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A1: The stories you need to read before your first conference call.

-- Protests erupted in Manhattan and at least seven other cities Wednesday after a grand jury refused to indict a white police officer in the choking death of a black Staten Island man. There were no reports of significant violence or injuries, though about 30 people were arrested in New York. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would open a federal civil rights investigation into the death of Eric Garner. (Washington Post)

-- President Obama addressed the grand jury's decision at yesterday's Tribal Nations Conference: "When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that's a problem. ... It's incumbent on all of us as Americans ...that we recognize that this is an American problem and not just a black problem. It is an American problem when anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law." (Huffington Post)

-- House Speaker John Boehner faces an early test of his ability to control the Republican Conference today when the House votes on legislation sponsored by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), rebuking President Obama for executive actions on immigration. Republican leaders hope that vote will placate conservatives skeptical of Boehner's plan to pass a short-term funding bill for 11 of 12 executive departments, minus the Department of Homeland Security, in order to punt the immigration debate into the 114th Congress. Republican leaders have reached out to Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to see if Democrats would support Boehner's spending plan. Hoyer said Democrats are gaining leverage in the debate. (Washington Post)

-- The House passed a last-minute measure to preserve more than 50 tax breaks for 2014, adding $42 billion to the national budget deficit over the next decade and ensuring another debate over the same tax extenders in the 114th Congress. The House-passed version leaves out a tax credit that helps laid-off workers pay for health insurance and a tax credit for buying electric motorcycles, a pet project of Senate Finance Committee chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). (Associated Press)

-- Boehner on Wednesday stuck to his pledge not to bring up the Marketplace Fairness Act in the lame duck. Boehner told about 30 House Republican cosponsors of the internet sales tax measure he was committed to getting something done, but not this year. The Senate version of the bill passed 69-27 last year. (Roll Call)

-- Things in the National Defense Authorization Act, slated for a House vote today: Language creating six new national parks and expanding nine others. Language establishing a bipartisan commission to explore building a National Women's History museum. Language designating Pershing Park in downtown D.C. as a national World War I memorial. $63.7 billion for ongoing overseas military operations and language allowing the Pentagon to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels. (Washington Post)

-- About 1.5 million people applied for health care plans through the federal website during the first two weeks of open enrollment, HHS said Wednesday. About half of those people, 765,000, have already picked plans. Applications are almost equally divided between new and returning customers. (The Hill)

-- Front Pages: WaPo leads with Obama's outreach to his own party, part of an effort to mend fences before playing defense in the next Congress. NYT 2-column lead next to 4-column photo of protests: "New York Officer Facing No Charges In Chokehold Case." USA Today full-page banner: "Outrage after no charges for NYC cop." LA Times leads with unrest in Hong Kong, where protest leaders are due in court. WSJ highlights Iranian airstrikes against Islamic State positions, with a 4-column photo of Eric Garner protests splashed above the fold.

National Roundup: What's happening outside the Beltway.

-- WH'16: Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has hired Democratic strategist Bill Hyers as a senior advisor to his PAC. Hyers managed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's (D) upset win in 2013. He briefly worked for former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (D) before taking over Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's (D) unsuccessful 2014 campaign. (Washington Post) That's a big get for O'Malley. Hyers could be a manager.

-- New Hampshire: State Rep. Shawn Jasper (R) upset former House Speaker Bill O'Brien (R) on the third ballot in leadership elections Wednesday, winning support from Democrats and a handful of Republicans skeptical of O'Brien's attempt to regain the speaker's gavel. Republicans control 239 of 400 state House seats, but O'Brien only won 190 votes on the first ballot. The Democratic candidate withdrew after the first ballot to make way for Jasper to enter the race; Jasper fell one vote short on the second ballot and won by a 195-178 margin on the third ballot. (Concord Monitor, WMUR, NHJournal) Huge upset, but one that happened in a way that will spook possible presidential contenders who might otherwise race to make congratulatory phone calls.

-- Indiana: Call him the comeback-comeback-comeback kid: Former Rep. Baron Hill (D) has left his lobbying job in D.C. to move back to Indiana to consider a possible run for governor in 2016. He says it will take $12 million to $15 million to win the race. (Southern Indiana News and Tribune) Startling fact: Only one Indiana governor, Joe Kernan (D), has ever lost re-election. Kernan took over when Gov. Frank O'Bannon (D) died in 2003.

-- Louisiana: Being one of the more conservative Democrats in the Senate can put Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) in an awkward position. In a Wednesday campaign stop in New Roads, La., Landrieu said she would be replaced on the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee by "a senator from Washington State who's all for windmills and alternative energy, and doesn't support the oil and gas industry." A few minutes later, that senator, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), sent out a fundraising request on Landrieu's behalf. (Bloomberg, Seattle Times)

-- Ohio: Rep. Tim Ryan (D) says he's thinking about challenging Sen. Rob Portman (R) in 2016. Ryan may not be the only Democrat running: Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman (D) is considering a bid, as is Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld (D). Consumer Financial Protectuon Bureau chief Richard Cordray gets mentions as a possible candidate, too. Ryan has $441,000 on hand, compared with a whopping $5.5 million in Portman's bank account. (Roll Call) Haven't Dems barked up the Tim Ryan tree before?

-- Alaska: Sen. Mark Begich (D), who lost his Senate seat in November, is said to be considering a return to his old job as mayor of Anchorage. Voters will choose a replacement for outgoing Mayor Dan Sullivan (R) -- reminder, there are two Dan Sullivans, this one lost a bid for lieutenant governor -- in April. Six candidates, all conservatives, have filed to run, but other candidates are waiting to see if Begich gets in. Anchorage Chamber of Commerce president Andrew Halcro said Begich is "seeing about getting his thoughts together in the next week." (Alaska Dispatch News)

-- Florida: A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that a stay on a ruling overturning the state's ban on same-sex marriage will be lifted by close of business on Jan. 5. The three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals turned down a request by Florida officials to extend the stay after a Tallahassee district court judge ruled in August against the marriage ban. (Miami Herald) So, unless another state jumps in line, Florida would be the 36th state to allow gay marriage.

-- Illinois: Outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn (D) wants lawmakers to come back to Springfield to pass a minimum wage increase before he leaves office in January, though Quinn's staff has said he won't call legislators back into session. A spokesman for House Speaker Mike Madigan (D) said they couldn't find the votes for an increase to $10 an hour. The Chicago city council voted Tuesday to raise the minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019. (Chicago Tribune) Quinn leaves office on Jan. 12.

DC Digest: What's on tap today in DC.

-- President Obama hosts the Summit on College Opportunity at the Ronald Reagan Building today, aimed at encouraging college attendance. Tonight, he delivers remarks at the National Christmas Tree Lighting on the Ellipse.

-- Vice President Biden delivers remarks this morning at the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Kennedy Center expansion project. This afternoon, it's Biden's turn at the college opportunity summit; he's scheduled to speak at 3 p.m.

-- The House meets at 9 a.m. for legislative business today, with first votes expected by 10:15 a.m. and last votes scheduled for 2:30 p.m. at the latest. They'll pass the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act, named for outgoing Armed Services chairmen Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Buck McKeon (R-Calif.). Then the bipartisanship ends and they move on to debate Yoho's Executive Amnesty Prevention Act.

-- The Senate meets at 9:30 a.m., with confirmation votes on two Energy Department officials first up on the docket. They'll vote on cloture motions and nominations of District Court Judges for Kentucky, Pennsylvania and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, followed by cloture motions on nominees to become members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Labor Relations Board and a new director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. And who says the Senate never gets anything done: They renamed 10 post offices on Wednesday.

-- Senate Republicans are increasingly likely to keep Democratic-passed rule changes weakening the filibuster in the 114th Congress, at least when it comes to political nominees. Incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn't taken a public position on the issue, but in private he's argued for allowing a simple majority to confirm presidential nominees. McConnell could use the so-called "nuclear option" to raise the number of votes required to end debate on a nominee to 60, but he so vocally criticized outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid for using that option that it's not likely McConnell will go the same route. (Politico)

-- The D.C. Board of Elections has set a special election to fill Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser's (D) Ward 4 seat on April 28, the same day Ward 8 voters will pick a replacement for the late Councilmember Marion Barry (D). (@MikeDeBonis)

-- Union Market, the hip new spot north of Capitol Hill, is going to get a lot bigger. Edens, the company that spent $25 million to buy the Union Market building in 2007, has been buying surrounding old warehouses, according to public records. The South Carolina-based developer has proposed adding a 40,000-square foot movie theater and a 112,000-square foot office building to the existing property and a 520-unit 11-story residential building nearby. (Washington Business Journal)

-- Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry will lie in repose at the John A. Wilson Building starting today. The public is invited to pay respects from 9 a.m. to midnight, and from 6 to 9 a.m. on Friday morning. Barry's body will be taken by funeral motorcade through the city to the Temple of Praise Church in Southeast. A memorial ceremony is scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Washington Convention Center. (Washington Post)

B1: Business, politics and the business of politics

-- Republicans in Wisconsin, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Ohio and Missouri are likely to take up and pass right to work legislation in coming legislative sessions. Longer-shot bills are likely in Colorado, Kentucky, Montana and Pennsylvania, all states where Democrats control the governor's mansion. Republican governors like Scott Walker, Susana Martinez and John Kasich haven't put right to work at the top of their own agendas, but conservative legislators are likely to take up the cause. (Washington Post)

-- Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) is running to become the next chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, a spokesman confirmed Wednesday. Spokesman Dave Parker said Bullock, who is up for re-election himself in 2016, might only serve one year as chairman, rather than the traditional two. (Associated Press) No other governor has said he or she will run, and observers expect Bullock to win by acclamation.

-- Stock futures are fractionally higher after slight gains Wednesday. World markets were up across the board today. (CNN)

C1: The long reads you'll need to check out before tonight's cocktail party.

-- Tom Edsall takes another look at Sen. Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.) speech at the National Press Club last week: "According to Schumer, President Obama and his party suffered defeat last month in large part because of the strategic decision to press for enactment of the Affordable Care Act. ... According to Schumer, President Obama and his party suffered defeat last month in large part because of the strategic decision to press for enactment of the Affordable Care Act."

-- "Standing in the way of activist intervention is the fact that 'the American public is so cynical about government that a Democratic, pro-government message would not be immediately successful.' To restore credibility, Schumer argued, the 'first step is to convince voters that we are on their side, and not in the grips of special interests.'" (New York Times)

-- Reid's Take: Schumer drew heat for blaming the Affordable Care Act, but Edsall gets to the crux of his real point: Voters distrust government (and business, and banks, and religious institutions, and sports stars) more than ever. The Democratic solution to health care was viewed as a big government solution. Even if it worked perfectly, voters were going to be skeptical. Democrats needed to demonstrate that government could work to fix the average voter's problems, and the average voter didn't see health care as his or her biggest problem at a time when the economy was in the tank.

C4: The comics page, fun things to read when you're bored at work

-- The percentage of twenty-somethings who prefer beer over other alcohol has fallen dramatically over the last two decades, from three-quarters to 40 percent. The percentage who say they prefer spirits has spiked from 13 percent in the 1990s to almost 30 percent today. Industry analyst Spiros Malandrakis: "Alcohol consumption is cyclical by nature. Believe it or not, we tend to drink what our grandparents drank, not what our parents drank." (Washington Post)

-- The most depressing, most fascinating thing you'll read today: When facts clearly contradict our assumptions, new research suggests our brains switch over to "unfalsifiable" assertions to back up our arguments, assertions that cannot be definitely proven or disproven. Three psychologists, writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, say our tendency to fall back on those assertions "may contribute to polarization, intractability and the marginalization of science in the public discourse." (Pacific Standard Magazine)

Attn Matt Drudge: Things conservatives will get outraged by today.

-- The Department of Homeland Security posted 1,000 new job openings the day after President Obama announced his executive action on immigration. DHS said the new employees, including some GS-15s who would make up to $157,000 a year, would be housed in a new location in Crystal City. (Washington Times)

Attn HuffPo: What outrages liberals today

-- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blames Eric Garner's death on high cigarette taxes in New York City. "I think it's also important to know that some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes. So they've driven cigarettes underground so as not to make them so expensive," Paul said on MSNBC's Hardball. "But then some politician also had to direct the police to say, 'Hey, we want you arresting people for selling a loose cigarette.' And for someone to die over you know breaking that law -- there really is no excuse for it." (CNN)