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The Daily 202: Trump over performed the most in counties with the highest drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rates

Donald Trump takes the stage last night at Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines for the third stop of his "thank you tour." (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

with Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: A new study from Penn State University suggests a relationship between the opioid epidemic and support for Donald Trump.

The president-elect performed better than Mitt Romney in many places, but he fared best compared to the Republican nominee four years ago in the counties with the highest drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rates.

Shannon M. Monnat, an assistant professor of rural sociology and demography, created a data set with numbers from 3,106 counties. She found this trend to be true nationally but especially so in two regions: In the industrial Midwest, which is how academics refer to the Rust Belt, Trump ran ahead of Romney by an average of 16.7 percent in the quarter of counties with the highest mortality, compared to 8.1 percent in the lowest quartile. In New England, Trump did worse than Romney by an average of 3.1 percent in the lowest mortality counties but better than the former Massachusetts governor by an average of 10 percent in the highest mortality counties.

-- Overdoses, alcoholism and suicide are known by experts collectively as “the diseases of despair.” People often (but not always) turn to pills, syringes, the bottle and other self-destructive behaviors when they lose hope, when they don’t have the means to live comfortably or when they don’t get the dignity that comes from work.

It is intuitive that the least economically distressed counties also tend to have the lowest mortality rates, and vice versa. In this way, alcoholism, overdoses and suicide are symptoms of the deeper social decay that was caused by deindustrialization. This decay led to the fears and anxieties which Trump so effectively capitalized on.

Correlation is not causation, of course. But while the places with the biggest mortality problems are usually the places that have been hit hardest economically, Monnat points out in a footnote: “Even when using statistical models that include 14 demographic, economic, social, and health care factors, the drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rate remains a significant and positive predictor of Trump overperformance nationally.”

-- I saw this firsthand on the campaign trail all year, in countless interviews with folks who were down in the dumps and struggling to get ahead (or, quite frankly, just get by). Many supported Barack Obama eight years ago because they were desperate for hope and change. They’re still desperate, and now they’re hopeful Trump can bring the change they’re looking for.

-- This really ought to be one of the biggest storylines that everyone takes away from 2016. One big reason that elites along the Acela Corridor were so caught off guard by Trump’s victory is that they’re so insulated from the stomach-churning scourge of addiction and cycle of brokenness. Washington has never been richer or further removed from the pain of everyday Americans, as Hillary Clinton called them in the video announcing her candidacy. Trump’s solutions may not actually help the “the forgotten man” that he talked so much about on the stump. In fact, his administration may very well push policies that ultimately only add to their pain. The tax cuts he wants will disproportionately benefit the most affluent people in the bluest states, for example. But the system has failed them. Trump promised to blow it up; Clinton represented more of the same.

-- Three glaring illustrations from the Penn State report:

Scioto County, Ohio: This is the setting for Sam Quinones’s book “Dreamland,” a blue-collar place with a once-thriving manufacturing base that became the pill-mill capital of America after the nation’s first large “pain clinic” opened. The drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rate more than doubled from 32.9 (per 100,000 people) in 1999 to 74.8 in 2014, Monnat notes, and Trump received 33 percent more of the county’s vote than Romney.

Mingo County, West Virginia: The drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rate spiked from 53.6 in 1999 to 161.1 in 2014, making it the seventh highest in the U.S. Trump’s share of the vote was 19 percent higher than Romney’s. “Mining and related industries employed nearly 40 percent of the county’s workers in the 1980s and accounted for two-thirds of the county’s earnings. Since then, mining has dropped to 20 percent of employment and a third of wages, and household income has declined by 10 percent. Mingo County now has an adult poverty rate of 23 percent and a disability rate of 32 percent,” per Monnat.

Coos County, New Hampshire, which has the highest drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rate in New England, swung from Obama to Trump: “The share of jobs in manufacturing there declined from 38 percent to 7 percent, and payroll wages from manufacturing dropped from 49 percent to 9 percent since the mid-1980s,” Monnat explains.

Video: Here's what you need to know about the life expectancy drop (Video: Monica Akhtar, Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

-- Let this sink in: A federal government report released yesterday shows that life expectancy is now declining in America. Besides war, plague and famine, there have been few moments in all of human history when that has happened. This is more troubling because it is not happening in other western countries. The National Center for Health Statistics found that death rates rose for eight of the top 10 leading causes of death in 2015. Death rates rose for white men, white women and black men. This happened despite a drop in the death rate from cancer, thanks to fewer people smoking and better chemo. “The overall death rate rose 1.2 percent in 2015, its first uptick since 1999,” Lenny Bernstein reports. “The number of unintentional injuries — which include overdoses from drugs, alcohol and other chemicals, as well as motor vehicle crashes and other accidents — climbed to more than 146,000 in 2015 from slightly more than 136,000 in 2014. … Deaths from suicide, the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, rose to 44,193 from 42,773 in 2014.”

-- The statistics are staggering. All told, over the past decade, around 400,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, another 400,000 committed suicide and about 250,000 died from alcohol-induced diseases.

-- While these numbers are painful to see on paper, they are even more heart wrenching when you consider the individual stories behind them. My Washington Post colleagues have produced some truly extraordinary reportage as part of a year-long series called “Unnatural Causes: Sick and dying in small-town America,” which set out to explore why death rates are rising so much for whites in midlife, especially women. Each of these pieces merits a second read in the wake of Trump’s victory:

  • Eli Saslow told the story of Anna Marrie Jones in Tecumsah, Oklahoma, who died at 54 from cirrhosis of the liver brought on by heavy drinking.
  • Anne Hull wrote about Jessica Kilpatrick, a recovering addict in Walker County, Alabama, and her struggles to stay clean as she works a fast-food job.
  • Eli returned in July with the tale of Amanda Wendler in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and her unending days of waiting for a key injection that could help curb her heroin cravings.
  • A Kentucky undertaker and funeral-home owner ruminated on lost members of their community to Terrence McCoy.
  • Kimberly Kindy and Dan Keating shared the story of Karen Franklin, a 60-year-old in Bakersfield, California, who takes more than a dozen different prescription drugs.
  • Amy Ellis Nutt examined the epidemic of suicide in La Plata County, Colorado, by studying the cases of seven women who took their lives near what’s known as the river of lost souls.
  • Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham investigated the DEA, which caved to industry pressure and slowed enforcement while the opioid epidemic grew out of control. Five former agency supervisors went on the record to blow the whistle on how top agency officials delayed and blocked enforcement actions.
  • Lenny and Scott, along with David Fallis, also looked at the role played by 13 companies that knew or should have known that hundreds of millions of their pills were ending up on the black market.

-- Widening the aperture: For millions of others who are not trying to self-medicate away their blues, the American Dream continues to fade. Working hard and playing by the rules in this country no longer ensures that you’ll get ahead. That social compact is broken. Downward mobility is too often the norm.

Consider this disquieting data point: In another study published yesterday, economists and sociologists from Stanford, Harvard and the University of California identified the income of 30-year-olds starting in 1970, using tax records and census data, and compared it with the earnings of their parents when they were about the same age. In 1970, 92 percent of American 30-year-olds earned more than their parents did at a similar age. In 2014, that number was just 51 percent. “My parents thought that one thing about America is that their kids could do better than they were able to do,” Stanford economist Raj Chetty, who emigrated from India at age 9, told the Wall Street Journal. “That was important in my parents’ decision to come here. … Wages have stagnated in the middle class. When you’re in that situation, it becomes very hard for children to do better than their parents.” (Check out the Equality of Opportunity web site for some charts visualizing this.)

-- It’s been tough to be a blue-collar worker for a long time now. Our Fact Checker calls out the White House this morning for repeatedly exaggerating the number of manufacturing jobs that have been created during the past eight years. Press Secretary Josh Earnest claims that, during Obama’s presidency, the number of manufacturing jobs increased by more than 800,000. But actually, the number of jobs has fallen by 300,000. Glenn Kessler explains the cherry picking that's going on: “Earnest is counting from when the low point in U.S. manufacturing was reached in February 2010. … That was about 1.1 million fewer than when Obama took office — and nearly 2.3 million fewer than when the Great Recession officially began in December 2007. So 807,000 jobs represents the number of jobs created since the low point in Obama’s term, not ‘while he was in office.’”

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-- South Korean lawmakers voted to impeach President Park Geun-hye, immediately stripping her of her title and temporarily transferring power to a caretaker prime minister. Anna Fifield and Yoonjung Seo report: “Only 56 lawmakers in the 300-seat assembly voted against impeaching Park. Hundreds of thousands have been demonstrating in central Seoul for weeks, calling on Park to step down, and her approval ratings have fallen to 5 percent. The Constitutional Court now has six months to decide whether to uphold the impeachment motion, creating a power vacuum in South Korea at the same time as the United States goes through its own presidential transition. … The scandal centers on allegations that the famously aloof Park — the country’s first female president ... took advice from a secret confidante on a wide variety of topics, including North Korean policy and her wardrobe.” Park has apologized several times to the public but has refused questioning by prosecutors – she is immune from prosecution while president – but could face charges once she leaves office.

-- “Senate Democrats are threatening to force a brief government shutdown this weekend in an effort to pressure Republicans to include more generous medical and pension benefits for retired coal miners and ‘Buy American’ language in year-end legislation moving through Congress.” Kelsey Snell and Mike DeBonis report: "Government funding is set to run out at the end of Friday and lawmakers are currently considering a stopgap spending bill that would keep federal agencies funded through April 28. The angry Democrats are not threatening to block the spending measure, but to delay its passage past the Friday deadline in hopes they can entice Republicans into further negotiations.”

-- Potentially bad news for holiday travel: Contract workers at Dulles International and Reagan National airports will walk off their jobs sometime this month, joining a growing number of workers across the country staging strikes as part of a national push for better working conditions and a $15-an-hour ‘living wage,’” Lori Aratani reports. “Workers voted Thursday to authorize the walkout. No date has been set for the action and it is not clear how long it would last, but a spokesman for the group said it will likely happen before the end of the month. The workers include wheelchair attendants and baggage handlers who work for Huntleigh USA. It is not clear what effect the workers’ actions will have on operations at Dulles and National.”


  1. The Department of Transportation is considering letting airplane passengers make in-flight phone calls, on the condition that all customers are made aware of the policy before buying their tickets. But many are wary of the idea – a similar measure was floated in 2014, and public response was overwhelmingly negative. (AP)
  2. Russia said that Syria has suspended its offensive in eastern Aleppo to allow civilians to leave the city, after the country reached an agreement with the U.S. to negotiate the safe departure of rebel fighters. State Department officials gave a different account, however, saying both of those assertions are premature but that Secretary of State John Kerry “is in contact” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (Karen DeYoung)
  3. The Russian ambassador to Sweden said Moscow has “no plans” to invade the country, seeking to assuage residents spooked by unknown submarine sightings and Russian jets that have entered their airspace during training exercises. But of course they'd say that! (Adam Taylor)
  4. The Arkansas Supreme Court threw out a judge’s ruling that would have allowed married, same-sex couples to get the names of both spouses printed on their child’s birth certificate without a court order. Current law is not a violation of equal protection, justices argued, because the state has a vested interest in listing biological parents on the document. (AP)
  5. More than a dozen Georgetown students took over the university president’s office yesterday, demanding the school cut its ties with Nike over unfair labor practices in Vietnam. The students, who call themselves the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, said they are staging the sit-in to protest working conditions at a factory where Georgetown University apparel is manufactured. (Joe Heim)
  6. The British news website Daily Mail was embroiled in a “fake news” scandal of its own after it falsely accused a Burmese soldier of “torturing a Muslim minority” with a stun gun. In fact, the video took place in Cambodia, and did not involve a Muslim child at all, but a young Cambodian one, as well as a 25-year-old civilian who was arrested for child torture shortly thereafter. (Adam Taylor)
  7. Scientists have discovered a dinosaur tail entombed in a piece of amber – and it had feathers. Experts believe the fragment dates back some 99 million years, and say it sheds major light on the fact that dinosaurs weren’t all scaly and “Godzilla-style” in appearance. (CNN)
  8. An Arizona judge sentenced a woman to spend Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the following day in jail, saying he wanted the 33-year-old – who was reportedly pregnant and under the influence during an aggressive confrontation with officers – to spend her holiday reflecting on the gravity of her actions. (AP)


-- Leading congressional Republicans are preparing to launch a coordinated and wide-ranging probe into Russia’s meddling in our election and its cyberthreats to the military, digging deep into corrosive interference in the nation’s institutions despite the president-elect's coziness with the regime. Karoun Demirjian reports:

  • Senate Armed Services Chair John McCain is readying a probe of possible Russian cyber incursions into U.S. weapons systems.
  • McCain said he has been discussing the issue with Intelligence Chair Richard Burr with whom he will be "working closely."
  • Foreign Relations Chair Bob Corker, on the shortlist for secretary of state, said he intends to hold hearings next year on the Russian hacking.
  • House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes: “[Russia]’s always been a priority for me and it will remain a priority for me."

  • House Armed Services Committee Mac Thornberry stressed that his committee has been looking at Russian cyber threats for the last two years and said it will not stop: “We’re going to have to all pay more attention to cyber and to Russian activities to influence things through cyber."

These senators want to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

-- Lindsey Graham plans to take point on the Senate side in holding Moscow accountable for its belligerent bellicosity. “They’ll keep doing more here until they pay a price,” the South Carolina senator explains. As he explained to CNN's Manu Raju on Wednesday, “I’m going after Russia in every way you can go after Russia. I think they’re one of the most destabilizing influences on the world stage. I think they did interfere with our elections and I want Putin personally to pay the price."

-- Such an aggressive approach puts these lawmakers on a collision course with Trump, who continues against all evidence to deny that Russia had any role in the election (there is rare consensus across the intelligence community otherwise). Trump has said since Nov. 8 that the U.S. should just "get along" with Putin.


-- Trump nominated Andrew Puzder as labor secretary, picking a fast-food CEO who has opposed additional overtime pay for workers and raising the federal minimum wage.

-- Puzder has advocated replacing human workers with machines as a way for businesses to reduce costs associated with rising wages and health-care expenses. While machines require regular maintenance and can sometimes malfunction, Puzder said, they are also easier to manage than humans and don’t pose the same legal risks. “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case,” Puzder told Business Insider in March. “CKE Restaurants launched a pilot program with Microsoft last year that brought electronic kiosks into 30 Hardee’s restaurants, allowing customers to place orders without speaking to an employee,” Steven Overly reports.

-- Steven Mufson says organized labor faces its "gravest crisis in decades" and reports that Puzder's selection has fueled growing fears among national labor leaders that Trump is planning a broad assault on unions.

-- "Even for an incoming Republican administration, Trump’s personnel choices are striking for what they suggest about how fundamentally he wants to alter the aims of many Cabinet departments," John Wagner writes. "Conservatives — some of whom spent the election season suspicious of Trump’s true policy aims — have cheered most of his choices, arguing they will help rein in overreaching agencies in Washington. Liberal critics, meanwhile, are sounding alarms, sometimes in hyperbolic terms. On Thursday, Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro said Trump’s choice of Puzder … threatened ‘one of our nation’s most successful federal agencies’ that has ensured ‘every American who works hard and plays by the rules can enjoy dignified work and economic opportunity.’ Citing Puzder’s business practices, DeLauro said that if he is confirmed, ‘the fox is in the henhouse.’”

-- But, but, but: Breitbart, Trump’s Pravda, is attacking Puzder for his support of immigration reform. The headline on their home page is: “Trump Expected to Tap Labor Secretary Who Prefers Foreign Labor to American Workers.

-- Puzder has been accused of abusing his ex-wife, according to divorce records, reports the St. Louis Riverfront Times. The newspaper unearthed its 1989 story in which Lisa Henning (Puzder's ex) alleged in public records that Puzder "hit her and threw her to the kitchen floor and unplugged the phone after she tried to call police for help during an altercauon in 1986 in their Clayton home. Puzder, in a deposition denied using physical violence and said that his wife was yelling and coming at him, so he 'grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her back' to prevent her from hurting herself. Puzder said that his wife ended upon the floor. 'I don't know if her foot caught or what happened, but she went down on her back and stayed down on the ground.' Puzder acknowledges that police responded to that altercation."  

  • "After that incident, Henning sought a protective order against Puzder in May 1986, alleging that he 'attacked me, choked me, threw me to the floor, hit me in the head pushed his knee into my chest twisted my ar​m and dr​agged me​ ​on the floor, threw me against a wall, tried to stop my call to 911 and kicked me in the back.' 
  • "Puzder acknowledged that a shouting match with Henning in the late 1970s turned into a plate-throwing fight that caused neighbors to call police to their apartment on South Rosebury in Clayton. He said in a deposition that the argument began over Henning's housekeeping habits."
  • "In his deposition. Puzder denied Henning's allegation that he punched her in an incident in a car in the West End in 1985. 'I recall no such incident," he said in his deposition.'"
  • Puzder told The Riverfront Times: "There wa​s​ no physical abuse at any point in time."
  • Henning now says no abuse happened. The New York Daily News reports: "In a statement issued to the Daily News by a GOP spokeswoman, Henning backed up her estranged husband and said she 'regretted' accusing him of abuse. 'I am disgusted that the media would stoop this low,' she said. 'Andy is one of the finest men I have ever known...He and I have long ago worked out any differences that occurred over thirty years ago and I cannot recall a single incident involving the police. We now enjoy a wonderful relationship.'"

-- Puzder has also authorized his company to spend millions on sexually-suggestive TV ads that objectify women. Here are just three examples:

-- Puzder has vigorously defended these spots in a way that many find offensive:

-- Ideologically, Puzder is an outspoken devotee of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” who apparently identifies with Howard Roark’s character:

-- A Pew Research survey finds low approval of Trump’s transition so far, with just 40 percent expressing positive views about the appointments he’s made. In comparison, 71 percent approved of Obama’s choices in 2008. Wide majorities continue to say he is reckless (65 percent) while 62 percent said he has poor judgment, and 68 percent describe him as “hard to like.” Additionally, a full 54 percent said Trump has done too little to distance himself from white nationalist groups that support him.

-- More than a year after Trump attacked an 18-year-old college student on Twitter, she continues to receive death threats. Jenna Johnson reports on the stunning impact of Trump’s online influence: “Her phone began ringing with callers leaving threatening messages that were often sexual in nature. Her Facebook and email inboxes filled with similar messages. As her addresses circulated on social media and her photo flashed on the news, she fled home to hide. ‘I didn’t really know what anyone was going to do,’ said Lauren Batchelder, now 19. … ‘He was only going to tweet about it and that was it, but I didn’t really know what his supporters were going to do, and that to me was the scariest part.’”

-- Related: Chuck Jones, the Indianapolis union leader I wrote about in the lead of yesterday's Big Idea, has penned an op-ed for today's Post: "I’m the union leader Donald Trump attacked. I’m tired of being lied to about our jobs."

-- Trump will continue to hold title as executive producer for “The Celebrity Apprentice” when the show returns in January, foreshadowing an unorthodox presidency in which the commander-in-chief has a hand in the world of reality TV. Rosalind S. Helderman and Elahe Izadi report: “Trump’s name will be listed in the credits of the NBC show that he once hosted … Such credits in Hollywood often come with a paycheck, though the representative did not disclose whether Trump will be compensated.” “Mr. Trump has a big stake in the show,” spokeswoman Hope Hicks said by way of explanation, though she gave no further details.

Many ethics experts express dismay with the ongoing relationship: Trump will “be tempted, consciously or otherwise, to favor NBC or use the White House to promote this source of revenue,” said Norm Eisen, who served as ethics counsel to Obama. “It is one more example of why he must do what every president has done for four decades: divest all his interests into a blind trust or the equivalent.”

-- The online fundraising machine that Trump’s campaign built with the RNC kept churning after his election victory, bringing in millions in the three weeks after he won. Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswamy report: “Donors gave at least $3.5 million after Nov. 8 to the national party and two joint fundraising committees with the Trump campaign. From Oct 20 to Nov. 28, Trump’s campaign and two joint fundraising committees with the RNC brought in a total of $111 million, edging out the nearly $106 million Clinton’s campaign raised with its two joint fundraising committees. The cash flow suggests that the donor file the Trump campaign built with the RNC will continue to pay dividends. That list swelled to 10 million email addresses by the end of the campaign, including those of more than 2.5 million donors.”

-- Trump’s opaque web of LLCs makes it impossible to fully gauge any potential conflict-of-interest issues he could face as president. From Wall Street Journal’s Jean Eaglesham, Mark Maremont and Lisa Schwartz: “[Trump] owns a helicopter in Scotland. To be more precise, he has a revocable trust that owns 99% of a Delaware limited liability company that owns 99% of another Delaware LLC that owns a Scottish limited company that owns another Scottish company that owns the 26-year-old Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, emblazoned with a red ‘TRUMP’ on the side of its fuselage. Across Mr. Trump’s business, he uses a similar web of privately held LLCs and other entities to house his assets—everything from real estate to a vintage carousel in Manhattan’s Central Park. … Roughly half—at least $304 million—of the revenue Mr. Trump reported in a federal financial disclosure form earlier this year came from assets held in 96 different LLCs … None of the 96 LLCs examined by the Journal appear to regularly release audited financial statements. That opacity … makes it impossible to gauge the full extent of potential conflicts between his business interests and presidential role.”

-- “Is Ivanka Trump a passionate political advocate — or a businesswoman building her brand?” by Juliet Eilperin and Karen Tumulty: “The quest to unearth the Manhattan moderate that may lie deep within [Trump’s] psyche runs directly through his daughter, Ivanka. This, at least, is the impression that she has given over the past few weeks, brokering meetings between the president-elect and environmentalists such as former vice president Al Gore and actor Leonardo DiCaprio, and chatting about child care with prominent feminists. But as Ivanka Trump expands her circle of allies and sorts out what kind of influence she might have over the policies of the next administration, the question arises: Are her efforts a reflection of her passions and convictions — or of a desire to extend the brand of a fashion entrepreneur whose market is primarily young women? The two may not be mutually exclusive. [And] the public and private outreach Ivanka Trump has made to influential liberals underscores the extent to which the Trumps’ political and financial interests are interwoven.”

Watch President-elect Donald Trump's "thank you" rally in Des Moines, Iowa, in two minutes. (Video: Victoria Walker/The Washington Posto)

-- A more subdued Trump was on display in Des Moines last night at the latest stop on his “thank you” tour. “Gone were the loud chants of ‘Lock her up!’ and ‘CNN sucks!’” Sean Sullivan reports.But there were also some familiar -- and controversial -- themes. A vow to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. A promise to bring back American jobs shipped abroad and fight sweeping trade deals. A challenge to the validity of unemployment statistics. Speaking inside a sprawling events center … Trump delivered an address that was part thank you, part victory lap and part to-do list. He said that Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, whom he has tapped to head the EPA, would help ‘end the EPA intrusion into your lives.’ Trump also brought onstage the man he has tapped to be the next ambassador to China: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. ‘We’re going to have mutual respect. China’s going to benefit and Terry’s going to benefit,’ Trump vowed. At the start, he was briefly interrupted by protesters. But instead of criticizing them aggressively as he often did as a candidate, he responded with a more subtle jab. ‘I think they’re actually on my side, they just don’t know it yet,’ he said.”

-- Before Iowa, Trump stopped in Ohio yesterday afternoon for his second visit in just one week, a reminder of how central the Buckeye State is to his 2020 reelection hopes. He met with survivors of the terrorist/knife attack at The Ohio State University.


-- “As the least experienced, least ideological, and therefore perhaps most malleable president-elect in history prepares to take office, all eyes are on who is influencing his decisions,” New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reports. “And so far, [Trump’s] administration is shaping up to be like his campaign: full of clashing egos and agendas. According to [transition officials and senior Republicans] … the question of whether senior counselor and chief strategist Steve Bannon or chief of staff Reince Priebus — represented by Trump as “equal partners” in the White House — has more power is one that is being widely discussed in Trumpworld. “In this administration, titles will not matter,” one transition staffer said. “It’s like Game of Thrones.” And the outcome is not simply about which personality gets pride of place but which worldview determines the Trump White House’s approach to policy: the nationalist-populist agenda of Bannon and other former campaign staffers, or the more traditional Republican governance advocated by Priebus and [Pence].”

“One Trump adviser speculated that Bannon may be content to let Priebus take control now because Bannon is hoping to play a longer game. Given Trump’s history of turning on those closest to him (Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort), it may be good strategy to lay low and avoid blame for any problems with the transition. There is sure to be dysfunction — not least because of this very power struggle.”

-- Trump’s team is zeroing in on a pick to replace Reince Priebus as RNC chair. The field of contenders has narrowed to two leading candidates, Michigan GOP chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel and Nick Ayers, Politico’s Eliana Johnson, Kenneth Vogel, and Alex Isenstadt report. “The situation is fluid, transition sources cautioned: Others in the mix include RNC official Matt Pinnell and veteran Bush operative Mercedes Schlapp, whose names are being floated as potential co-chairs as the two sides work toward a solution. McDaniel is the preferred candidate of [Priebus], who wants to hand over the reins to a fellow committee member. He is at odds with Pence, Trump senior strategist Steve Bannon and GOP megadonor Rebekah Mercer, who are pushing to put the RNC, which will become the political vehicle of the Trump White House, under the control of an institutional outsider like Ayers or Schlapp.” A decision is expected within two days.

Notice who is not on that list? Chris Christie, who reportedly told people he was interested. It’s just the latest way that Jared Kushner has figured out to humiliate the New Jersey governor who put his dad in jail.

-- Spotted near Trump Tower: a sharp-suited, briefcase-touting Mitt Romney, who is still in the running to lead the State Department. The former Massachusetts governor was walking briskly, “like he didn’t want to be seen,” said a bystander. (New York Post)

-- Joseph Hagin, a deputy chief of staff for operations under George W. Bush, is a strong contender in the eyes of some of Mr. Trump’s advisers to take the same role in the Trump administration, the New York Times reports. “One person briefed on the discussions said that Mr. Hagin could play a role in informally advising the incoming staff, but that others in Mr. Trump’s circle of advisers did not want to see him take on that job. Mr. Hagin would come to the job with deep experience in crucial aspects of managing a White House. But he also rose to prominence working for the man whose tenure Mr. Trump spent his campaign criticizing.”

-- A new narrative: “Trump chooses ‘Band of Brothers’ over ‘Team of Rivals,'” by Fox News’s Jennifer Griffin: “Trump has now chosen two Marines - both close friends - to lead the Pentagon (Jim Mattis) and Department of Homeland Security (John Kelly). A third Marine, General Joe Dunford, is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. … Dunford delivered the news that Kelly's son … also a Marine, had been killed in Afghanistan six years ago. He appeared at Kelly's front door wearing his full dress uniform. Kelly said when he saw his old friend at the door, he knew immediately his son was dead. Kelly is the highest ranking military officer to have a child killed in combat.”

-- Trump national security adviser nominee Michael Flynn claimed in an August radio interview that Arabic signs were present along the U.S. border with Mexico to guide “radicalized Muslims” into the US. (CNN)

-- Donald spent the week attacking Boeing, but the aircraft builder has thrown big bucks behind his transition effort: The company committed $1 million to help underwrite inaugural events when Trump took aim at the manufacturer online this week, USA Today reports. The donation matches the amount Boeing gave to Obama’s inauguration in 2013.

Two conservative Post columnists weigh in on Trump's unpredictability:

-- “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are on their way to the White House,” says former Bush adviser Michael Gerson: “[Trump] seems caught in a cycle: a few days on message, then a conspiratorial or bullying statement or tweet, then a scramble by Republicans to solicit intervention from ‘the family,’ who give the president-elect the political equivalent of lithium and get him back on message before the next manic stage.  Meanwhile, this theory of the Trump presidency leaves a policy environment more fluid and open than any in my political lifetime. Apart from a few vivid campaign promises on immigration and infrastructure — which have also been renegotiated since the election — Trump has radical freedom of action. He owes no one, holds no definite ideology and will be forgiven even the worst heresies by his supporters (at least for the moment). Republicans are now finding strategic brilliance in this attempt to keep the whole world off balance. But what happens when President Trump can truly throw the whole world off balance?”

-- “Tweets and theater entertain, but Congress is the main event,” Charles Krauthammer writes: “Trump has mesmerized the national media not just with his elaborate Cabinet-selection production, by now Broadway-ready. But with a cluster of equally theatrical personal interventions … Preventing the shutdown of a Carrier factory in Indiana. Announcing, in a contextless 45-second surprise statement, a major Japanese investment in the U.S. Calling for cancellation of the new Air Force One to be built by Boeing. It’s a technique borrowed from Third World strongmen who specialize in demonstrating their personal connection to the ordinary citizen. In a genuine democracy, however, the endurance of any political support depends on the larger success of the country. And that doesn’t come from Carrier-size fixes. … It comes from policy — policy that fundamentally changes the structures and alters the trajectory of the nation. That requires Congress. … Trump will continue to tweet and the media will continue to take the bait. Highly entertaining, but it is a sideshow. Congress is where the fate of the Trump presidency will be decided.”

-- Transition history lesson, via presidential historian Tim Naftali for CNN: “We should peg the modern presidential transition to Dwight Eisenhower's decision, in 1960, to do a better job of transferring power than his predecessor, Harry Truman, had when Eisenhower assumed the presidency. A patriot, Eisenhower made this precedent-setting decision despite believing to his core that his successor, John F. Kennedy, was unworthy of the White House [or maybe because of it!]…

Kennedy and Eisenhower detested each other: “Eisenhower called Kennedy ‘Little Boy Blue’ behind his back. And Kennedy told his Boswell, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., that not only was Eisenhower ‘terribly cold and terribly vain. In fact, he is a shit.’ Kennedy also did not respect Eisenhower's intellect…

Unfortunately, this first serious effort at a smooth, modern, transition produced few positive results: “Kennedy was quick to dismantle Eisenhower-era institutions, some of which he would reassemble after he blundered at the Bay of Pigs. And when he did take the outgoing president's advice, Kennedy would regret it. Eisenhower stressed to Kennedy the importance of intervening in Southeast Asia, advice that Eisenhower would not have taken in his prime, but which Kennedy thought he could not afford to ignore.”

Hillary Clinton said that fake news is an issue that needs to be addressed quickly, during a portrait unveiling for Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada. (Video: The Washington Post)

THE FAKE NEWS EPIDEMIC -- Day 6 follow-ups on Pizzagate:

-- Clinton denounced the rise of fake news while speaking at an event honoring outgoing Harry Reid, challenging Congress to combat an issue that dogged her presidential campaign and culminated in last week’s “pizzagate” shooting in Washington. From Paul Kane: “Without directly citing the shooting at Comet Ping Pong … Clinton said the ‘epidemic of malicious fake news and false propaganda that flooded social media’ presented a danger to both the nation’s politics and the safety of its citizens. 'It’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real-world consequences. This isn’t about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk, lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days, to do their jobs, contribute to their communities,' she said." 

-- Hillary called the owners of Comet Ping Pong after the incident, an aide confirms.

-- “Why law enforcement can’t get ahead of Pizzagate and other online conspiracy theories,” by Matt Zapotosky: The conspiracy theory that inspired the “pizzagate” gunman would have likely registered as “barely a blip” on the FBI’s radar, said former FBI assistant director Ron Hosko, adding that the bureau often has its hands full with other priorities. “There’s not a lot of bandwidth for sort of these one-offs.”

Key quote: “It used to be that the person who’s now on Twitter would be down at the end of the bar late at night shouting at the television, and the only people he could shout with would be the other people who were down at the end of the bar,” FBI Director James Comey said earlier this year. “Now he can shout with 600 other people who are at their own metaphorical bars, and it’s a constant reinforcement of their view of the world.”

-- “Fake-News Sites Inadvertently Funded by Big Brands,” by the Wall Street Journal’s Jack Nicas: “‘Yoko Ono: ‘I Had An Affair With Hillary Clinton In The ’70s,’” read the headline in World News Daily Report, a website that peddles made-up stories. Next to the story? An ad for the 2017 Ram 1500 truck, made by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. Big brands, often inadvertently, are helping fund the websites at the center of a growing controversy over misinformation on the internet. Industry executives say some fake-news sites can generate tens of thousands of dollars in monthly revenue from online ads. Well-known brands’ appearance on fake-news sites reflects the complexity of online advertising, where computers can place a different ad each time a user clicks on a webpage. Multiple middlemen are often involved, leaving both publishers and advertisers uncertain about which ads will appear where. Google, the biggest player in digital advertising, said it would stop placing ads on sites with ‘deceptive or misrepresentative’ content. But so far, enforcement appears spotty.”

-- New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet says his paper should have paid much more attention to fake news before the election, but he didn’t think people actually believed the crazy stuff out there (the Comet pizza conspiracy, for example). “I would get stuff myself in my email and on my Facebook feed with outlandish allegations about the Clintons and outlandish allegations about other people,” he told NPR yesterday. “I guess I thought at the time (that) we could ignore it and that people were ignoring it. ... But I wish I had paid more attention to it earlier than I did. I bet every news organization is saying that now. We wrote about it, but I wish we had paid more attention to it. I just thought some of it was so outlandish."


-- The first Somali American lawmaker says she was harassed while staying in D.C. for policy training at the White House, with a cab driver calling her “ISIS” and threatening to remove her hijab. In a Facebook post, newly-elected Ilhan Omar called the experience the most “hateful, derogatory, islamophobic, sexist taunts and threats” she had ever experienced. (Samantha Schmidt)

-- Education Department officials urged employees from its Office for Civil Rights to work through “tough times ahead,” seeking to boost morale ahead of what many expect will be difficult years under a Trump presidency. “We’ve got some tough times ahead, but we are up to it,” Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman told audience members the department’s D.C. headquarters. “You might as well hunker down, do your crying at nights and on the weekends. We are not going backwards.” (Emma Brown)


-- Good news for Ed Gillespie: Rob Wittman announced he will not run for governor in Virginia next year, reducing the state’s GOP candidates to a pool of just three. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “I think the best place for me to serve right now is staying there in Congress,” said Wittman, considered a Republican contender for Tim Kaine’s seat if Clinton won the presidency last month. “Especially now with an administration coming in that’s committed to rebuilding our military.”

-- Outgoing Florida Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, who lost to Marco Rubio, will probably run for office again. "I’m certainly not going to rule anything out,” he told the Palm Beach Post when asked if he'll run for governor the year after next. “I want to keep all options on the table and I want to just see how I’m feeling, see how the political environment is, see the issues people are talking about.”

-- Sen. Tom Udall (D) announced that he has decided NOT to run for governor of New Mexico in 2018. (Albuquerque Journal)


-- John Glenn, the Mercury Seven astronaut who became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, died at 95. “In an era when fear of encroaching Soviet influence reached from the White House to kindergarten classrooms, Mr. Glenn, in his silver astronaut suit, lifted the hopes of a nation on his shining shoulders,” Matt Schudel writes. “When he emerged smiling from his Friendship 7 capsule after returning from space, cheers echoed throughout the land. He had climbed the ranks of the Marine Corps by accepting the most dangerous assignments and never flinching under pressure. He flew 149 combat missions in two wars and was a test pilot in the 1950s, when faster-than-sound airplanes often veered out of control and crashed in smoking heaps. When he joined the astronaut corps in 1959, no one knew whether a human being could survive the ordeals of space travel. Yet for all the risks he faced, Mr. Glenn was a man of careful preparation and quiet responsibility. 'People are afraid of the future, of the unknown,' he said in 1962. 'If a man faces up to it and takes the dare of the future, he can have some control over his destiny.'"

A few lovely tributes to John Glenn:

The Office of Government Ethics is back on Twitter with this message:

Lawmakers attended the Congressional Ball at the White House:

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Christmas at The White House Congressional Ball

A post shared by elisestefanik (@elisestefanik) on

The day was bittersweet for outgoing members like Lois Capps and Jim McDermott:

Jason Chaffetz posted a picture of himself with Donald Trump and Mitt Romney in 2008:

This made us chuckle:

Bravo's Andy Cohen posted this photo of the D.C. sunset:

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Moody sunset in DC

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-- Vanity Fair, “Could a last-minute suitor woo Megyn Kelly away from Fox News?” by Sarah Ellison: “The world changed on November 8, as we all know, when Trump was improbably elected president. This may have been true for Kelly, too. Old White Men were resurgent, not just in the presidential election, but also inside Fox News. O’Reilly was newly valuable as a Trump tough guy. Hannity, a major Trump supporter, suddenly appeared indispensable. Within the last month … ABC has renewed, and perhaps sweetened, its effort to woo Kelly. At one point, in an overture, Kelly was shown a recruitment presentation depicting the so-called legends of ABC, which started, oddly enough, with an image of Willy Wonka, and ended with one of Kelly.”


In Trump's world: Trump meets with Sen. Joe Manchin (R-W.Va.), holds a GOTV rally in Baton Rouge for Republican Senate candidate John Kennedy and headlines his final rally of the week at 7 p.m. in Grand Rapids, Mich.

At the White House: Obama has no public events scheduled. Biden is in Ottawa, where he holds a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and participates in a roundtable with Canadian leaders.

On Capitol Hill: The Senate meets at 10 a.m. The House is out.


-- Winter is officially here. It’s all about the layers today. The Capital Weather Gang forecast: “This perceived temperature won’t improve much during the day. Winds continue as we struggle toward high temperatures in the upper 30s to low 40s.” And tonight will be the coldest night yet of the season.

-- The Wizards beat the Denver Nuggets, 92-85.

-- A fired D.C. employee filed a $10 million whistleblower lawsuit, claiming that he was terminated because he would not steer contracts to one of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s largest campaign donors. (Fenit Nirappil)

-- A former Montgomery County high school teacher was found guilty of sex abuse after he reportedly took photos up the skirts of one of his students while she stayed after class to retake an exam. Detectives found pictures of other female students on his phone, and the 38-year-old could face two decades in prison on each charge. (Victoria St. Martin)

-- Democrats in Montgomery County named William C. Smith Jr. to succeed U.S. Rep.-elect Jamie B. Raskin in the Maryland Senate, making him the first African American to represent the county in that body. The vote caps a months-long battle for Raskin’s seat, after he resigned two days after election. (Bill Turque)

-- MGM National Harbor opened its doors to the public for the first time last night. Post critic Philip Kennicott calls the sprawling 23-acre, $1.4 billion casino a “cruise ship to nowhere” – and once you’re aboard, he writes, “there’s little reason to leave.” “Spectacle surrounds you, dangling crystals and undulating ceilings, a giant chocolate fountain constantly circulating two tons of sweet liquid death, video displays bringing a simulacrum of nature indoors, art and ornament commissioned from local creators, and, of course, people, who are an essential part of this weird phantasmagoria.” (It’s also just a 20 minute ride from Capitol Hill, and they serve drinks 24/7. Our Going Out Guide has a list of everything to know before you go.)

-- Local read of the day: “D.C. got everything it wanted out of CityCenterDC — except the crowds,” by Jonathan O'Connell: “As other cities begin to enjoy a renaissance thanks to a migration to urban neighborhoods, CityCenter has been held up as a model for reinvigorating American downtowns. So where is everyone?”


Check out the unveiling of Reid's official portrait:

Here's Clinton greeting people after Reid's event -- can you hear the crying? Click to watch:

Barbara Mikulski gave her farewell speech:

In her farewell speech on Dec.7, Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski recalled what it was like being one of the few women serving in the Senate. (Video: YouTube/ SenatorMikulski)

Megyn Kelly gave a speech at The Hollywood Reporter's Women in Entertainment 2016 breakfast:

Canada's Justin Trudeau shed tears over newly arrived Syrian refugees:

Canada's Justin Trudeau sheds tears over Syrian refugees (Video: Reuters)

Watch our tribute to John Glenn:

John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth and the oldest man in space, has died at 95. (Video: Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)

And the moment he became the first American to orbit the earth:

In this clip from a 1962 NASA documentary, John Glenn launched into space aboard the Friendship 7 on the first orbital flight by an American astronaut. (Video: NASA)