Donald Trump eats dinner last night with Mitt Romney and Reince Priebus at Jean-Georges in New York. (Evan Vucci/AP)

THE BIG IDEA: “Repeal and replace” is out. The new GOP talking point about Obamacare is going to be “repeal and transition.” It is part of a coordinated effort to make the evisceration of the biggest piece of social policy legislation in half a century sound a little kinder and a lot gentler, especially to the millions of folks who directly benefit from it. Republican pollsters are privately testing various permutations of the message, and outside allies – from the insurance industry to conservative think tanks – are already starting to embrace the new phraseology being pushed by party chieftains.

-- Donald Trump said he would “completely repeal” the Affordable Care Act soon after taking office and immediately “replace” it with something “terrific” that is “so much better, so much better, so much better.” In his first post-election interview, on “60 Minutes,” Lesley Stahl asked what happens if the law gets repealed but not immediately replaced. “No, we’re going to do it simultaneously,” the president-elect insisted. “It’ll be just fine!” But the cold hard math and the rules of the Senate mean that it’s not just fine.

-- Tom Price’s selection as secretary of health and human services has been widely covered by the media as a signal that Trump intends to make good on his promise to quickly repeal and replace. But talk to the key Republicans in Congress, and you get a different vibe than what you see on the news. Shifting from campaign mode to governing mode, the leaders in both chambers are hurriedly trying to tamp down expectations. The mantra now is that the process to truly get rid of ACA will be a long slog – not a short sprint – and they’re maneuvering behind the scenes to get Trump’s transition team on the same page.

-- Here’s the rub: Republicans actually can repeal Obamacare somewhat easily using the procedure known as reconciliation. It’s the same maneuver that Democrats used to jam through the law in 2010 after Scott Brown unexpectedly won a special election to replace the late Ted Kennedy. Only 51 votes are required. But, under the rules of reconciliation, a replacement of the law cannot be moved through this same process. Sixty votes will be required in the Senate for that, and Republicans only have 52 seats.

“Repealing is easier and faster because that is getting to 51 votes. Replacing is going to take 60 votes,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy explained yesterday during a live interview with The Daily 202. “We’ll repeal Obamacare. It’s replacing Obamacare that you have to make sure you get right. You want to make sure you replace it properly.”

-- The emerging Republican stratagem is to create some “transition period,” as McCarthy calls it, setting a firm date on which the law would expire. That would then create a metaphorical cliff that the country would go over unless Congress acts. With the prospect of 20 million Americans losing health insurance coverage, the R’s bet that the D’s will cave and accept something they don’t like rather than nothing at all. As McCarthy put it, “Once it’s repealed, why wouldn’t they be willing to vote for a replacement? Right? You have no other options.”

Chuck Schumer talks to a Post reporter last month. (Gareth Smit/For the Washington Post)

-- This might be a brilliant stroke. Or, if history is a guide, it could fail spectacularly. Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate Minority Leader, says his caucus won’t budge and pledges resistance. Democrats feel like Republicans never worked with them during the past eight years, and there is heavy pressure from the left flank of Schumer’s caucus to replicate Mitch McConnell’s strategy of obstruction now that they’re going into the wilderness. It’s a dangerous cycle that could set up an epic game of chicken.

Remember, sequestration was never supposed to actually happen. The idea in 2011 was that the threat of painful cuts to both defense and social programs would be a big enough stick to incentivize Republicans and Democrats on the so-called “supercommittee” to work together on a grand bargain. It was a strategic blunder by both sides. (More of the backstory is here.)

-- Something to ponder: Which eight Democratic senators would actually vote for a replacement to Obamacare? McCarthy thinks incumbents up for reelection in 2018 in red states like Indiana, North Dakota, West Virginia and Missouri will play ball and push their colleagues to do the same. He also thinks Schumer will be temperamentally more willing to cut a deal than Harry Reid would have been, despite whatever he is saying in public.

Tom Price tears a page from the health care bill during a press conference. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

-- Another wrinkle: There is not Republican consensus on what a full replacement package should look like. There was much discussion when it looked like the Supreme Court would undercut the foundation of Obamacare with the decision in King vs. Burwell about what fixes conservatives could get behind. But the justices sided with the government, so the issue never came to a head. “It’s not easy,” McCarthy acknowledged. “I’ve sat around the room trying to come up with the replacement plan.”

-- To be sure, Tom Price has introduced his own legislation to replace the ACA four times, and in 2015, the House Budget Committee chairman was the chief sponsor of the only ACA-repeal bill to ever reach the White House. The president vetoed it, of course. And it is important to note that the Price alternative is quite partisan and leave no real room for negotiation with Democrats. If Republicans use it as an opening bid, the best case scenario is that the other side reads it as an unserious joke. The worst case scenario is that they take it as an insulting slap and then refuse to even come to the table.

-- Another player to watcch: Trump also named Seema Verma as the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services yesterday. She designed the most far-reaching Medicaid experiment under the law that the Obama administration has ever allowed. She’s also worked closely with Gov. Matt Bevin in Kentucky as he worked to overhaul his state’s set-up. (Amy Goldstein and Elise Viebeck look more deeply at Price and Verma as the conservative tacticians who will run point on the issue. Read their story here.)

-- McCarthy believes there is close to universal support among Republican lawmakers for protecting people with pre-existing conditions and to let children stay on their parents’ plans until they are 26 (which does not actually cost insurers all that much). Trump endorsed both elements during the post-election “60 Minutes” sit-down.

-- They didn’t get as much attention as his Tweets, but Trump made some pretty specific pledges related to health care during the campaign. Americans will get “great health care at a fraction of the cost,” he declared this fall. “Insurance costs will go down, and consumer satisfaction will go up! … You will be able to choose your own doctor again!”

Each of the following six commitments from Trump is on video tape: promising to eliminate the individual mandate, allowing individuals to fully deduct their health insurance premium payments on their taxes, letting people buy insurance across state lines, dramatically expanding the use of Health Savings Accounts, bringing down prescription drug prices by importing cheaper medications from overseas and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices directly with the manufacturers.

Orrin Hatch stops to answer questions yesterday after attending the weekly Senate GOP policy luncheon at the Capitol. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

REPUBLICANS MOVE THE GOAL POSTS:

-- Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, who has jurisdiction over federal health care programs, now says it will take up to three years to repeal the Affordable Care Act – a timeline that would guarantee the law is once again a marquee issue in the 2018 and 2020 elections. “We know that to correct it is going to take time,” the Utah senator told Kelsey Snell yesterday afternoon. “I don’t see any reason for anybody to be too upset about it.”

-- Wise Republicans are trying to get out front of what they see as inevitable voter backlash if they run roughshod with reconciliation, without trying to win Democratic buy-in (or at least making a show of trying to). “There will be a multiyear transition into the replacement,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said in a separate conversation with Kelsey. “This is a failed piece of legislation and it is coming apart at the seams, but it is going to take us a while to make that transition from the repeal to actually replacing it.”

-- Wisconsin is a telling example because it is the home state of both the Speaker of the House and the incoming White House chief of staff. About a quarter of a million people there are enrolled in the Obamacare exchanges, and another 143,000 childless adults are enrolled in Medicaid because of the 2010 law. "We believe that the transition should be a reasonable time, whether it's a year, a year-and-a-half or two years," Scott Walker, the new chairman of the Republican Governors Association, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Newly-reelected Sen. Ron Johnson, whose 2010 victory was fueled primarily by a full-throated promise to repeal Obamacare, has also shifted his rhetoric. From yesterday:

THE PERILS OF GREAT EXPECTATIONS:

-- If he could go back in a time machine to talk with House Republicans in 2010, McCarthy said he’d advise them not to not ratchet up expectations so much that they could never possibly achieve them. The failure to live up to the big promises that were made before the GOP took control of both chambers deepened the conservative base’s alienation. This led to Eric Cantor’s defeat in a 2014 primary and then the nomination of Trump to be president. “I would have asked our members not to make expectations higher than you could actually achieve,” McCarthy said, thinking back. “I always believe: Surpass expectations!”

-- There is a good chance that Trump has just fallen into that same trap. He made at least 282 promises during the campaign, many of which he will never be able to keep. (Jenna Johnson has kept a running list that you can print and save.) One of the biggest questions to be answered in the years ahead is: What happens when he inevitably doesn’t do everything he said? Will he lash out at congressional Republicans, blaming Ryan, McCarthy and McConnell? Will he just pretend that he has done everything he said he would? Do any of his core supporters actually care when he doesn’t follow through?

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Trump tweeted this morning that he will soon leave his “great business in total” to focus on the presidency. From Drew Harwell: “The announcement marks a turn from Trump’s months-long refusal to distance himself from his private business while holding the highest public office. But it remained unclear whether the new arrangement would include a full sale of Trump’s stake or, as he has offered before, a ceding of company management to his children, which ethics advisers have said would not resolve worries that the business could still influence his decisions in the Oval Office. ‘I will be holding a major news conference in New York City with my children on December 15 to discuss the fact that I will be leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!’ Trump tweeted. ‘While I am not mandated to do this under the law, I feel it is visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses. Hence, legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations. The Presidency is a far more important task!’

Trump and Romney dine in New York on Tuesday. (John Angelillo/Pool via Bloomberg)

-- Mitt Romney dined with Trump in New York last night, saying afterwards that their second meeting gave him “increasing hope” in Trump's abilities to steer America. From Abby Phillip: “They talked for more than two hours, they laughed, they munched on carefully prepared frog legs, and afterward, [Romney], once one of Trump's harshest critics, emerged a changed man. ... Trump seemed equally pleased: When asked by CNN’s Jim Acosta whether Romney might be his next secretary of state, he replied: 'Well we’re gonna see what happens.'"

-- Here is the statement Romney made to the press pool at the restaurant after Trump left: "I had a wonderful evening with President-elect Trump. We had another discussion about affairs throughout the world and these discussions I've had with him have been enlightening, and interesting, and engaging. I've enjoyed them very, very much. I was also very impressed by the remarks he made on his victory night. By the way, it's not easy winning. I know that myself. He did something I tried to do and was unsuccessful in. He won the general election and he continues with a message of inclusion and bringing people together and his vision is something which obviously connected with the American people in a very powerful way…“The last few weeks he's been carrying or a transition effort, and I can tell you I've been impressed by what I've seen in the transition effort. The people he's selected as members of his Cabinet are solid, effective, capable people. ... I happen to think that America's best days are ahead of us. ... And what I've seen through these discussions I've had with President-elect Trump, as well as what we've seen in his speech the night of his victory, as well as the people he's selected as part of his transition, all of those things combined give me increasing hope that President-elect Trump is the very man who can lead us to that better future."

-- Very smart take --> From enemies to potential allies: How the Trump-Romney divide began to heal,” by Michael Kranish (who has literally written biographies about both men): “Romney’s moralistic sense of responsibility couldn’t be more different from Trump’s self-styled playboy lifestyle. … Trump, 70, and the 69-year-old Romney have far more in common than many realize: Both came to prominence as risk takers and dealmakers, and both have spent much of their lives seeking to emulate and outdo the success of their famous fathers. ‘I would describe a potential relationship as complementary,’ said Marc Wolpow, who worked with Romney at Bain Capital … Romney, he said, failed to connect with blue-collar voters … but he possesses the diplomatic skills to be secretary of state. Trump hit it off with many average voters … but his brusque manner could be problematic in handling world affairs. ‘I think if you would merge both of them you’d have the perfect president … Mitt could be the good cop to the bad cops that surround Trump,’ [he said]. Romney, meanwhile, sees the possible job not just as a way to fulfill his desire to serve, but also to salve deep wounds [from two successive campaign losses]."

-- Romney was mostly mocked on social media, by right and left, for how hard he pandered after the dinner:

Many highlighted this Romney retweet from March:

-- The incoming Trump administration scored a victory last night when Carrier announced an agreement to keep a factory in Indiana that it had planned to close. The deal, reportedly spearheaded by Pence, keeps in the Hoosier State more than 1,000 jobs that were slated to be outsourced to Mexico.

But, but, but: We don’t know what kind of sweetheart deal Carrier might have been promised and whether both sides are inflating the numbers to make themselves look good. “Many questions remain open,” Jim Tankersley, Danielle Paquette and Max Ehrenfreund report. “It was unclear whether 1,000 new jobs were being saved in the U.S. or whether that figure included 400 jobs the company agreed to preserve earlier this year under pressure from Indiana officials. It's also not clear whether any incentives were offered to keep said jobs in the state.”

Carrier suggested Trump convinced it to keep close to 1,000 jobs in the United States:

Trump will hit the road tomorrow to talk about it:

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. A massive, calamitous wildfire raged through resort towns near the Great Smoky Mountains, killing at least three people and destroying more than 150 homes and businesses. Officials said the blaze was “unprecedented,” leaving thousands of unsuspecting travelers to literally “run for their lives.” (Leslie Wylie, Lindsey Bever, Travis M. Andrews, Angela Fritz, Peter Holley and Sarah Larimer)
  2. Massive tornadoes tore through portions of the Southeast last night, pummeling residents with golf ball-sized hail and flattening buildings throughout the region. At least three people were killed in Alabama, and the number could go higher. (Travis M. Andrews)
  3. Lawmakers hashed out final details on a $618.7 billion defense bill on Tuesday, dropping controversial measures that would force women to register for the draft and allow federal contractors to make religious-based hiring decisions. The House plans to vote on the compromise measure this Friday and the Senate will do so next week (Karoun Demirjian) 
  4. South America canceled all soccer matches for the next three days, announcing a temporary grieving period after members of a Brazilian soccer team were killed in a plane crash in Colombia on Tuesday. Officials said just six survivors have been found. (Dom Phillips, Samantha Schmidt and Brian Murphy)
  5. More than 1,500 veterans are planning to gather at the Standing Rock reservation next week to serve as “human shields” and protect Dakota Pipeline protesters. The move comes amid an ongoing battle over pipeline construction, which Native American tribes fear could pollute sacred cultural and burial grounds. (New York Times)
  6. While American students have improved math skills considerably over the last four years, a new study finds that they continue to lag their East Asian peers – falling to tenth place on benchmarks measuring fourth-grade science and eighth-grade math. (AP)  
  7. Scientists said the Great Barrier Reef has suffered the worst coral die-off ever recorded, caused by increasingly warm water temperatures that bleach and weaken the coral. (New York Times)
  8. In North Carolina, Democrat Roy Cooper continued to widen his lead over Gov. Pat McCrory as a recount continued. He’s ahead of the Republican incumbent by nearly 10,000 votes. But McCrory’s legal team continues to protest, saying an equipment malfunction requires a hand count of more than 90,000 votes. (Citizen-Times)
  9. More white people are dying than are being born in about one-third of the states, a new study finds. The number illustrates a dramatic spike in the last decade, with white deaths outpacing births in just four states in 2004. (WSJ)

TRUMP NAMES TWO MORE SECRETARIES:

Steven Mnuchin goes out to lunch yesterday at Trump Tower. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

-- Trump tapped former Wall Street financier Steven Mnuchin to lead the Treasury department, opting for an industry insider with no government experience to helm the agency in charge of the nation’s finances. Ylan Q. Mui and Philip Rucker report: Mnuchin, who formerly served as Trump’s campaign finance chairman, quickly earned the respect of the mogul for his close work with the RNC and his “instrumental” role in crafting details of Trump’s proposed tax code overhaul. 

“[Mnuchin] began his career at Goldman Sachs, where he became a partner, before creating his own hedge fund, moving to the West Coast and entering the first rank of movie financiers by bankrolling hits like the ‘X-Men’ franchise and ‘Avatar,” NYT’s Binyamin Appelbaum and Maggie Haberman note in a profile.

-- Trend: Mnuchin is just the latest in a string of extraordinarily wealthy advisers poised to fill the ranks of a Trump administration. "Industrialist billionaire Wilbur Ross is expected to lead the Commerce Department, and Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos was picked last week to lead the education department. Mnuchin made his fortune on Wall Street [and] his close ties to an industry he would be in charge of regulating have the potential to complicate his confirmation and could undermine Trump’s populist message," the Times notes.

-- More on how the new Treasury secretary got rich, via the Wall Street Journal’s Anupreeta Das and Rachel Louise Ensign: “In 2008, IndyMac Bank in Pasadena, Calif., collapsed in one of the largest bank failures in U.S. history. Mr. Mnuchin led a group of investors, including funds run by (George) Soros … who bought it from the government for about $1.5 billion. ... Fourteen years after leaving Goldman, Mr. Mnuchin remains in the firm’s orbit, showing up at alumni events and involving other ex-Goldman executives in his finance deals. He has continued to work those angles as Mr. Trump’s finance chairman. … The RNC finance chairman, Lewis Eisenberg, is a Goldman veteran and contemporary of Mr. Mnuchin’s father.”

-- Like Steve Bannon, Mnuchin has deep, controversial ties in the entertainment business. From the Hollywood Reporter's Kim Masters: “Last November, Mnuchin celebrated his engagement. And among guests was embattled Relativity Media founder Ryan Kavanaugh — perhaps surprising given that colleagues say Kavanaugh just months earlier bitterly had blamed Mnuchin's OneWest bank for pushing his company into bankruptcy. This wasn't an ordinary quarrel between lender and creditor: From October 2014 through May 2015, Mnuchin simultaneously had served as chairman of OneWest and co-chairman of Relativity. He quietly had exited Relativity a few weeks before his bank acted to recoup some of the tens of millions it had loaned to Kavanaugh's troubled studio. … Certainly if Mnuchin faces questions on Capitol Hill as a Trump appointee, they likely will center on controversies involving practices of Pasadena-based OneWest during his time as chairman rather than his dealings in Hollywood. But for entertainment industry insiders, [it is his] relationship with Kavanaugh and his dual roles at the bank and Relativity have raised eyebrows."

Elaine Chao arrives at Trump Tower last week. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AFP/Getty Images)

-- Trump selected former Bush-era labor secretary Elaine Chao to head the Transportation department. From Jerry Markon, Philip Rucker and Amy Goldstein: “In naming Chao, who has also served as deputy transportation secretary and has been married to [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell since 1993, Trump turned to a consummate Washington insider after campaigning on a vow to bring change to Washington.” Chao stands to gain significant influence from the post, in which she would be tasked with overseeing a massive infrastructure-building project on which Trump has indicated plans to spend up to $1 trillion.

-- McConnell said he will not recuse himself from voting on his wife’s confirmation: “I’ve heard rumors that it should be an outstanding appointment,” McConnell said during a Senate news conference on Tuesday. “Someone actually asked [spokesman Don Stewart] if I was going to recuse myself. Let me be quite clear: I will not be recusing myself.” (Elise Viebeck)

Lots of interesting questions surrounding Chao's looming nomination as transportation secretary:

She's following in Liddy Dole's footsteps: 

The finalists for State: David Petraeus, John F. Kelly, Mitt Romney, Bob Corker and Rudy Giuliani. (AFP/Getty Images)

MORE NEWS ON WHO IS, AND IS NOT, GETTING THE TOP JOBS:

-- “Giuliani made millions consulting for Mexico’s most anti-Trump politician,” by Josh Rogin: “Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani was paid millions under a contract arranged by a Mexican politician who is likely to run for president of Mexico in 2018 on an anti-Trump, Mexico-first platform. That could be a conflict of interest if Giuliani is named secretary of state. … [In 2002], Giuliani scored a $4.3 million contract to consult for the government and police force of Mexico City, then led by up-and-coming politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Giuliani worked personally on the contract, visiting Mexico and meeting regularly with López Obrador and Mexico City Police Chief Marcelo Ebrard … Reports at the time noted that the Giuliani-López Orbrador alliance was odd, considering that López Obrador was a left-wing populist and Giuliani a right-wing conservative. Aguayo said López Obrador was looking to draw on Giuliani’s star power and Giuliani was looking to get paid.” And many reports said that at least part of the contract likely was paid by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, whom Trump has publicly accused of conspiring with the Clinton campaign without offering any evidence. These kinds of stories are giving Trump pause about putting Rudy at Foggy Bottom. 

-- Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson said he turned down a Cabinet position offer from Trump, after the two discussed African American outreach efforts at a meeting earlier this month. “[Trump] hinted at something I could be interested in, and I quickly shut that down.” Johnson, who said working in a bureaucracy doesn’t appeal to him, declined to say which post he was offered. (Helena Andrews-Dyer)

-- Chris Christie said he plans to finish his final term as governor in New Jersey and berated the media for continuing to speculate on whether he'll leave the state to serve in Trump's administration. “But once again, Christie didn't completely close the door on taking a new job,” the Newark Star Ledger adds. "For some reason, people think I'm equivocal about this," the governor said during a news event at under the Statehouse dome. "And I'm not. I'm completing my term. … Now, I will tell you that if something extraordinary happens in the world where my service is needed, I will consider any requests that are made. That's not being equivocal about it. That's understanding what the real world is. But I want you to all take a deep breath and relax."

Trump debates in Las Vegas last month. (David Goldman/AP)

HOW TRUMP'S WASHINGTON WILL WORK:

-- High-dollar donors who pledge $1 million or more to Trump’s inaugural committee will get a “candlelight dinner” with the president-elect, as well as well as a spate of other opportunities with future White House influencers. Matea Gold reports: “Other million-donor benefits include an exclusive lunch with select Cabinet appointees and House and Senate leadership,’ four tickets to ‘an intimate dinner’ with the Pences, eight tickets to a lunch with ‘the ladies of the first families,’ eight tickets and premier access to the inaugural ball and priority booking at “Premier Inaugural Hotel(s).’ The special rewards being offered to Trump's biggest backers could cut against his pledge to ‘drain the swamp’ and run an administration free from the influence of wealthy interests."

-- Another day, another conflict of interest --> The Embassy of Bahrain is planning to host its “National Day” celebration at Trump’s D.C. hotel. From the Huffington Post: The announcement comes as Trump’s D.C. hotel already emerged as a point of concern, after it suggested to foreign dignitaries that staying there during their official visits could help their relationship with the president-elect. “Last year, the Embassy of Bahrain hosted its National Day party at the Ritz Carlton, a swanky hotel located about a mile from Trump’s new space. … The embassy did not respond to a request for comment on why it opted to change locations or how much it had paid host a private event at Trump’s hotel.”

-- Kellyanne Conway will tour the Canadian tar sands before Trump assumes office, officials from the Canadian super PAC Alberta Prosperity Fund said. “The visit would make a powerful symbolic statement about where a Trump presidency might come down on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline,” Steven Mufson writes. ”Moreover, it is a slap at environmentalists, who made the tar sands, also known as oil sands, a target for activism because extracting crude oil from the sands is energy intensive and thus worse from a greenhouse gas perspective than tapping conventional oil production."

-- “Tiffany & Co.’s Manhattan store finds out the downside of having Trump as a neighbor,” by Sarah Halzack: “Of the more than 300 Tiffany & Co. jewelry stores across the globe, perhaps none is more important than the flagship outpost on Fifth Avenue in New York. But the location has a temporary downside: It is situated next to Trump Tower. On Tuesday, Tiffany executives acknowledged that business has been hurt by the security-related disruptions … Flagship stores are not just important for retailers because of the sales they pull down: They are critically important marketing vehicles. Chains hope that when you see their outposts on the toniest urban streets … it will favorably shape your perception of the brand for a long time.  So even if they don’t spend a penny during a trip to the Fifth Avenue store … [pedestrians] may think of Tiffany down the road. And that may be the real challenge for Tiffany. The company may not miss out on a detrimental number of sales, but if shoppers start avoiding that block because it’s a pedestrian’s nightmare, the retailer will lose thousands of opportunities to put shoppers under the spell of the 'Blue Box.'"

A demonstrator runs around with a burning U.S. flag in Oakland, California, to protest Trump. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

-- After seeing a segment on a Fox News morning show, Trump tweeted that people who burn the flag should “face consequences," including jail time or the loss of their citizenship. From John Wagner: “It rattled civil liberties and legal experts, who were quick to note that the Supreme Court ruled long ago that flag desecration is considered free speech and that it is unconstitutional to punish someone by stripping their citizenship. But whatever Trump had in mind, the president-elect’s outburst underscored a key aspect of his three-week-old transition: He is continuing to cater to his base — the largely white, working-class voters that propelled him to the White House — with relatively few overtures to the majority of voters who cast ballots against him. ... Trump did not say Tuesday what inspired his tweet about flag-burning, but it came just days after a college in western Massachusetts decided to stop flying the U.S. flag in response to students there burning one in protest of Trump’s election. A segment on the controversy aired Tuesday on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends” shortly before Trump’s 6:55 a.m. tweet went out."

Tim Ryan speaks at the Democratic National Convention. (Paul Sancya/AP)

HOUSE DEMOCRATS CHOOSE THEIR LEADER:

-- Nancy Pelosi heads into today’s leadership race running as an eighth-term prohibitive favorite -- but many wonder just how many of her fellow Democrats will vote against her, Paul Kane and Ed O'Keefe report. “The challenge from Rep. Tim Ryan … is in many ways shaping up more as a vote of confidence in Pelosi’s continued stewardship. After 14 undistinguished years in Congress, Ryan has appeared from the back bench — he literally sits in the last bench in the chamber — and forced Pelosi to fight for the top spot like never before. Pelosi has in many ways set the expectations bar herself, by publicly declaring she had ‘more than two-thirds’ of the votes locked up before she even began asking non-supporters for their backing. [Still], the closer Ryan gets to between 60 and 80 votes, the more direct the signal to Pelosi that the rank-and-file is ready for her to develop a transition-of-power plan.” Some supporters have acknowledged that after 14 years atop the party, Pelosi is nearing her political twilight. “This is probably her last go,” said one member. “She’s coming to terms with the idea that people want her to move on.”

-- Last night, emerging from a meeting with her closest supporters, Pelosi dismissed any thought that Ryan could defeat her. “Oh please,” she said.

-- “We are within striking distance,” Ryan claimed. “I think a lot of people are going to be surprised tomorrow. We have a lot of support.”

Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) is giving up one of the most important spots in Congress. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

-- Sander Levin, 85, will step down as the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, which is a big deal for people who care about tax reform. “It is imperative that we support younger Members as they seek to fully assume the mantle of leadership in the four years ahead, as we also continue to tap the experience of those who have led so many of these battles,” Levin explained in a letter. He will stay in Congress.

The Ways and Means vacancy sets up a big showdown between Xavier Becerra and Richard Neal for the slot, Kelsey Snell explains. “Becerra, a close confidant of [Pelosi] and a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, will leave his position as chairman of the House Democratic Conference at the end of this year. Neal, who challenged Levin for the ranking member slot in 2010, is a well-liked more moderate member with close relationships with many of the younger House Democrats.” Both confirmed their plans to run for it.

MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE 202 LIVE INTERVIEW WITH MCCARTHY:

-- The House Majority Leader talks “almost every other night” to people in the new administration. “I talk to … Trump. I talk to Reince. I talk to Bannon. I talk to Mike Pence.”

-- Congress will be in session more days now that there’s a Republican president to sign the bills they want to pass. McCarthy will release the House calendar later today, and he’s warning his members that they will get less time in their home districts than they’ve grown accustomed to over the past six years. The House will come into session on Jan. 3, and the work weeks will be longer during the first 100 days. “I wish we could be in (session) for the one week right before the inaugural, but security wise you can’t use the Capitol,” he said.

“There’s always a window. In an election year, things get harder than in the first year. So we want to get as much done correctly as soon as we can, and there’s an order and basis to do it,” he said. “If you study history, the first nine months, that’s like the length of the honeymoon a new president gets.”

-- What will the first 100 days look like? They will use the Congressional Review Act to try rolling back some Obama regulations. “We have not done the budget for 2017. You will see a budget start,” McCarthy continued. “Probably start in the Senate. … We will see talk when it comes to infrastructure.” He noted that the Senate will be slowed down by the need for confirmation votes during the opening months, for both cabinet slots and a Supreme Court appointment.

-- There will probably be an early vote on border security: “You are going to have to secure the border, no matter what you do. … When it comes to the border, the administration and the others wanted us to get that done quickly, you will see movement on that. … I do not believe there is any trust to do any comprehensive immigration reform without proving you have secured the border first.”

-- McCarthy made clear that he opposes curbs on legal immigration, a priority for Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions. “I come from a very diverse district,” the congressman from Bakersfield, California, said. “Caesar Chavez is buried in my district. So I also understand the Guest Workers program.” He added that executives in Silicon Valley, where he has strong relationships, care deeply about being able to bring in top talent with H1B visas. “I think there is a big place for legal immigration,” McCarthy said. “There is not one person in this room that cannot trace their family back.”

-- Tax reform is really doable this time: “Article I, Section 7 in the Constitution says that all tax reform starts in the House," McCarthy said. "We did not wait till January start to thinking about this. We have already started working on this if you look at [the ‘Better Way’ agenda released by the House GOP conference] and you want to know what would that structure be. It will be simpler, and it would be fair. And I think you would end up with three rates and not five. I think there will be a reduction in rates. ... You also have the budget for 2018 that gives you another bite of the apple of reconciliation when you want to do tax reform. If you want to do tax reform that way."

-- McCarthy believes that fewer members of the House Freedom Caucus will be recalcitrant now that the GOP has unified control of government. “I think structure dictates behavior,” he reasoned. “There was a perfect structure where you had a different party in the presidency. You had a Senate that was slower. … [The Freedom Caucus] made the House Republicans actually weaker because then you had to negotiate with Nancy Pelosi. If we stick together, then we’re always stronger. I think you’re going to see us sticking together more. I think there is less ability for the Freedom Caucus to do those types of things (because) I’m sure those districts Donald Trump probably did the best (in). It would be hard for them to stand up if a president like Trump is asking for this fundamental change, and they’re saying no to it. I think that’s harder. I think we’re more united too. … Winning helps to do that.”

Watch the whole thing here:

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Spotted in the lobby of Trump Tower -- former Vice President Dan Quayle:

Not everybody recognized him:

The feud between MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and CNN's "New Day" is getting a little personal. CNN anchor Chris Cuomo attacked Joe and Mika on Twitter as "transition spokesmen" for Trump:

Italians might enjoy watching the next four years for this reason:

Speaking of recounts:

Savannah Guthrie and colleagues shared a holiday lunch:

Jason Chaffetz rode Amtrak with Ryan Zinke:

The Capitol Christmas tree is getting ready for its debut:

Denizens of the Capitol, at least on the Senate side, are suffering without a leading source of caffeine:

Vehicles are seen through a window as they drive on Guomao Bridge during rush hour in Beijing. (Reuters/Jason Lee)

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Wall Street Journal “China’s New Tool for Social Control: A Credit Rating for Everything,” by Josh Chin and Gillian Wong: “Swiping her son’s half-fare student card through the turnstile here … Chen Li earned herself a $6 fine … [but] a notice on a post nearby suggested more-dire consequences. It warned that infractors could be docked points in the city’s ‘personal credit information system.’ A decline in Ms. Chen’s credit score … could affect her daily life, including securing loans, jobs and her son’s school admission. Hangzhou’s local government is piloting a ‘social credit’ system the Communist Party has said it wants to roll out nationwide by 2020, [and] in time, Beijing expects to draw on bigger, combined data pools, including a person’s internet activity … A person can incur black marks for infractions such as fare cheating, jaywalking and violating family-planning rules. Algorithms would use a range of data to calculate a citizen’s rating, which would then be used to determine all manner of activities, such as who gets loans, or faster treatment at government offices or access to luxury hotels."

-- New York Times, “How Stable Are Democracies? ‘Warning Signs Are Flashing Red,’” by Amanda Taub: “[What] started as a memoir of his experiences growing up as a Jew in Germany [for Harvard government lecturer Yascha Mounk] became a broader investigation of how contemporary European nations were struggling to construct new, multicultural national identities. Mounk concluded that the effort was not going very well. A populist backlash was rising …. But was that just a new kind of politics, or a symptom of something deeper? … Political scientists have a theory called ‘democratic consolidation,’ which holds that once countries develop democratic institutions, a robust civil society and a certain level of wealth, their democracy is secure. [Mounk] … suggests something quite different: that liberal democracies around the world may be at serious risk of decline .”

Quote du jour: An “early warning system” help developed by Mounk-Foa early-warning system, signs of democratic deconsolidation in the United States and many other liberal democracies are now similar to those in Venezuela before its crisis. “That’s only one measure,” Mounk said of his own research. “But,” he added after a pause, “it should have us worried.”

-- New Yorker, “Ivanka Trump’s terrible book helps explain the Trump-Family ethos,” by Jia Tolentino: “Ivanka Trump’s 2009 self-help book, ‘The Trump Card,’ opens with an unlikely sentence: ‘In business, as in life, nothing is ever handed to you.’ ‘We’ve all got our own baggage,’ Ivanka writes, [comparing] herself to a runner positioned on the outside track, whose head start at the beginning is just an illusion. Soon, though—by page nine—she has grown tired of pretending to be her reader’s equal. ‘Did I have an edge, getting started in business?’ she asks. ‘No question.’ … Ivanka’s aesthetic differences from her father are often parsed as political differences, and she has made the most of such misperceptions. Ivanka is white, wealthy, and beautiful, and these attributes often pass as moral virtues. ‘Classiness’ does too, although it’s often just a kind of gracefulness deployed as a weapon or a shield. … ‘The Trump Card’ is instructive … [but as] a telling portrait of the Trump-family ethos -- an attitude that appears quite unkind even when presented by Ivanka, its best salesman, in the years preceding her father’s political rise.”

Emma Morano, 117, blows out the candles on her birthday cake in Verbania, Italy. (AP/Antonio Calanni)

-- On a lighter note: An Italian woman who became the world’s oldest person on Tuesday has two unlikely secrets to longevity: eating raw eggs and staying single. (HuffPost)

HOT ON THE LEFT

Standing Rock Protester Shot in Face With Tear Gas Canister May Go Blind,” from the Daily Beast: “Police at Standing Rock said it was too dangerous to move burned-out vehicles from a bridge there on Nov. 20, leaving it to protesters like Vanessa Dundon to get rid of the wrecks so emergency vehicles could get through in the case anyone needed medical treatment.” That’s when police opened fire, choking protesters with tear gas and launching rubber bullets and bean bags. “After being struck by the tear gas canister, Dundon was … pulled from the bridge by other protesters. Within a few days, she was told it was likely that her retina was detached, and she may not see out of her right eye again …” Now, she and other protesters—one shot in the head with a rubber bullet, another struck with a tear gas canister—are suing law enforcement agencies for using excessive force.

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“CNN Anchor: Americans Should Wear Hijabs To Show Solidarity With Fearful Muslims,” from the Daily Caller: “Americans should wear hijabs to show solidarity with Muslim women who fear being attacked for wearing the religious head covering, CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota suggested on Monday, just hours before an Islamic radical stabbed students at Ohio State University.Maybe there will be a movement where people wear the head scarf in solidarity. You know, even if you’re not Muslim,’ Camerota said …Maybe it’s the way people shave their heads, you know, sometimes in solidarity with somebody who is going through something,’ she added. Camerota was responding to a CNN segment about Muslim women who say they live in fear of being verbally or physically attacked for wearing head scarves.”

 

DAYBOOK:

At the White House: Obama meets with the 2016 American Nobel prize winners.

On Capitol Hill: Pence meets with McConnell. The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. The House meets for legislative business at noon, with last votes on the 21st Century Cures Act and a handful of suspension bills expected between 5 and 6 p.m.

Pence last night made a surprise appearance at a “campaign debt-retirement party” honoring Scott Walker. (Page Six)

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

President Obama reflected on the election in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine: “In this election, [white working class voters] turned out in huge numbers for Trump. And I think that part of it has to do with our inability, our failure, to reach those voters effectively. Part of it is Fox News in every bar and restaurant in big chunks of the country, but part of it is also Democrats not working at a grassroots level, being in there, showing up, making arguments. That part of the critique of the Democratic Party is accurate. We spend a lot of time focused on international policy and national policy and less time being on the ground. And when we’re on the ground, we do well."

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

-- Bring your umbrella! Today’s Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Skies are mostly cloudy this morning with some rain likely, and areas of fog possible as temperatures rise into the 60s. We should see a lull in the rain late morning through mid-afternoon, and skies may even brighten a bit, though still with a passing shower possible. Afternoon highs reach the balmy upper 60s to near 70, as winds increase to 10-15 mph from the south. Rain chances increase again after around 4-5 p.m., with a thunderstorm possible as well.”

-- “Catherine Pugh, Baltimore’s mayor-elect, prepares for ‘dream job,’” by Josh Hicks: “The list of challenges facing the next mayor of Baltimore is daunting: enduring poverty, widespread blight, high unemployment, low high-school-graduation rates, troubling crime levels and allegations of police misconduct. But Mayor-elect Catherine Pugh (D) … says she has wanted nothing more. A former high school cheerleader, Pugh became an avid runner in her mid-20s and spearheaded an effort to create the Baltimore Marathon in 2001. Colleagues … say she prepares tirelessly and pursues her goals relentlessly — like any distance runner should. Outside the legislature, Pugh’s experiences include running a clothing boutique and public-relations firm, launching an African American newspaper, hosting a television talk show and authoring children’s books.” “I’m in my dream job, and this is where I want to be,” said Pugh, who will be the city’s 50th mayor. “I’ll be here until this city becomes the greatest in America. This place has loved me, and I’m loving it back.”

-- Muriel Bowser is attempting to tighten screening requirements for Washington’s homeless population this winter, expanding paperwork for shelter applicants and giving social workers added discretion to turn them away. The move comes as city officials grapple with how to humanely prevent misuse of already-crowded services from those who live outside the District. (Peter Jamison and Aaron C. Davis)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Hillary Clinton made a surprise appearance at a UNICEF event last night to present an award to Katy Perry, bringing her to tears:

Michelle Obama previewed the holiday decorations at the White House:

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama disagrees with Trump about flag burning:

A driver flees the wildfire in Tennessee:

Bernie Sanders told Conan O'Brien that Trump's tweets are "delusional":

What is Lin Manuel Miranda doing next?

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) posted a video of his plane landing at DCA:

Finally, Kevin McCarthy explained why he reads to the end of The 202 every day: