Fireworks illuminate the sky above Sydney Harbor to mark the official start of 2017. (Mick Tsikas/EPA)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: Hopefully you enjoyed a restful holiday break because stuff is about to get real.

The liberal world order faces existential threats in the year ahead, as Donald Trump tries to eviscerate Barack Obama’s legacy, Vladimir Putin maneuvers to install additional allies in other western capitals and Angela Merkel seeks to survive the continuing populist backlash.

The Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal are in danger. The future of Syria, Ukraine and the South China Sea hang in the balance.

The stock market is surging and consumers are more confident, but the economy is fragile and CEOs are terrified that the new president might target their business next. The Federal Reserve increased interest rates for the second time in a decade last month, and the board plans to do so again in 2017. But how much and when remains unclear.

There are many other “known unknowns” about the coming 12 months. Congress will vote to “repeal Obamacare,” but what comes next? Will conservatives cave on a trillion-dollar infrastructure package, ballooning the deficit? Will the Wall Street guys who Trump has stocked his government with be able to stop him from launching destructive trade wars? How young will Antonin Scalia’s replacement be?

There are also “unknown unknowns.” The hard truth is that more terrorist attacks, perhaps on American soil, are inevitable. There are scandals we can foresee, but many others we cannot. And we’re being careful not to offer firm forecasts after so much conventional wisdom turned out to be so wrong last year. As Yogi Berra said: It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.

Since the start of the decade, I’ve produced an annual list of notable dates to prepare for in the upcoming year. It’s a useful exercise that forces planning and facilitates longer-term thinking. The 2016,  2015 and 2014 versions hold up well. Continuing the tradition, here is what I am putting on my calendar for 2017:

Jan. 3: The 115th Congress convenes today. Republicans have control of both chambers and the presidency for the first time since 2006 and now plan to push the most ambitious conservative policy agenda since the 1920s.

Jan. 4: Dueling Obamacare rallies. President Obama visits the Capitol for a photo opp/pep rally with congressional Democrats about the importance of defending the Affordable Care Act, while Mike Pence visits his old stomping grounds to discuss repealing it.

John McCain speaks yesterday with U.S. servicemen outside Tbilisi, Georgia. McCain has been traveling across Eastern Europe with Amy Klobuchar and Lindsey Graham to reassure American allies who are terrified of Trump playing footsie with Putin. (Zurab Kurtsikidze/EPA)

Jan. 5: John McCain holds a hearing on Russia’s election-year hacking. Liberated by his reelection, the 2008 Republican nominee may emerge once again as the main maverick in the Senate. Trump wants to move onto “bigger and better things,” whatever that means, but the former POW still has scars from his service on the frontlines of the Cold War. Literally. So he’s not about to look the other way as an ascendant Russia wages a quiet war against the United States just because his party now controls the White House. The Director of National Intelligence and the head of the National Security Agency are among the witnesses that Mack the Knife is hauling before his Armed Services Committee. (Walter Pincus has more in his new column this morning.)

Jan. 10: Obama delivers his farewell address. The White House said yesterday that the speech at McCormack Place, where Obama spoke on election night in 2012, will “offer some thoughts on where we all go from here.” Since George Washington began the practice in 1796, farewell addresses have often been among a president’s most memorable speeches, often played on a loop in their libraries. Recall Dwight Eisenhower’s prescient warning about “the military-industrial complex” and Ronald Reagan’s inspiring paean to “the shining city upon a hill.

Obama and Trump meet in the Oval Office on Nov. 10. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Jan. 20: Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. Watch for a flurry of executive orders and bill signings during the hours after he’s sworn in. The transition team will huddle this week to discuss which ones will get top billing.

Jan. 21: Demonstrators will gather on the National Mall for the 2017 "Women's March on Washington," protesting the newly-minted President Trump. The event is expected to attract thousands.

Jan. 25-27: House and Senate Republicans go on a joint retreat to Philadelphia. They will plot strategy for the months ahead and try to work out some of their differences behind closed doors. Important strategic decisions will be made in the City of Brotherly Love. There is buzz that Trump will fly up.

Jan. 31: The open-enrollment period ends for coverage through Affordable Care Act marketplaces for 2017. Most of the enrollment period is during the Obama administration, but the last 10 days are during the Trump administration. Will all the talk about repeal affect numbers? (The open-enrollment period for 2018 coverage through marketplaces begins on Nov. 1.)

Jan. 31: Year-end federal campaign finance reports are due to the FEC. We’ll get more specifics of how much Trump paid himself and his companies.

Feb. 5: The Super Bowl is in Houston.

Ted Cruz exits Trump Tower in November. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Feb. 22-25: CPAC will offer an early taste of how much Trump cares about his base once he gets power. The Conservative Political Action Conference, at National Harbor, is most important when Republicans are in the wilderness, which they are no longer. We’ll watch closely to see how Republican politicians with 2024 ambitions talk about Trump, if at all. Especially Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton. Who does the White House send? Does Trump come?

If the new president turns out to be an apostate, he could draw a primary challenger in 2020. We expect a burst of stories in this vein to be written at some point during the year. Ironically, Mitt Romney’s team maneuvered in 2012 to change the rules of the Republican National Committee to make it harder for a potential challenger against a President Romney in 2016. That seems funny in retrospect, but with Ron Paul refusing to concede that year, it was a genuine concern. Even a credible challenger from Trump’s right, like Cruz, would struggle to take on the institutional apparatus that now exists for the sitting president.

Feb. 23-26: A new Democratic Party chair will be elected during the DNC’s winter meeting in Atlanta. It’s the first battle in the brewing Dem civil war, pitting the Obama forces (represented by Tom Perez) against the Bernie wing of the party (represented by Keith Ellison).

Geert Wilders during a trial in September. (Remko de Waal/AFP/Getty Images)

March 15: An election in the Netherlands will offer a barometer of how strong the populist tide continues to be. Stephen Bannon, the new president’s chief strategist, sees his boss as part of a global movement, which he wants to do his part to help advance. Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch far-right “Party for Freedom,” which leads opinion polls ahead of March elections, has embraced and celebrated Trump. “Politics will never be the same again,” Wilders told The Post in the wake of Trump’s victory, saying that Donald’s win helps his party by underscoring the global skepticism toward open borders for people and trade. “It’s a kind of new era that we entered.”

March 16: The debt limit has been suspended until 12:01 a.m. on this date. The Treasury Department can begin using “extraordinary measures” for some still-unknown length of time before the “true” limit is reached. But if Congress does nothing by that point, the U.S. will begin to default on its debts. Many Republicans who blasted Democrats for voting to raise the ceiling over the past eight years will find themselves in the awkward position of now needing to do the same. Trump promises to eliminate the $19 trillion national debt within eight years, but he also calls himself “the king of debt” and has left a trail of bankruptcies throughout his checkered business career. On the campaign trail last year, he also said the U.S. will never default because the government can just print more money and renegotiate with creditors. (Since this is not actually how it works, the deadline could spook the markets and lead to a game of chicken.)

The blossoms at peak bloom (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

March 20: The cherry blossom festival begins in Washington. It runs through  April 16.

April 3: The Nationals play the Florida Marlins for their home opener. It is an unofficial holiday in Washington, as many of the most important people in town assemble at Nats Park.

April 6: The 100th anniversary of Congress voting for the U.S. to enter World War I. Much will be written about the U.S. role in the world and whether Trump’s election – a repudiation of Wilsonianism – represents the truest bookend of the American Century.

April 20: The 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee must report all donations of $200 or more to the FEC. We’ll discover how many contributors anted up $1 million or more for a slew of perks during the inaugural festivities. The funniest part will be which Never Trumpers are trying to buy their way into Trump's good graces. (Matea Gold has more.)

April 28: The current Continuing Resolution funds the federal government through this date. If Congress does not pass a budget or another C.R., there will be a shutdown…

April 29: Trump’s 100th day in office. It’s been an important milestone since FDR took office in 1933 and began pushing through New Deal programs. There will be a flurry of stories and Sunday show panels this weekend assessing the new president’s early successes and failures.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front, attends a horse show last month in Villepinte. (Jacky Naegelen/Reuters)

May 7: France chooses its new president, with the future of the E.U. on the line. The first round to replace Francois Hollande is April 23, and then the runoff is two weeks later. “Though polling suggests French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen wouldn’t beat center-right candidate François Fillon in the second round of the presidential vote scheduled in May, investors are mindful of the risk of a victory for an anti-euro leader in the currency union’s second-biggest economy,” a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal notes. “It would raise the question for markets, can the euro project survive?” said Andrew Wilson, CEO of Goldman Sachs Asset Management in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “It would be reminiscent of the European debt crisis."

May 19: The presidential election in Iran will offer a window into the wherewithal of the nuclear accord. Hassan Rouhani is running for reelection and plans to tout the nuclear deal he negotiated with the west, but he could draw a stiff challenge from a hardliner.

May 25: The OPEC meeting in Vienna could significantly move gas prices. At the cartel’s November gathering, leaders from Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq overcame divisions and agreed – in concert with the Russians – to cut oil output for the first time in eight years. This led to a spike in the price of oil, and it has hung at or above $50 a barrel since then. If the caps work and all parties comply with the agreement – which is not a given – the Arabs could decide to further curtail production. This would increase gas prices just as Americans go on summer road trips and shape how voters perceive Trump’s economic stewardship.

May 26: The leaders of the G7 gather in Sicily. Brexit will be a big issue around this time.

June 5-10: The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War between Israel and the Arabs will be an important symbolic milestone in the region. Trump has promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and there is speculation it could happen around this time.

Activists demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court last June. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Mid-June: The Supreme Court’s term ends. With the 4-4 split likely to last for a couple more months, this could be one of the least consequential terms in memory. But that doesn’t mean there will not still be a landmark decision or two.

The end of the term is also when justices announce retirements. Liberals are terrified by the prospect of Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Stephen Breyer stepping down while Trump is president. Whomever replaces Scalia will return the court to its working Republican majority, but the president could transform jurisprudence for a generation if/when he chooses a second justice. This is how so many conservatives who found Trump so odious rationalized voting for him.

June 13: Virginia Republicans pick their nominee for governor in a primary. Former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, a top adviser in George W. Bush’s White House who almost toppled Mark Warner in 2014, is the establishment favorite of the four candidates running. His main rival is Trump’s former Virginia chairman, Corey Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, who first came on the national radar with his crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Democrats, meanwhile, have cleared the field for Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. (The commonwealth restricts its governors to one term, so Terry McAuliffe cannot seek reelection.) If you missed it, Laura Vozzella had a wild story over the weekend about the nasty battle between two Republican state senators in the lieutenant governor primary.

Janet Yellen testifies in November. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

June 13-14: The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates. Fed Chair Janet Yellen told reporters last month that she and the Federal Open Market Committee were “recognizing the considerable progress the economy has made” toward full employment and an inflation target of 2 percent. Economic projections released by the central bank, on the same day that the benchmark rate was upped, indicate that the Fed expects the economy to grow 2.1 percent in 2017. Jim Tankersley notes that, if Trump and Congress agree to slash tax rates and increase spending in areas such as infrastructure, the Fed could be forced to raise rates faster than expected to counter rising prices.

The FOMC also meets Jan. 31-Feb. 1, March 14-15 and May 2-3. There could be a rate hike at any of those three, as well. But many economists expect the governors to wait until the June meeting to act, which will give them enough time to see what impact last month’s increase had on the economy and what kind of fiscal stimulus there might be from a possible infrastructure bill on the Hill. If the Fed does not act in June, the board might hold off until during subsequent meetings on July 25-26, Sept. 19-20, Oct. 31-Nov. 1 or Dec. 12-13. (Yellen's term ends in early 2018, and Trump’s criticism of her suggests she will not be re-appointed.)

June 14: Trump turns 71. The presidency takes a physical toll on everyone. Just look at pictures of Obama when he took office versus now. DJT prides himself on not exercising nor eating healthy. Will we see physical signs of aging? Will he try to cover them up?

July 7: Trump’s first G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Putin plans to be there.

July 27: India, the largest democracy in the world, holds its presidential election.

Heather Fazio, left, holds a sign as Irene Glass, right, tries to argue a point outside of Rep. Lloyd Doggett's (D-Tex.) town hall meeting in Austin in 2009. Doggett said then that in his previous 15 years of service he had never seen such emotion as was on display during that forum.

July 31: Congress begins its summer recess. Both the House and Senate plan to be out of session from July 31 until Sept. 5, the day after Labor Day. During Obama’s first year, this was the period when Democratic incumbents began facing such vociferous blowback to health care reform during their town hall meetings. Remember all the crazy talk about death panels? If Trump and the GOP touch a third rail, and there are several possibilities, it could drive folks en masse to town halls. On the other hand, and this is a true tragedy for democracy, many lawmakers stopped having free-flowing give-and-takes with their constituents after the 2009 donnybrooks. (Check out the full House and Senate calendars for 2017.)

Aug. 12: The 30th anniversary of Reagan and Gorbachev signing the INF Treaty in Washington. What will U.S.-Russo relations be like by the summer? Will there still be sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine?

Aug. 21: Americans will get to see a total eclipse of the sun!

Angela Merkel attends the annual congress of the Christian Democrats last month. (Volker Hartmann/Getty Images)

Sometime in September: Germany will hold federal parliamentary elections, which will serve as a referendum on Angela Merkel’s leadership. The Chancellor has been expected to win a fourth term, but she’s been hobbled pretty badly by the rising nativist tide and her party has faced setbacks in local elections. The Berlin truck attack before Christmas further heightened fears about her migrant policy. August 27 is technically the first date possible for the German legislative elections, but they could be scheduled for as late as October 22. Merkel herself gets to set the date, and German experts say custom dictates a couple options in late September. (Dana Perino predicted last night that Merkel will resign before the election.)

Oct. 1: The start of the U.S. government’s new fiscal year.

Nov. 7: Election Day in America. Historically the party that wins the White House loses the Virginia governorship the following year, but McAuliffe broke that half-century streak with his 2013 win. Hillary Clinton carried the commonwealth, but the state remains purple and Republicans are good at winning low-turnout, off-year elections. New Jersey will likely be picked up by the Democrats because of outgoing Gov. Chris Christie’s unpopularity, but there will be a contentious primary that could damage the nominee. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio is seeking a second term.

A man at a train station in Seoul watches a TV news program showing footage of a missile launch conducted by North Korea. (Ahn Young-joon/AP File)

Nov. 5-11: Trump goes to Vietnam for his first APEC summit, which will give us a good gut check about whether his effort to bracket China is working. The leaders of twenty-one countries will convene. The South China Sea, Taiwan and North Korea could be high on the agenda. ASEAN, which will be in the Philippines, should be right around the same time.

Just yesterday, the president-elect insisted that a North Korean intercontinental missile capable of reaching American soil “ won’t happen,” dismissing fresh boasts from Pyongyang while also berating China for not doing enough to thwart the rouge state’s weapons development program. It was a timely reminder of just how much Asia might end up dominating Trump’s foreign policy.

Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning newsletter.

With contributions from Breanne Deppisch (@breanne_dep) and Elise Viebeck (@eliseviebeck).

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House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, left, during a hearing last summer. (Pete Marovich/Bloomberg)

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- House Republicans voted behind closed doors to gut an independent ethics office, rolling back reforms crafted eight years ago in the wake of a series of embarrassing congressional scandals. The move defies the wishes of top party leaders, including Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy, and puts the Office of Congressional Ethics under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee (i.e. under the thumb of lawmakers themselves!) Under the new amendment, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, the office "could not employ a spokesperson, investigate anonymous tips or refer criminal wrongdoing to prosecutors without the express consent of the Ethics Committee, which would gain the power to summarily end any OCE probe," Mike DeBonis and Karoun Demirjian report.

“The vote to declaw the OCE was orchestrated by several members who felt they had been wrongfully accused of unethical behavior by the OCE,” Politico’s Rachel Bade and John Bresnahan explain. “The sources said several members currently or formerly under the OCE's microscope stood up to support the pitch, which was eventually adopted by a vote of 119 to 74.

THIS IS A BIG DANG DEAL: Republicans who are tasked with holding the majority in 2018 are incensed with Goodlatte, who has just given Democrats a belated Christmas gift. One of the biggest knocks on Trump in 2020 will be his manifold conflicts of interest, and the narrative is gelling that Donald thinks the rules that apply to all of us do not apply to him. Right now congressional Republicans have a brand quite distinct from Trump’s, for better and worse. But last night’s move just gave Democrats a tangible data point to make the case that House Republicans are ethically challenged, too. If the story breaks through, and it’s so blatantly outrageous that it could, Republicans are in danger for owning that narrative too (which will not be helpful at the ballot box). In 2006, Iraq was a drag on the GOP majority – but it was Jack Abramoff and Mark Foley who cost Republicans controls of Congress as much as anything else. The smartest operatives and leadership aides, especially the ones who lived through the bitter defeat in those midterm elections, recognize this.

Democrats are eagerly seizing on the incredible opening they've just been given. “Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress,” Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Republicans claim they want to drain the swamp, but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions.”

Liberals are getting on their high horses:

But intellectually-honest conservatives are also speaking out. From the president of Judicial Watch, the conservative group that led the charge to get Hillary Clinton’s emails released by the State Department:

From Norm Ornstein at AEI:

If the early reaction of congressional reporters is any gauge, the clips today are going to be BRUTAL for the House GOP. Politico’s influential Capitol bureau chief, for example, is not prone to overstatement. So this is a remarkable tweetstorm, and it suggests that a lot of Hill reporters will be hounding members for reaction:

The Boston Globe:

Vox:

MTV News:

Marc Short (on the right), then the president of the Koch-backed group Freedom Partners, leads a panel discussion with five senators and a congressman during a 2015 Koch political summit in California. (Laurel Hungerford for Freedom Partners)

-- Trump has elevated Marc Short, the former head of political operations for the Koch political network, and he will likely be named as the head of legislative affairs. Short, a longtime adviser to Pence, will work with Richard Dearborn, who has been serving as executive director of the Trump transition team and is expected to be named White House deputy chief of staff overseeing legislative, intergovernmental and Cabinet affairs. Marc, a respected pro, was Pence's chief of staff when he was in the House.

-- DJT also tapped Robert Lighthizer to be the U.S. trade representative, Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker report. “Lighthizer has deep roots in the Republican establishment, having served as national treasurer for (Bob Dole's) 1996 campaign. ... He currently works as a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, where he specializes in international trade issues.” That said, Bob is on the record suggesting that free trade should not be a conservative principle. Bloomberg notes that he's been strongly critical of China, as well.

Bibi Netanyahu chairs a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday. Police came to his residence last night. (Gali Tibbongali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

-- Israeli police grilled Benjamin Netanyahu for more than three hours last night, as part of a criminal investigation into whether he received unlawful gifts from wealthy businessmen. No charges have been filed -- and Netanyahu continues to vehemently deny any wrongdoing – but the questioning at his official residence marked an escalation in a long-running graft investigation, Griff Witte reports. “Several Israeli media outlets reported that Netanyahu is the subject of two police investigations. The questioning Monday night was apparently related to the less serious of the two … Little is known about the other inquiry.”

The remnants of an explosion at a crowded outdoor market yesterday in the Iraqi capital's eastern district of Sadr City. (Karim Kadim/AP)

FLAILING ISIS TRIES TO TURN THE TIDE:

-- Suicide bombers detonated five car bombs in Baghdad, killing 64 people in an attack claimed by the Islamic State. The move comes as the militant group fights to defend its last remaining Iraqi territory in Mosul. The goal of the plot is to shake confidence in the country’s capital. Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim have more: “The worst bombing killed 30 people in a market in the Sadr City area of Baghdad, a largely Shiite neighborhood that is a regular target for the Islamic State. The attacker was driving an explosives-laden pickup truck and pretended to be recruiting day laborers … A hospital in the Sadr City area also was struck Monday, killing 27. The U.S. State Department condemned the attacks 'in the strongest possible terms,' saying in a statement that 'these vicious acts of mass murder are a sobering reminder of the need to continue coalition operations' against ISIS."

-- ISIS also claimed responsibility for a New Years’ Eve nightclub attack in Istanbul, which left dozens dead and served as an ominous reminder of the consequences of Turkey’s growing war against the militants in Syria. Erin Cunningham and Kareem Fahim report: “It was the first major operation against civilians in Turkey that was formally claimed by [ISIS], confronting the beleaguered government of [President Erdogan] with a startling new threat. In its brutal efficiency, the nightclub attack highlighted the resilience of the Islamic State, even as the group’s leaders are hunkered down."

Relatives of inmates react to the news that 60 people were killed in a prison riot in the Amazon jungle city of Manaus, Brazil, yesterday. (Michael Dantas/Reuters)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. A violent Brazilian prison riot ended after nearly 17 hours, leaving at least 60 dead and becoming one of the bloodiest disasters in the history of the country’s crowded penitentiary system. Officials said several inmates were decapitated in the gruesome attacks. Others were burned and tossed to their deaths over the walls of the prison complex. (Marina Lopes)
  2. In a Rose Bowl for the ages, USC beat Penn State last night with a field goal in the closing seconds to win 52-49. (Chuck Culpepper)
  3. Alabama coach Nick Saban announced that offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has been cut and will not be with the team for next week’s national championship game. Kiffin, who is going to coach Florida Atlantic next season, has made several recent comments – especially to Sports Illustrated – that drove Saban totally bonkers. (Adam Kilgore)
  4. A baggage handler was accidently locked in the cargo area of a United Airlines plane during a 1.5-hour flight on Sunday from Charlotte to Washington. A spokeswoman did not say whether the cargo hold was temperature controlled or pressurized, though records indicate the plane rose to 27,000 feet during the trip. Asked for comment, the employee said only, “I thank God. He was with me.” (Shawn Boburg and Aaron C. Davis)
  5. South Carolina state Rep. Chris Corley (R), who made headlines for his staunch advocacy to keep the Confederate flag flying on statehouse grounds last year, was charged with first-degree domestic violence for allegedly beating his wife and threatening her with a handgun. In a heart-wrenching 911 call, his young children can be heard screaming and pleading for him to stop. (Kristine Guerra)
  6. A Texas lawmaker said he is “lucky to be alive” after a stray bullet hit his head during a New Year’s celebration and lodged itself into his brain. It’s unclear where the bullet came from, but it stopped just short of doing more serious, or fatal, damage. (CNN)
  7. SpaceX is ready to resume rocket launches again. Four months after the explosion of its Falcon 9 rocket – which touched off a massive fireball and took down a $200 million commercial satellite – officials are confident they’ve remedied the cause of the blast. They hope to return to orbit as soon as this Sunday. (Christian Davenport)
  8. France enacted a new “right to disconnect” law, granting employees the legal right to ignore work emails outside of typical working hours. It’s part of a national initiative designed to prevent employee burnout, but it's a pretty heavy-handed way to ensure some down time in a global economy that never stops. (Amy B Wang)
  9. DHS reports a 15 percent surge in illegal immigration, reflecting continued failures by the Obama administration to deterthe flow of immigrants along the country’s southwestern border. (Abigail Hauslohner)
  10. Chicago ended 2016 with a total of 762 homicides. It's the city's deadliest year in nearly two decades and surpasses the totals of New York and Los Angeles (both larger cities) combined. (AP)
  11. The ex-wife of oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens is being accused of racial discrimination by a former African-American chef, who claims she asked him to prepare “black people food,” including fried chicken and corn bread, for guests at her Nevada dude ranch. Her lawyers say the comments aren’t racist, just "insensitive and rude." (AP)
  12. A Texas couple is blaming Apple for the Christmas Eve death of their five-year-old daughter, saying the company has the capability to detect when drivers – such as the man who rammed his SUV into their small Toyota Camry "at full highway speed" -- are using FaceTime while operating a vehicle. But what if he was a passenger? (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  13. The captain of an Indonesian tourist ferry was arrested for negligence after the boat caught fire on New Year’s Day, leaving at least 23 people dead and 17 others missing. Officials said some 220 passengers were permitted to board the holiday voyage; far exceeding the vessel’s 100 person limit. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison. (AP)
  14. It may not have been an iceberg that downed the Titanic in 1912, according to a new documentary – but rather a massive hull fire that burned, unfettered, for nearly a month -- and potentially began before the ship had even left port. Officers were reportedly under “strict instructions” not to mention the fire to the 2,500 passengers onboard. If true, this would be one of the most extraordinary cases of criminal negligence in maritime history. (The Independent)
  15. A Florida dog owner and several other adult bystanders were mauled by her pit bull, “Scarface,” after she attempted to dress him in a winter sweater. Authorities said the knitted fabric provoked unparalleled levels of aggression from the dog, who resisted four different animal control devices – including a stun gun and a tranquilizer gun – before he was ultimately captured. His owner is recovering at a local hospital. (Sarah Larimer)
Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell in the Capitol last month. (Cliff Owen/AP)

IT'S SHOWTIME FOR CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS -- WILL THEY DELIVER?

-- Obamacare is “unlikely to die a swift death,” Kelsey Snell and Mike DeBonis explain. "The rush to immediately chip away at Obama’s regulatory and domestic policies through the complex process known as budget reconciliation could create months of messy GOP infighting. The plan to vote now on repeal and work out the details later means that Republican leaders will be slogging through the difficult process of writing a health-care replacement while simultaneously trying to scale back regulations in areas such as clean air and immigration, and possibly tackling a tax-code overhaul. Democratic opposition and complex Senate rules mean that core pieces of the 2010 health-care overhaul are likely to remain, including the legal framework for the individual mandate and pieces of the state exchanges the law created. … According to the latest estimates from the Department of Health and Human Services, the resulting jumble is likely to have an unpredictable and messy effect on the insurance marketplace, jeopardizing the health coverage of the 20 million people."

-- Republicans in both chambers also treading cautiously to avoid Trump’s Twitter-directed ire when they disagree with him on economic and foreign policy. From the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal: “We’re in a ‘two scorpions in a bottle’ phase,” said Stewart Verdery, the founder of lobbying and public-affairs firm Monument Policy Group and a former Senate Republican aide. “They know they have to coexist, and if they attack each other, they’re both going to die.” (Kristina Peterson)

--Paul Kane identifies the biggest hurdle to Trump's agenda in debuting his daily @PKCapitol column for the new Congress:  the Senate: "...the new president’s early months in office are likely to rise or fall in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate, where a narrow Republican majority guarantees the confirmation of most nominees and an ability to set the agenda — but little else ... Democrats are only one piece of Trump’s Senate problem. If past is prologue — and it almost always is in the Senate — Republicans will betray him at key moments and cause big headaches early in his presidency."

-- “It’s put-up or shut-up time for Republicans,” Carl Hulse writes in the Times. “(It) will not be easy. Forged by the Tea Party revolt that restored Republicans to control of the House in the 2010 elections, and in the Senate in 2014, this party is much more conservative with a membership that tends to see government as an impediment to be leveled, not as a force to be shaped to their views to the benefit of their constituents. Eight years of railing against the Obama administration has infused them and their constituents with a hostility and disregard for the government that Republicans must now lead rather than ridicule. Now, if they can assemble the votes, their ideas will become law — with all the attendant consequences.”

Quote du jour from Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.): “When you have both houses and the presidency, there is no acceptable excuse for not passing major legislation. ... There is a lot of pressure on Republican members to produce and to produce quickly.”

Melania Trump and Donald Trump talk to reporters during a New Year's Eve party at Mar-a-Lago. (AP /Evan Vucci)

TRUMP’S TAKEOVER:

-- THE NEXT REALITY SHOW: The incoming president has narrowed his potential SCOTUS picks down to a list of roughly SIX FINALISTS, signaling his priority to quickly remodel the high court while also keeping an eye on the longer-term possibility of a second selection. Politico’s Shane Goldmacher and Josh Gerstein report:  “While Scalia’s seat is the only current opening, Trump’s advisers are plotting how to fill that vacancy in tandem with the next one — a slot if vacated by a liberal justice like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83, or swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, 80, could far more dramatically move the court’s political center of gravity to the right. The thinking inside the transition … is that Scalia’s replacement offers Trump and the conservative movement the best chance for an unabashedly rock-ribbed replacement because it would not fundamentally shift the court’s balance of power. But in the current search process, Trump’s team is also hoping to identify a conservative candidate — possibly a woman — who could be more politically palatable, or at least harder for Senate Democrats to oppose, if Kennedy or Ginsburg leave the court.”

-- A bipartisan group of ethics advocates lobbed another letter to Trump, warning that he needs to do more to divest from his family business interests. Tom Hamburger reports: “The letter expressed appreciation for the steps that have been taken by Trump to address his conflicts of interest problems, including terminating or limiting plans for Trump projects in Brazil, Azerbaijan, Georgia and elsewhere and shutting the president-elect's charitable foundation. But the ethics experts said more action is required: 'As long as you continue to maintain ownership of The Trump Organization, no other steps that you take will prevent the serious conflicts of interest, appearance of conflicts, and Emoluments Clause problems that will exist throughout your presidency. In these circumstances, you cannot separate the presidency  from your business enterprises.' The letter comes after Trump announced some changes in his business empire, with more expected before Inauguration Day."

Why it matters: Signatories include two conservative allies of Trump adviser Steve Bannon, including “Clinton Cash” author Peter Schweizer, as well as John Pudner, who attended high school with Bannon and now leads the advocacy group Take Back Our Republic.

-- Associated Press, “Golf club shows pitfalls of Trump presidency,” by Jon Gambrell: “The Trump International Golf Club in Dubai — the sheikhdom in the United Arab Emirates home to a futuristic skyline crowned by the world’s tallest building — is due to open in February and be managed by Trump Organization employees. The course sits along a road that begins near the sail-shaped Burj al-Arab luxury hotel and passes by a mall with its own artificial ski slope. It is set inside Akoya, a massive housing development of 2,600 villas and 7,000 apartments … [and] is the first Trump venture in the Arab world. [But] with Trump set to be sworn in as president, security analysts have suggested properties bearing his name could be targets. His campaign pledge calling for a ‘total and complete shutdown’ of Muslims entering the U.S., followed by his proposal to conduct ‘extreme vetting’ of immigrants, also sparked regional anger. Still, the [U.A.E. remains a staunch U.S. ally in the war against ISIS] and remains a peaceful corner of the Middle East. Financial matters raise other questions.”

-- Speaking of golf: The author of a decades-old Trump biography was escorted off Trump’s course on Friday, scolded for appearing at the Palm Beach property more than 23 years after he published a critical account of the president-elect. The author said Trump had his security detail escort him and three friends, including billionaire Republican donor David Koch (!), to the parking lot. (CNN)

-- Trump's defense secretary nominee James Mattis has spent his career as an outspoken critic of torture, once describing the death of a brutalized Iraqi prisoner as “the worst thing that happened” under his watch in the Iraq war. Now, his long-held moral positioning could put him at odds with the president-elect. From the New York Times’ Sheri Fink and Helene Cooper: “Mr. Trump, in an ... interview in late November, said he had been surprised to learn that the man he was considering to lead the country’s 2.2 million service members did not believe in torture. ‘Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers,’ [Mattis] told Mr. Trump, ‘and I do better with that than I do with torture.' In 2006, General Mattis supported Gen. David H. Petraeus of the Army and other military leaders in the development of a new counterinsurgency field manual that highlighted limits on interrogation tactics. ‘Torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment is never a morally permissible option, even if lives depend on gaining information,’ the manual said. ‘Lose moral legitimacy, lose the war.’  … Colleagues say the general’s [firmly held views against torture and prisoner mistreatment] … are shared by many military leaders and could put them at odds with the new commander in chief.”

Russian *civilians* are learning and practicing tactical coordination in groups. They are getting ready for battle, whenever it may come. (Photo by Alexander Aksakov/For The Washington Post).

THERE IS A BEAR IN THE WOODS, AND THE INCOMING ADMINISTRATION IS TRYING TO PRETEND LIKE IT DOES NOT EXIST:

-- Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer claimed speciously that the intelligence community's determination that Russia meddled in the presidential race is not yet final. "This report that everyone keeps talking about is not final," Spicer said on CNN. “I know this is frustrating for you that we're doing it in a logical way. No, we're going to get all the information, get briefed properly and then make a decision. We're not going to put the cart before the horse.” 

-- Meanwhile, hundreds of civilian men in Russia are signing up for intense paramilitary training put on by a right-wing militia, preparing for a mobilization that they feel Putin could order at any time. Andrew Roth reports: "The ‘cadets’ … [are] largely white-collar and self-employed workers from cities across Russia, men motivated less by an ideology than by the siege mentality that has surged here since the wars in Ukraine and Syria and a conviction that the modern Russian man should be combat-ready. They signed up to train for 12 hours a day or more in a week-long, military-style course that promises to increase one’s chances of survival ‘in case of a war or total collapse of modern society.’ The men learn to fire a Kalashnikov rifle and Makarov pistol, apply a tourniquet and storm a room in tactical formation. They learn to rappel down abandoned buildings and hold their rifles steady, ready to fire, while charging across a swampy field. 'The storm clouds are gathering,’ said [Alexei, 38]. He said that he was motivated by a sense of instability because of the threat of terrorism and the conflict in Ukraine. ‘If there is ever a mobilization, then I will be ready.'"

-- LONG READ OF THE DAY --> “Putin’s real long game,” by Molly K. McKew in Politico Magazine: “As the definitions of war and peace have blurred, creating impossibly vast front lines and impossibly vague boundaries of conflict, Putin has launched a kind of global imperialist insurgency … exacting critical damage to the underpinnings of the liberal world order in a shockingly short time. The recent interference in the American elections means that these shadow tactics have now been deployed – with surprising effectiveness – not just against American allies, but against America itself.

“What both administrations [have failed] to realize is that the West is already at war, whether it wants to be or not. It may not be a war we recognize, but it is a war. This war seeks, at home and abroad, to erode our values, our democracy, and our institutional strength; to dilute our ability to sort fact from fiction, or moral right from wrong; and to convince us to make decisions against our own best interests. So far, Trump seems far more likely than any of his predecessors to accelerate, rather than resist, the unwinding of the postwar order. [Now], the question ahead of us is whether Trump will aid the Kremlin’s goals with his anti-globalist, anti-NATO rhetoric– or whether he’ll clearly see the end of the old order, grasp the nature of the war we are in, and have the vision and the confrontational spirit to win it.”

A swimmer dressed as Trump takes part in the New Year's Day polar bear challenge as other swimmers dressed as Mexicans hold up a wall in Wales on New Year's Day. (Rebecca Naden/Reuters)

WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE TRUMP ERA:

-- The Post’s Editorial Board lays a marker: “Our argument that Mr. Trump was unfit to be president was based less on differences with his political views, as far as they could be discerned, than with the threat we feared he posed to democratic norms and civility: his celebration of violence at rallies, his scapegoating of entire religions and nationalities, his trading in lies and personal insults. We saw those — and continue to see them — as a challenge to a democratic system that has held the country together since the Civil War.” Ultimately, the board concludes, “Those who opposed Mr. Trump should continue to call attention to these things — not to claim vindication, but to press for a different approach. The goal should be accountability, not automatic opposition. We do not root for Mr. Trump to fail; we root for the nation to succeed and prosper.”

-- Columnist E.J. Dionne says the most important political task of 2017 is to “defend democracy itself”: “The rise of far-right parties in Europe, the authoritarian behavior of governments in Turkey, Hungary and Poland, and the ebbing of center-left and center-right parties that were part of the postwar democratic consensus would be troubling even without the rise of [Trump]. His emergence should sharpen our concern. … To say this is not alarmist. Nor is it to deny the importance of other issues. But even these vital matters are secondary to preventing a rollback of democratic values and a weakening of the institutions of self-rule, at home and around the world.”

-- “Trump’s ascension to the White House feels more like the beginning of something than the end of it to me,” Chris Cillizza writes. “The instability of our long-standing institutions, coupled with the creeping anxiety caused by a steady drumbeat of terrorist attacks — the latest coming in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve — and a sense that the American Dream is fading away, creates a political climate in which nontraditional politicians promising the world hold massive appeal. ... I think we’ll see more Trump-like figures in politics, not less. And that a return to some sort of normal never really comes."

-- The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald F. Seib questions whether Trump’s embrace of Twitter and other unorthodox communication habits are “method or madness”: “It is a risky approach,” the Washington bureau chief writes. “By weighing in on all sorts of matters large and small, Mr. Trump already may be in danger of devaluing the most valuable asset any president has, which is the bully pulpit. Yet it also would be a mistake to dismiss Mr. Trump’s transition-season interventions as random musings. … Often, say those who know him, he is posturing or positioning in pursuit of broader goals. He doesn’t mind roiling the waters in the process—and, as a consequence, some of what he says isn’t to be taken literally. Certainly there is danger in leaving the world unsure which messages to take literally and in trying to handle subjects as sensitive as nuclear-weapons strategy on the fly … But it’s also likely Mr. Trump knows exactly what he is doing.”

-- One fight playing out in the first days of 2017 is how the media can – and should – cover Trump:

-- Joe Scarborough criticized what he calls a “misrepresentation” of his relationship with Trump in a CNN interview, saying he was “going to war against lies” after being accused of partying with Trump at Mar-A-Lago on New Year’s Eve. CNN Money’s Dylan Byers has the backstory: “To many political journalists, Scarborough and Brzezinski's presence at Mar-A-Lago confirmed their suspicions: The co-hosts were far too cozy with Trump, trading favorable coverage for access. … [But] Scarborough sees what he does differently: For generations, he says, journalists from Ben Bradlee to Andrea Mitchell have had friendships and social relationships with the politicians they cover, and many political reporters have drinks, dinners and other off-the-record meetings with politicians and political operatives. The only reason Scarborough has been targeted, he says, is because the politician in this case was [Trump].” "Basically I look at myself as somebody that is in a position that John Madden was in when he was on TV analyzing NFL football games," Scarborough told Byers. "I'm a news analyst and a political analyst. That's why I get paid really well by NBC and that's why I tell it the way I see it …”

-- Scarborough continued to stres this point in a Post op-ed, lashing out against the media’s “hypocrisy and hyperventilating in the age of Trump”: “In the end, the feigned outrage leveled regarding our coverage of Trump is not about Mika or myself. Instead, it is about an increasingly disoriented press corps made vertiginous from the election of a man they openly despise. What the New Republic calls ‘outrage porn’ focused on Trump only strengthens its sworn enemy’s standing and hurts the media’s long-term credibility. There is an intellectual climate so suffocating that even stating that truth, or daring to line up a presidential interview, makes one be seen as a member of a suspect class. Reporters don’t have to like Trump. But they do need to stop hyperventilating long enough to approach the next four years with a balanced perspective and at least start pretending to once again be objective.”

-- Another point of view: “Yes, Donald Trump ‘lies.’ A lot. And news organizations should say so,” says PlumLine's Greg Sargent. 

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

A Jewish mother and her daughter talk with an Israeli soldier at the West Bank Jewish settlement of Eli, located south of the Palestinian West Bank town of Nablus, on Jan. 1. (David Vaaknin for The Washington Post)

-- Israeli settlements, which continued to grow on Obama’s watch, may be poised for a boon under a President Trump. Griff Witte reports: “Through eight years of escalating criticism from the world’s most powerful leader, Israeli construction in these sacred, militarily occupied hills never stopped. Thousands of homes were built. Miles of roadway. A university. Israeli settlements may be illegal in the eyes of the U.N. Security Council and a major obstacle to Middle East peace in the view of the Obama administration. But every day they become a more entrenched reality. As the parched beige hilltops fill with red-tiled homes, decades of international efforts to achieve a two-state solution are unraveling. And global condemnations notwithstanding, the trend is poised to accelerate. Already, Israel has a right-wing government that boasts it is more supportive of settlement construction than any in the country’s short history. Within weeks, it will also have as an ally [in Trump] ... The combination has delighted settlers here and across the West Bank who express hope for an unparalleled building boom that would kill off notions of a Palestinian state once and for all.”

-- “There’s no good way to deal with trolls, so you might as well tattle to their moms,” by Jessica Contrera: “The insults and violent threats had been appearing on her screen for weeks when Amanda Kleinman decided to fight back. Click. She landed on the Facebook profile for the most vile of her harassers. Click. She was viewing his friends. It took only a few minutes to find the woman she was looking for. ‘Dear Lamia,’ she wrote. ‘I wanted to know if you have a son named John?’ … She had called the police. She had talked to the media. Now it was time to tattle to their mothers…”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

In DC, these posters are calling for protests on Inauguration Day:

Trump sent this message to the world on New Year's Eve:

Here's a look at his sons and daughters-in-law that night:

Here are Trump's tweets from Monday:

Read one of Obama's final tweetstorms:

Sean Spicer did quite a bit of traveling last year:

Matt Lauer celebrated 20 years with the Today Show:

Erik Paulsen, showing he's a true Minnesotan, took an icy plunge to celebrate the new year (it's way more fun than it looks!):

Here's how Kevin McCarthy rung in 2017:

John Thune celebrated his 32nd anniversary:

Chuck Grassley has a message for you:

Finally, a shot of U.S. troops on their way home:

And this thought from Larry King:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Politico Magazine, “This Is What It’s Like to Read Fake News For Two Weeks,” by Simon Van Zuylen-Wood: “A few weeks ago, perplexed by the persistence of fake news, I attempted to think like someone I wasn’t. On December 13, I created a dummy Twitter account. More of a clone, actually. I chose to emulate Michael Flynn Jr., the 33-year-old son of President-elect Trump’s choice to be national security adviser."

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Lawmaker wants unhappy couples to live apart for 3 years before they can divorce,” from the Houston Chronicle: “Once the fruitcake is gone and the champagne bottle is empty, couples wanting out of their marriages tend to look to January as a prime time to figure out how to get a divorce. Lawyers call it ‘divorce month’ because of an uptick in inquiries and filings following the holidays, but one state lawmaker wants to make it harder for married couples to call it quits. Conservative Republican Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, said he wants to strengthen families and reinforce the sanctity of marriage by eliminating no-fault divorces, which now allow couples to split amicably with neither legally alleging blame. Under a bill he plans to push in [2017] … a couple who wants to dissolve their marriage peacefully will have to live separately for three years before filing for divorce. Those opposed to waiting would have to accuse their partners of cruelty or adultery, or allege their partner abandoned them after a year living apart …”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Mark Zuckerberg says he’s no longer an atheist, believes ‘religion is very important,’” from Julie Zauzmer: “The founder of Facebook has found religion, it seems, according to a cheery holiday message he posted on the social network he created. On Christmas Day, Zuckerberg indicated in a Facebook status that he was “celebrating Christmas.’ ‘Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah from Priscilla, Max, Beast and me,’ he wrote, naming his wife, daughter and dog. Then a commenter asked him: Aren’t you an atheist? Zuckerberg identified himself as an atheist for years, but on Facebook on Christmas he wrote back: ‘No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.’ He didn’t answer further questions about what he does believe in.”

 

DAYBOOK:

At the White House: Obama has no public events scheduled.

On Capitol Hill: Congress meets at 11 a.m., then adjourns sine die to convene for the start of the 115th Congress at noon. The House elects its speaker, adopts its rules and considers two suspension bills. New members and delegates are sworn in.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“If you have something really important, write it out and have it delivered by courier, the old-fashioned way, because I’ll tell you what, no computer is safe. I don’t care what they say, no computer is safe,” Trump said on New Year's Eve. “You want something to really go without detection, write it out and have it sent by courier.”

 

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

-- Another rainy day is ahead – but luckily, this one is accompanied by some slightly warmer temps. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “A rainy return to work with overcast skies and temperatures edging their way up through the 40s.  A few spots east and south of the city may touch 50. Rainfall totals range from about a half inch to three quarters of an inch generally, with rains moderate at times.”

-- The Wizards lost to the Rockets 101-91.

-- Tragic: A 23-year-old Virginia man died after falling down the boiler shaft of the Dupont Circle Hotel on New Year’s Eve. Police said he and a fellow guest, possibly his girlfriend, had climbed to the roof to admire the Washington skyline in the early hours of 2017 before he fell to his death. (Peter Hermann)

-- D.C. police are investigating an abandoned U-Haul truck found in Southeast Washington after being tipped off that the vehicle was loaded with “multiple” ATMs. The machines were indeed inside the vehicle, but authorities have not said how much – if any – cash was left inside. (Keith L. Alexander)

-- A Virginia judge was found dead in his courthouse office in Prince George’s County on New Year’s Day. Police said they are investigating the death but do not suspect foul play. (Shawn Boburg)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Watch as Russians depart their intelligence compound in Maryland (click to view):

Cory Booker called for resistance against Trump's agenda:

Trent Franks's views on Russian hacking, as expressed in this interview, went viral (click to watch):

In case you missed it, Mariah Carey bungled her New Year's Eve performance:

John Dickerson interviewed Stephen Colbert:

And Seth Meyers took a look back at 2016:

Watch these astronauts do the Mannequin Challenge in space (click to view):

And as fans raise lightsabers in tribute to Carrie Fisher: