, numbers and seniority dictate that Harris will be out — and that has liberal groups scrambling to save her position. … Shortly after the midterm elections, Harris told Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) that she wanted to stay on the Judiciary panel, according to her spokeswoman, Lily Adams. … And it is by no means assured that Harris will lose her seat. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Schumer, the minority leader, could agree to expand the number of Republicans on the panel, so that no Democrats are forced off — something [Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)] said ‘magically’ happened for him after Democrats lost the Senate majority in 2014.”

‘Maybe we don’t need Oprah’: Early state Dems getting serious – McClatchy: “In New Hampshire earlier this month, veteran Democratic strategist Judy Reardon took stock of the midterm results and concluded that the party needs someone whose style is more calm and conciliatory than combative counter-puncher. ‘Before this election, I had been of the mind that the Democratic nominee to beat Trump had to be somebody with a big personality,’ she said. ‘…I now think that very well might not be the case. … Somebody who’s less flashy. Maybe we don’t need Oprah,’ she continued. Indeed, the Democratic Party is poised for pitched battles over both personality and ideology in their quest for someone who can defeat Trump in the general election. Does the party need a nominee with a big persona to match Trump’s brashness, or a lower-key figure who exudes stability? A progressive firebrand who thrills party activists or a centrist from the business world who can appeal to Republicans?”

Sanders says he'll ‘probably run’ in 2020 - Fox News: “Sen. Bernie Sanders might run for president again. The Vermont independent said he would pursue another presidential bid if he thought he would be the best person to defeat President Trump in 2020. ‘If there’s somebody else who appears who can, for whatever reason, do a better job than me, I’ll work my a– off to elect him or her,’ the progressive Sanders, 77, told New York Magazine. ‘If it turns out that I am the best candidate to beat Donald Trump, then I will probably run.’ Sanders famously ran for president in 2016, losing the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton. His aides reportedly are keeping an eye on Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also widely seen as a potential contender in the next presidential election. Sanders recently traveled to South Carolina, one of the early-voting states.”

GM’s decision to halt production in Ohio, Michigan could hurt Trump in 2020 – Roll Call: “General Motors’ decision to halt production in two states that were key to Donald Trump’s 2016 victory could complicate the president’s re-election bid. The U.S. automobile manufacturer announced Monday it plans to cease work on the Chevrolet Cruze at a Lordstown, Ohio, plant and on three Chevy, Buick and Cadillac models at a Detroit-Hamtramck facility in Michigan. The company said those moves, along with another at a Canada-based factory, are aimed at cutting costs.”

Trump isn’t happy with the decision - Bloomberg: “President Donald Trump said he’s ‘not happy about’ General Motors Co.’s plans to lay off more than 14,000 workers and close seven factories worldwide. Trump responded to the job cuts on Monday as he departed the White House for campaign rallies in Mississippi. He added that the country has done a lot for GM. … Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra plans to meet with White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Monday following the automaker’s announcement a White House official said. The meeting had been planned prior to Monday’s announcement of the job cuts, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity about a meeting that hasn’t been publicly announced.”

Mia Love holds first press conference since losing re-election, calls out Trump for his criticisms - Politico

Graham, Collins may push Trump on Saudi Arabia - The Hill

ICYMI: I’ll Tell You What: Dana and Peter on the “special relationship” - Fox News

“A few thoughts on 2020 since all of my friends appear to be running…” – Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the beginning of a Twitter thread. At the end of the thread he notes that “there are no circumstances” under which he’d run for president. 

“Mr. Stirewalt, Thank you for letting me know about Adam Kelly's article on thankfulness. I often become cynical or forgetful or unappreciative on the innumerable blessings I have received. I live relatively close to Mexico, and I think how different my life would be if I was born on the Mexico side of the Rio Grande. It only involves a few hundred yards in distance but a world of difference in one's life. I listen to your podcast, I'll Tell You What, on a regular basis and enjoy many of your political insights. You amaze me with your grasp of historical and political trivia. The best to you and yours at this Thanksgiving Season.” – Roland Shook, Silver City, N.M.

[Ed. note: I haven’t found any way to obtain happiness or it’s more meaningful relation, joy, without starting from a posture of gratitude. I know that as well as I know anything in the world. And yet I still manage to screw that up regularly! My father used to say that the word “deserve” was the most dangerous one in his vocabulary. As a boy I didn’t understand, but now I do. As soon as I start thinking about what is owed to me and what I ought to have, I am bound to end up melancholy in short order. But if I can muster enough humility to begin my day with a simple “thank you” to my Creator for healthy sons, breath in my lungs and honest work to do, this quickly goes the other direction. And I’ll add another point of gratitude: Readers like you who make it all worthwhile.]    

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AP: “Dutch police who found 350,000 euros ($400,000) hidden inside a washing machine have detained a man on suspicion of — what else? — money laundering. Police said in a statement Thursday that officers were checking a house in western Amsterdam on Monday for unregistered residents when they found the valuable laundry load. A photo displayed on the police website showed bundles of bank notes, mainly 20- and 50-euro bills, crammed into the drum. The officers also found a money-counting machine, a gun and several cell phones. The 24-year-old suspect’s name was not released, in line with Dutch privacy rules.”

“Without Ukraine, there’s no Russian empire. Putin knows that. Which is why he keeps ratcheting up the pressure. The question is, can this administration muster the counterpressure to give Ukraine a chance to breathe?” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post Feb. 27, 2014.

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.