Rex Tillerson testifies yesterday before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: For the first time in American history, the nation is poised to have both a president and chief diplomat with no prior government, military or legislative experience. This is a recipe for trouble. Rex Tillerson’s shaky performance yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee underscored why.

The world was already a tinderbox, and Donald Trump has only contributed to the instability in the two months since he won the election. Russia, which got the outcome it wanted, is emboldened. China is on the march. Democracy is in retreat. The already wobbly Western alliance is in danger.

ExxonMobil’s market capitalization is larger than the GDP of many countries, and Tillerson has negotiated many 10-figure deals with foreign leaders. But shuttle diplomacy, grand strategy and the federal government’s mazelike bureaucracy are very different beasts.

Trump clearly believes that business experience tops government or legislative experience. Maybe he’ll be proven right. But kings of the C-suite always have less experience getting challenged, attacked and criticized in public than they think when they try to enter the political arena. Which is why Tillerson let himself get repeatedly rattled and, as a nine-hour hearing dragged on, pulled into unnecessary squabbles with senators, including one in his own party.

It all added up to a pretty bad first impression for the 64-year-old Texan. If he didn’t fully grasp how different senators are than shareholders, he learned it the hard way.

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, told Tillerson at one point that running ExxonMobil is “not at all the same as the view from the seventh floor of the Department of State.” “Those who suggest that anyone who can run a successful business can, of course, run a government agency do a profound disservice to both,” he said.

-- More than nine in 10 of George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s Cabinet secretaries had prior government experience. Only about half of Trump’s nominees do. Republican lobbyist Bruce Mehlman has this remarkable slide in his quarterly PowerPoint deck for clients:

(Check out Bruce’s full PowerPoint here.)

-- Consider: We’ve had 44 presidents and 68 secretaries of state. Six men have held both jobs. The office Tillerson is being considered for has been occupied by some of the most impressive Americans who ever lived, from John Marshall, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay to William Seward, William Jennings Bryan and George Marshall. In other words, this is not a vote senators should take lightly.

-- Tillerson showed yesterday that he is not accustomed to being fully transparent, and like Trump, he does not believe he needs to answer questions from the public when he does not want to. Asked why he’s refusing to turn over his tax returns to the committee, for example, he said: “I hope you’ll also respect the privacy of myself and my family.”

ExxonMobil is notoriously unfriendly and inaccessible to the press, and Tillerson would not even commit to allowing a traveling press corps to follow him on his trips abroad despite that being the long-standing practice.

-- There were few indications that Tillerson is guided by a strong moral compass. Both he and Trump have four-decade records of prioritizing profits over the national interest. It’s clear that neither cares much, if at all, about advancing human rights or promoting democracy — two central values of U.S. foreign policy for the past century.

This became very clear during Marco Rubio’s three rounds of questioning: The Florida senator, showing the willingness to stand up to Trump that he promised as he sought reelection last fall, tried multiple times to get Tillerson to clearly denounce the Russian military’s barbaric actions in Syria that led to the massacre of countless civilians and to describe Vladimir Putin as a war criminal. “I would not use that term,” Tillerson said.

Rubio also unsuccessfully pressed Tillerson to frankly acknowledge human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia or the Philippines. President Rodrigo Duterte literally boasts in public about personally killing suspected criminals without giving them a trial. Tillerson eventually gave, but only a little: “I don’t think any of us would agree that that is the way to deal with offenders, no matter how egregious those facts might be.”

Of our oil-producing ally in the Middle East, Rubio wondered: “You’re not familiar with the state of affairs for people in Saudi Arabia? What life is like for women? They can’t drive! People are jailed and lashed. You are familiar with that?” Tillerson replied that he shares Rubio’s values and wants people to be free. “But,” he said, “I’m also clear-eyed and realistic about dealing with centuries-old cultural differences.”

Tillerson speaks. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

-- Tillerson also wouldn’t firmly commit to maintaining tough sanctions against Russia. "I would want to examine it,” he said, leaving plenty of room for the incoming administration to capitulate. He said, if he’d been at Foggy Bottom a few years ago, he would have supported giving more weapons to help Ukraine defend itself — and that this might have deterred Russia more than sanctions. But then he muddied his answer by saying that military solutions should never be pursued first.

Remember: Watch they what they do, not what they say. Tillerson’s semi-tough rhetoric on Russia during his carefully phrased opening statement is just like Trump transition team press releases. It does not really matter because everyone, including Putin, knows someone else wrote those words.

-- Dana Milbank argues in his column that Tillerson showed again and again why he earned Putin’s Order of Friendship award in 2013: “Putin has managed to achieve in a few months of cyberwarfare what his Soviet predecessors failed to do in 45 years of the Cold War: creating a pliable American government, willing to overlook human rights abuses in the interest of commerce.… It was grim to see an incoming American secretary of state avert his gaze from human rights abuses in Russia and across the globe. Rubio said it ‘demoralizes’ billions of people. ‘That cannot be who we are in the 21st century,’ Rubio told Tillerson. But apparently it already is.”

-- After the hearing last night, Rubio said he has not made up his mind but hinted that he might vote against him. “I have to make sure I’m 100 percent behind whatever decision that I make, because when I make it, it isn’t going to change,” he said.

The senator argued that the secretary of state is more important than the vice president. “My view is that the president deserves wide latitude in our nominations. But the more important the position is, the less latitude they have,” he told reporters, per Karoun Demirjian. “It’s like a cone: it’s really wide in some positions — as it gets higher and higher, the discretion becomes more limited and our scrutiny should become higher. And I consider this the highest of them all.”

-- Conventional wisdom, though, is still that Tillerson will probably survive and make it through. Even if Rubio votes no, and all 10 Dems on the Foreign Relations committee stick together, Tillerson will still come up for a vote of the full Senate — with “no recommendation.” That would be a humiliating vote of no confidence, but Trump could ram him through by picking off a Democrat or two like Joe Manchin from an energy-producing state. So far, Rubio, John McCain and Lindsey Graham are the only three Republicans who have suggested that they may vote no. Last night, Graham called Tillerson’s answers on Russia “real fuzzy.” The South Carolina senator added, “He’s got to convince me he sees Russia for who they are.” It’s possible that these hawks will just hold out until they get stronger commitments on the issues they care about.

-- Tillerson repeatedly pleaded ignorance in ways that defied credulity. He claimed he has never talked with Trump about either Russia or Syria, which is absolutely breathtaking if true. He often said he didn’t know enough to comment on issues he knew would come up, including on the Kremlin’s interference in the U.S. election.

“The Trump foreign policy briefers owed Tillerson preparation that would give him the best possible chance of success. Either Tillerson stubbornly did not take that advice, or those who briefed him committed political malpractice by suggesting weaving, ducking and evading was a good way to get the critical votes he will need to succeed,” conservative Post blogger Jen Rubin writes. “In the afternoon session, Tillerson repeatedly stumbled by getting into arguments with committee members that surely he could have avoided and by refusing to be definitive on easily answered questions.”

Tim Kaine listens to Jeff Merkley question Rex Tillerson. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

-- Tim Kaine pressed Tillerson on whether ExxonMobil concealed what it knew about climate change for decades while funding outside groups to raise unfounded skepticism about the science. “I’m in no position to speak” on behalf of the company, Tillerson said, even though he was CEO until 12 days before and worked there for 40 years. “You would have to speak to them.” Kaine pressed on: “Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question, or are you refusing to do so?” “A little of both,” Tillerson responded. (The room laughed.)

-- Moreover, Tillerson wasn’t fully forthcoming  to put it diplomatically  about his company’s past lobbying efforts on sanctions. “I have never lobbied against sanctions personally,” Tillerson said. “To my knowledge, Exxon never directly lobbied against sanctions.”

Fact checkers had a field day with this, and Democrats quickly produced lobbying records that show ExxonMobil said it was lobbying over various economic sanctions measures, including sanctions on Iran back in 2010 and more recently over sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea. “Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) cited 14 such documents,” Steven Mufson notes. “Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) held up four lobbying reports. ‘In essence, Exxon became the in-house lobbyist for Russia against these sanctions,’ Menendez said. ‘I haven’t seen the form in your hands,’ said Tillerson, who (coyly) asked whether the forms showed Exxon lobbying for or against sanctions. Menendez asked whether Tillerson could imagine the company actually lobbying in favor of sanctions. Tillerson replied, ‘I don’t know, senator, it would depend on the circumstances.’” Later, Tillerson tried to muddy the water by saying Exxon was lobbying over “how sanctions would be constructed,” not against them.

Even as Tillerson claimed that he couldn't speak for the company, whenever that was a convenient answer for him to give, ExxonMobil was basically doing rapid response on his behalf:

-- The Fix’s Chris Cillizza muses that the relative lack of government experience in the Cabinet might be a good thing for Trump, and he wonders if Obama might have been more successful if he’d put a CEO or two in his Cabinet. “The key to Trump's election was his promise of bringing radical change to Washington,” Chris notes. “Had he picked a bunch of establishment figures — Mitt Romney, for example, at State — he would have been abandoning that promise even before he officially became president. Trump's candidacy — and presidency — was, and will be, like nothing we've seen before in modern American politics. Like it or hate it, that’s what people voted for…”

-- To be sure, befitting his experience as a CEO, Tillerson broke with Trump and showed some independence on a few key issues. He expressed support for free trade generally and the Trans-Pacific Partnership specifically while rejecting a “blanket” ban on Muslim immigrants (he didn’t rule out the idea of a registry, however). He also said he does not believe that expanding the number of nuclear states or increasing the number of nukes in our arsenal is a good idea. He articulated stronger backing of the NATO alliance than Trump ever has.

The lifelong oilman, when asked about the Paris climate accord, also said that the United States is best served by not giving up its “seat at the table.” Pressed on the issue over a couple of rounds, Tillerson allowed that he believes “the risk of climate change does exist, and the consequences could be serious enough that action should be taken.” But he expressed no urgency about taking action and said any response must be global, not unilateral. “I don’t see it as the imminent national security threat that perhaps others do,” Tillerson said. (Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis drill deeper on the environmental angle.)

Tillerson’s overarching message, however, was that he will be simpatico on foreign policy with his president. When freshman Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) expressed dismay about Trump’s unvetted tweets, Tillerson replied: “I don’t think I’m going to be telling the boss how he ought to communicate with the American people. That’s going to be his choice.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The Senate voted 51 to 48 early this morning to advance a budget resolution instructing House and Senate committees to begin gutting the major portions of the Affordable Care Act. The House is expected to do the same Friday. Kelsey Snell and Mike DeBonis have more: “Democrats forced nearly seven hours of mostly symbolic votes amid growing concerns in the congressional GOP that the party is rushing to dismantle the ACA without a plan to replace it. [Lawmakers] forced the frenzied vote series called a ‘vote-a-rama’ well into Thursday morning, although they could not prevent the GOP from following through on its repeal plans. … [Chuck Schumer] said Wednesday that Democrats intended to ensure that Republicans are held responsible for any chaos caused by ending President Obama’s landmark law providing roughly 20 million people with coverage in various ways." Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also voted no, in part over concerns that GOP leaders have not committed to a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act after it is repealed.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper listens to questions last week while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Evan Vucci/AP)

-- U.S. spy chief James Clapper called Trump in an effort to de-escalate the turf war between the president-elect and the intelligence community. He denounced the publication of the unverified dossier about what the Russians might have on Trump in a rare public statement, adding that he expressed his “profound dismay” that it got out and reassured the new president that the intelligence community “stands ready to serve him.” “We both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security,” Clapper said, adding that the intelligence community had not "made any judgment" that the information was reliable.

-- How did a secret and unsubstantiated dossier make it into the public domain? Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Karen DeYoung have the backstory: "As the nation’s top spies prepared to brief [Obama and Trump] on Russian interference in the 2016 election, they faced an excruciatingly delicate question: Should they mention the salacious allegations that had been circulating in Washington for months that Moscow had compromising information on the incoming president? Ultimately, they concluded they had no choice. A 35-page dossier packed with details of supposed compromising personal information, alleged financial entanglements and political intrigue was already in such wide circulation in Washington that every major news organization seemed to have a copy. 'You’d be derelict if you didn’t' mention the dossier, a U.S. official said. To ignore the file, produced by a private-sector security firm, would only make the supposed guardians of the nation’s secrets seem uninformed, officials said, adding that many were convinced that it was only a matter of time before someone decided to publish the material. Their decision appears to have hastened that outcome, triggering coverage of politically charged allegations that news organizations had tried to run down for months but could find no basis for publishing...."

-- Trump also announced this morning that Rudy Giuliani will advise him on cybersecurity efforts, praising him in a statement as “a trusted friend” who will lend his "expertise and insight" to the role. The former New York mayor said he will head up an advisory group comprised of various private tech companies. “The President-elect decided that he wanted to bring in, on a regular basis, the people in the private sector, the corporate leaders in particular, the thought leaders, who were working on security for cyber,” he told Fox. “Because we’re so far behind.”

-- Michelle Obama appeared on the “Tonight Show” for her last talk show appearance as first lady, opening up about her “surprisingly emotional” final days in the White House (she's been crying in public). “Democracy is not about party,” she told Jimmy Fallon. “We’re all trying to get stuff done and we’ve seen that decency and we’re trying to emulate that decency.” “The show closed with a performance by Stevie Wonder, who is the first lady’s favorite singer,” Krissah Thompson reports. “He remixed one of his most famous songs for her. 'My Michelle amour, lovely as a summer day. My Michelle amour, you’re the only one that we adore. … You’ll always be first lady in our lives.'"

In one touching segment, regular people were asked to record goodbye messages to FLOTUS. Then she surprised them by popping out from behind a curtain when they were done:

Mrs. Obama also played the game Catchphrase with Dave Chapelle and Jerry Seinfeld:

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. A freshman GOP lawmaker from Florida was rushed to the hospital last night after suffering what appeared to be a cardiac event. Witnesses say Rep. John Rutherford was stricken while standing near the House floor and left the Capitol in an ambulance. (Mike DeBonis)
  2. The Supreme Court is wrestling with the level of education owed by public schools to children with special needs, potentially overturning a standard that requires they receive just “some” educational benefits. It’s of the most significant special-education cases to reach the high court in decades. (Emma Brown and Robert Barnes)
  3. The FDA confirmed this week that implantable cardiac devices from St. Jude Medical can be hacked – potentially exposing the device to cyberintruders who could administer incorrect pacing or shocks. It’s a development straight out of "Homeland," but luckily, officials say it can be easily fixed. (CNN Money)
  4. Morocco has banned the manufacture or sale of the burqa this week, citing security concerns. The move comes as part of an attempt by government officials to foster more moderate expressions of Islam in the majority-Muslim country. (New York Times)
  5. Russia just moved to decriminalize domestic violence, as the Duma advanced a measure to downgrades it from a criminal to an administrative offense. Last year they passed legislation that decriminalized assault and battery which does not lead to “actual bodily harm.” (Politico)
  6. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered government agencies to hand out free birth control to millions of low-income women – a sweeping measure that seeks to ensure there is “zero unmet need for family planning” in the country. It’s expected to face strong opposition from the Catholic Church. (Kristine Guerra)
  7. A European human rights court ruled that Switzerland can force Muslim parents to send their children to co-ed swimming lessons, saying their interest in a full education and successful social integration ultimately trump the wishes of their parents. It’s a ruling that fits into a much broader European debate that pits the rights of religious minorities “against a commitment to integration and secularism,” Amanda Erickson reports.
  8. A West Virginia drug dealer faces decades in federal prison for distributing freakishly-powerful heroin – so potent, prosecutors say, that it caused 26 overdoses in a single day. (Kristine Guerra)
  9. Cardinal Health has agreed to pay $44 million in fines for failing to properly oversee and report suspicious orders of powerful narcotics by pharmacies in Florida, Maryland, and New York. The penalty caps a four-year negotiation process with the DEA. (Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham)
  10. A Texas judge has dismissed all but one respondent in a defamation lawsuit against 14-year-old “Clock Kid” Ahmed Mohamed, who was arrested after school authorities mistook his homemade clock for a bomb. The 21-page complaint alleged that the defendants, including Glenn Beck, Fox News, and other conservative news personalities “misled the public,” and in doing so, fanned “the flames of fear and anger toward Muslims and immigrants.” (NBC News)
  11. Former Siberian policeman Mikhail Popkov, who is already serving a life sentence for the murders of 22 women, has confessed to killing 59 more, authorities told the Siberian Times. Nicknamed the “werewolf” of Siberia for the brutality of his methods — he raped women and then killed them with axes, knives or screwdrivers — Mikhail Popkov carried out his bloody rampage between 1992 and 2010. (Fred Barbash)
  12. Scientists just used a microscopic aluminum drum to “supercool” an object beyond the quantum limit. For those of us who don’t speak science, that’s a million times colder than room temperature and 10,000 times colder than the vacuum of space. It’s potentially a huge breakthrough in understanding one of physics’ most mysterious branches. (Sarah Kaplan)
  13. Star Wars-loving scientists in China have moved to name a newly-discovered species of gibbon after Luke Skywalker. The news was with delight online by actor Mark Hamill. (CNN)
  14. An Indian man whose rare disease gave him tree branch-like hands – stripping him of the ability to brush his teeth or even hug his own daughter – finally has his fingers back, thanks to 16 groundbreaking surgeries and a medical team that agreed to treat him for free. (Katie Mettler)
  15. Former Microsoft employees are claiming PTSD after they were reportedly forced to view videos and photos of “indescribable sexual assaults” and murders as part of their job moderating online safety content. They say the company failed to offer them adequate psychological support. (The Guardian)
  16. A Reddit user who started a forum for uplifting stories in 2012, quickly becoming one of the most popular pages on the site, raised nearly $160,000 for the young disabled man who was targeted in a brutal Facebook Live attack earlier this month. (Colby Itkowitz)
  17. After a trip to Utah’s famed ice castles was derailed, a local father decided to get creative – using little more than a hose, step ladder and string lights to create a stunning Disney-inspired castle for his daughters. Now he’s the talk of the town. (Photos of the exhibit, via the Idaho Press-Tribune)
Donald Trump speaks during his press conference at Trump Tower. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

TRUMP MEETS THE PRESS:

-- DJT held his first news conference since July  a stream-of-consciousness, hour-long performance in which he acknowledged for the first time that he believes Russia interfered in the presidential race and outlined his plan to avoid financial entanglements in the White House. In doing so, the president-elect also managed to overtake a full day of news on Capitol Hill. "At the press conference, Trump made a series of promises but provided little specific evidence on how he would deliver them," Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker write. "He vowed to repeal and replace President Obama’s Affordable Care Act quickly and nearly simultaneously ('could be the same hour') and to start building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico before persuading the Mexican government to pay for it ('that will happen, whether it’s a tax or whether it’s a payment'). ... In a performance that was by turns considered, combative and carnivalesque, Trump also definitively confirmed that winning the presidency has not changed his public presentation to that of a more traditional statesman."

Trump lawyer Sheri A. Dillon speaks during the press conference. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST REMAIN:

-- The ostensible purpose of the news conference was for Trump to outline his plans to divorce himself from his vast business network, which he said he will place in a trust controlled by his oldest sons. But he stopped short of full divestiture, drawing criticism from top ethics officials. Drew Harwell has more: “The announcement included a pledge from a Trump lawyer that the company would make ‘no new foreign deals whatsoever’ during Trump’s presidency, and that any new domestic deals would undergo vigorous review, including approval by an independent ethics adviser. In addition, Trump is giving up his position as an officer at the company … ceding all management responsibilities and agreeing to what his lawyers described as strict limits on communications with company executives beyond receiving regular profit-and-loss statements.” Tax adviser Sheri Dillon said Trump “will only know of a deal if he sees it in the paper or on TV.” Quote du jour from Trump: “I could actually run my business and run government at the same time." But, he added, “I don’t want to take advantage of something. I have something that others don’t have.”

-- The federal ethics chief, Walter Shaub, blasted the plan as “wholly inadequate,” saying it did not meet the standards met by the “best of his nominees.” “The ethics program starts at the top,” he said, condemning the ethics plan as “not even close” to the blind trust that many lawyers have advocated for. “We can’t risk creating the perception that government officials will use their positions for personal profit.” (Lisa Rein)

-- Op-ed by Trevor Potter, the Republican former chairman of the Federal Election Commission: "Trump hasn't solved any of his conflicts of interest. He could have. He chose not to."

-- The majority of Americans appear to agree. From WaPo pollster Scott Clement: A Pew Research Center poll finds that 57 percent of adults say they are very or somewhat concerned that Trump's “relationships with organizations, businesses or foreign governments conflict with his ability to serve the country’s best interests.” One-third said they are very concerned. And a Quinnipiac University poll released this week found that 66 percent of registered voters believe Trump should place all his business holdings in a blind trust.

Painted Matryoshka dolls, or Russian nesting dolls, bearing the likeness of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are for sale at a souvenir shop in Moscow. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

THE RUSSIA CONNECTION:

-- After an initial burst of “skittish and incredulous text messages and phone calls, many GOP lawmakers offered support for Trump amid reports that Russia may have gathered compromising material on the incoming president. Robert Costa, Mike DeBonis and Sean Sullivan report:  It was yet another example of the president-elect and his allies in Congress delicately working together while trying not to be consumed by the latest Trump-related controversy. Late Tuesday and early Wednesday, Republican leaders were in close communication by phone and email with Trump’s advisers in New York, in particular with incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus ... [who] assured Republicans that the allegations about Trump were false and that Trump would be defiant in disputing them, the people said.” Many seemed to follow his lead after a Wednesday morning “Today” show interview, where he dismissed the leaks as “wild accusations” as “phony baloney garbage” and “shameful.”

Democratic leaders treated the matter carefully, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declining to say whether she was briefed on the allegations as part of the congressional Gang of Eight leaders privy to highly classified intelligence updates. She mused: “I always wondered, what did Russia have on Donald Trump that Donald Trump would question our sanctions that we have imposed?”

-- Trump insists he has “nothing to do with Russia.” The past 30 years show otherwise. Michael Kranish reports runs through the president-elect’s decades of connections: “Trump first visited Moscow in 1987 in an effort to make real estate deals. As he told it in a Playboy interview, two Russian fighter planes accompanied his jet to the airport, and he had insisted on having two Russian colonels fly with him. He stayed at the National Hotel, overlooking the Kremlin, and said that the Soviets wanted him to build two luxury hotels. Trump did not wind up making a deal, but he soon tried again. In 1996, [he] sought to build luxury condominiums in Moscow, but the deal never happened. Trump tried again in 2005, signing a deal for a possible Trump building in a converted pencil factory, but this also failed to materialize. The Trumps were undaunted. Donald Trump Jr. traveled to Russia six times in an 18-month period … to try to make deals. His father seemed convinced it would happen. “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment,” [he said]. “We will be in Moscow at some point.”

-- Former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who now leads a private security-and-investigations firm, was identified as the author of the dossier of unverified allegations. He reportedly went underground hours before his identify was released, saying he was “terrified for his safety” and fears repercussions from Moscow. (The Telegraph)

-- You can’t make this up: The corporate law firm currently advising Trump on his business conflicts was named "Russia Law Firm of the Year" last year by a group that ranks legal groups. (CNN)

A protester holds up a sign during a rally at the Supreme Court yesterday calling for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, to mark the 15th anniversary of the first Afghan prisoners arriving at the detention center. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

-- Trump said he would likely nominate a Supreme Court justice within two weeks of his Jan. 20th swearing-in, a timetable that might allow a new member of the court to participate in final arguments of the current term. “I have a list of 20. I’ve gone through them,” Trump said. “We’ve met with numerous candidates. They’re outstanding in every case.” From SCOTUS beat reporter Robert Barnes: “Trump actually has 21 names on the list he released during the campaign, but he has mentioned ‘20’ several times since then. It is unclear if he is rounding off the number, or if someone once on the list is no longer under consideration. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is on the list, for instance, but has said he did not vote for Trump. If the Republican-led Senate moves quickly on Trump’s nominee, it could be possible for the new justice to sit with his or her colleagues when the court convenes for its final two weeks of oral arguments beginning April 17. Additionally, if the current eight members are deadlocked on a case, the court could call for a special rehearing. The court finishes its work by the end of June…

Barnes says Trump has narrowed his list of possibilities: "It is thought to include at least two judges—William Pryor of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11thCircuit and Diane Sykes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit—who Trump has mentioned as the kind of judge he’d look for in replacing the conservative Scalia. Others who are favorites of the groups Trump has looked to for guidance include federal appeals court judges Thomas Hardiman, Steven Colloton and Neil Gorsuch.”

-- Pence met last night with Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana in the Capitol to try and get them on board for Trump's pick. From CNN: “A Senate Democratic staffer said it was clear Pence is trying to feel out where moderate and vulnerable Democrats are on the nomination fight, as part of a push to get to a filibuster-proof 60 votes. … Pence also met with Tim Kaine, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins.”

Members of the media raise their hands to try and ask questions during Trump's press conference. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

TRUMP VS. THE FOURTH ESTATE:

-- Trump's Pravda: “More than 250 journalists packed Trump Tower," the AP reports. "Only one seat was saved by a Republican National Committee aide, a front-row spot for a reporter from Breitbart, the conservative news outlet until recently run by Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon. Other reporters scrambled to save their seats.”

-- Judged on a policy basis, New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman says the presser was a disaster. But observed as a spectacle, Trump’s ability to turn the tables and focus on the media made it a “resounding victory.” “BuzzFeed deserves some of the blame for this,” he says. “Journalists receive oppo research frequently during political campaigns, but publish only what they can verify. By amending this standard for Trump, BuzzFeed handed him an opening to play the victim. … The matter of whether Trump campaign officials coordinated with the Kremlin needs to be investigated, and answered definitively. Trump’s propensity to traffic in rumor, gossip, and innuendo makes it ever more important that the news organizations don’t.”

-- "From the outset of Trump's first news conference in 168 days, his love-hate relationship with the press was on full display," says Callum Borchers“So it goes with the incoming headliner-in-chief, who recognizes the role that nonstop media coverage played in his successful campaign yet also calls journalists 'the lowest form of life."

-- The New York Times headline: “Trump’s News Session Starts War With and Within Media."

-- "If Trump bans a news organization from a press conference or refuses to take questions from an outlet that has accurately covered him, every other outlet should walk out or refuse to give him airtime or print space," conservative commentator S.E. Cupp writes in the New York Daily News. "If he thinks he can silence the press, strong-arm journalists into printing only favorable reports or replace the press with tweets, every outlet should protest, not only the ones he is punishing. At a time of division and rancor, the press must come together around this common cause: saving itself.”

-- The tweet of the day comes from longtime Russian-American journalist and Putin biographer Masha Gessen: “We are now fully immersed in the anonymous, the unverified, and the unverifiable. And he hasn’t even taken office. Trumpism sure is fast.”

Obama wipes a tear from his eye on Tuesday night. (Kamil Krzaczymski/EPA)

MORE SMART ANALYSIS:

-- Greg Jaffe and Jenna Johnson contrast Obama's farewell speech and Trump's presser as a window into the two “vastly different Americas” they represent: “In the span of 15 hours, standing separately in the cities that have come to define them, President Obama and his soon-to-be successor spoke to the historic, clashing movements each has inspired and continues to lead. One era in America’s long political history was ending, and another very different one was just getting started. Obama returned in his Tuesday night speech to the struggling South Side of Chicago, where he once worked as a community organizer ‘in the shadows of closed steel mills.’ ‘It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith,’ he said, ‘and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.’ [Trump] appeared Wednesday morning in the pink-marbled lobby of his Manhattan skyscraper, standing next to a table stacked high with file folders representing dozens of business deals and assets worth a fortune. ... For Obama, it was a prime-time goodbye … and an attempt to give some hope to the dispirited America he led. For Trump, it was a formal introduction ... and an attempt to define the America he is inheriting.”

-- Democrats are still grappling with how to combat the new realities of a Trump-centric news cycle. Yesterday offered a preview of the their “new normal”: "While Trump did not completely blot out a busy news day on Capitol Hill, he became the sun, the moon and the stars,” Paul Kane writes. "He consumed the news, and he made it all about himself. That didn’t make it a good 24-hour news cycle for Republicans. But it didn’t quite feel like Democrats were in control, either.”

-- Dan Balz calls the presser a “vintage” Trump performance: “He was self-assured, aggressive, combative, at times willing to offend and at times trying to sound conciliatory. What it added up to was a reminder of the challenges he will face in gaining and maintaining full public trust once he is sworn in as president. No president in memory has come to the brink of his inauguration with such a smorgasbord of potential problems and unanswered questions, or with the level of public doubts that exist around his leadership. … Public trust is the currency that all president must have to succeed. Trump might well have helped himself with his performance Wednesday, but there are enough challenges and questions surrounding him to make what is already an enormously difficult job all that much harder.”

-- Health care stocks tumbled after Trump said that he will go after high drug prices. ( WSJ)

David Shulkin leaves a meeting at Trump Tower on Monday. (Evan Vucci/AP)

THREE TRANSITION MOVES:

-- Trump announced the nomination of Dr. David J. Shulkin, a physician currently serving as Obama's VA undersecretary, to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. The move ends a protracted search and makes him the first Obama administration holdover in the new Cabinet. (Lisa Rein)

-- Dina Powell, a Goldman Sachs partner who formerly served as White House chief of personnel to George W. Bush, is joining the Trump administration in a senior position that will “focus on entrepreneurship, economic growth and the empowerment of women,” Politico’s Ben White and Annie Karni report. She is expected to work closely with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, recently named a senior adviser to the incoming president, in her new role. (Read CNN’s profile of Powell, which dubs her “Ivanka Trump’s woman in the White House.")

-- Trump picked a longtime Mar-a-Lago friend to be ambassador to Ireland. He reportedly offered the plum foreign-policy post to Brian Burns soon after Nov. 8. (Boston Globe)

John Lewis speaks as Cory Booker and Cedric Richmond look on during the confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

CONFIRMATION HEARINGS:

-- Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) testified against his colleague Jeff Sessions, breaking with tradition as he delivered an impassioned speech outlining why the Alabama Republican should not be confirmed as attorney general. Republicans chalked it up to his 2020 presidential aspirations. (Matt Zapotosky)

-- Civil rights icon John Lewis, who joined Booker on the panel, evoked his upbringing in rural Alabama and questioned whether Sessions’s view of the law would leave racial protections in place. “There are those who wonder if Sen. Sessions’s calls for law and order mean today what they meant in Alabama when I was coming up,” Lewis said. “The rule of law was used to violate the civil rights of the poor, the dispossessed, and people of color.” 

-- African American lawmakers are mad at Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley for making them wait until the end of the two-day hearing to speak, a break with tradition that they believe was clearly motivated by a desire to minimize and marginalize what they had to say. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the longest-serving member of the House and the longest-serving African American member in Congress’s history, issued a statement asking why Booker, Lewis and Rep. Cedric Richmond were “required to testify with non-Members of Congress” at the end of the hearing, when much of the media and many senators had packed up. “I reject the lack of comity and respect afforded to my Congressional Black Caucus colleagues,” Conyers said. (David Weigel)

-- Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks (R) said in a radio interview that criticism of Sessions is part of an ongoing "WAR ON WHITES” being waged by Democrats. From CNN: “It's really about political power and racial division and what I've referred to on occasion as the 'war on whites.' They are trying to motivate the African-American vote to vote-bloc for Democrats by using every 'Republican is a racist' tool that they can envision," the Republican congressman said on ‘The Morning Show With Toni & Gary’ on WBHP 800 Alabama radio. ‘Even if they have to lie about it.’ Brooks, who said … that he is under consideration by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to replace Sessions in the Senate, was defending Sessions in regard to his position on voting rights. ‘Well, to get right down to it, it's all about political power, and the Democrats are not shy about lying in order to achieve their political goals,’ he said. ‘And if they have to besmirch the reputation of a good man, Jeff Sessions, in order to achieve their political goals, they as a group are not hesitant to do so.’”

-- Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert (R) blocked photographers from taking photos of protesters during the Sessions hearings. From the Dallas Morning News: “Photographer Jim Lo Scalzo was busy snapping pictures of protesters being escorted out of the hearing room Tuesday when, he said, Gohmert attempted to stand between his camera and the action. ‘When I asked him, 'Are you seriously blocking me from making these pictures of these protesters?' he said, 'Yes,'’ said Lo Scalzo, who works for the European Pressphoto Agency. ‘He said, 'The story is not there,' and then he pointed to Sessions and said, 'The story is over there.' … The congressman said his actions didn't constitute censorship, but he didn't deny standing in front of the photographers' lens. … Appearing in an interview with C-SPAN following the hearing on Tuesday, Gohmert called for the photographers in question to be ousted along with the protesters.”

-- Elaine Chao, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Transportation, faced a total, bipartisan lovefest. A fun color story from Buzzfeed’s Alexis Levinson about the wife of the Senate Majority Leader: “Rand Paul … called Chao ‘a dear friend’ to him and his wife, Kelly, who was also in attendance. Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran sent greetings from his wife Robba; Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan sent congratulations from his wife Julie; New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan noted how much her husband Tom had enjoyed talking with Chao at new member orientation; and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal … [declared] both he and McConnell had ‘married above ourselves.’ [Oklahoma Sen. Jim] Inhofe noted that he had spent time with Chao’s family and her ‘daddy,’ New York businessman James Chao, who was also in attendance, the night before. 'I have some frustrations with Mitch McConnell right now,' New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker told Chao. 'Being a young, single member of the Senate, he’s never taken me aside to tell me how to marry out of my league.'" McConnell joked that he regrets he only has one wife to give his country.

Just how easy did Chao have it? Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told her that he had “probably the toughest question of the day” for her. Then he asked whether she preferred University of Kentucky or University of Louisville basketball teams...

-- “It's not surprising that [Trump's] key Cabinet nominees are being asked to defend his most controversial statements at their confirmation hearings. What's surprising is the way some of them are responding: by telling skeptical lawmakers that they hadn't actually discussed the issues with the president-elect,” Vox’s Dara Lind writes. "John Kelly, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Homeland Security, says he hasn’t talked to Trump about immigration. ... Tillerson says he hasn’t talked to Trump about Russia … That’s the real takeaway from the first wave of Trump confirmation hearings: Even with Inauguration Day looming, nominees to top posts don't seem capable of saying what the Trump administration will actually do once in office. And that means the public can’t either.”

-- House Democrats are threatening to revolt over the waiver needed for James Mattis to serve as defense secretary, after transition officials blocked him from testifying before the House Armed Services Committee. Politico’s Jeremy Herb and Connor O’Brien report: "’I'm going to urge all House Democrats to vote no on the waiver,’ said Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. ‘The Republicans just spent eight years complaining about the executive branch ... usurping legislative branch power, and here's the first move of the new administration is to ignore us on something.’ Senate Democrats could prevent the waiver from passing, as a provision included in the December continuing spending resolution set up a 60-vote threshold. But House Democrats can do little without getting Republicans to oppose the waiver, too.”

House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry said felt bypassing the House was a mistake, but it wouldn’t stop him from voting for the waiver: "The transition team told me last night that they would not allow him to come and testify … even though Mattis himself is enthusiastic to come testify. I’m disappointed. I think it’s a mistake. This is a big issue — it hadn’t come up in 67 years — it deserves a hearing. I think it was an opportunity to help him."

MORE ON WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION:

-- Conservationists are looking to Donald Trump Jr. as their champion in the new White House. Matea Gold and Juliet Eilperin report: “Throughout the campaign, Trump Jr. pledged that if his father were elected, he would be a vocal advocate for those who rely on federal parks and streams for recreation. ‘I will be the very loud voice about these issues in my father’s ear,’ he [said] during the GOP primaries.Trump Jr.’s pull — and willingness to use it — is now being tested after the House passed a measure last week that makes it easier to transfer federal land to the states. The move caught Trump transition officials off guard and upset conservation groups, who were heartened when both Trump and his son expressed opposition to such transfers during the presidential campaign. The outcome of the unfolding lobbying campaign will shed light on what kind of influence Trump Jr. could wield behind the scenes after his father takes office, as well as his willingness to oppose Republican lawmakers [on the issue].”

-- “U.S. lawmakers have introduced a measure calling for the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the oldest Islamist organizations in the Middle East, to be designated a foreign terrorist organization, and for the first time in recent years they are optimistic it will get signed into law.” Abigail Hauslohner reports: “The Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act, introduced this week … in both chambers of Congress, advocates for the designation on the grounds that the Muslim Brotherhood espouses ‘a violent Islamist ideology with a mission of destroying the West.’ Previous administrations … have not viewed the group, which has held elected political offices across the Middle East, as a threat, preferring to engage it diplomatically. If the Trump administration adds the Muslim Brotherhood, it would mark the first time that the U.S. government has pursued the terrorist designation on ideological grounds, analysts say. It is also likely to have a far-reaching impact on American Muslims at a time when Muslim community leaders say the religious minority is facing the worst harassment it has seen since the aftermath of 9/11 …”

-- “As inauguration day draws near, U.S. allies in the Middle East, alongside Palestinian leaders and American diplomats, are warning [Trump] to forget his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem,” William Booth and Carol Morello report. “A top government minister in Jordan, Israel’s pro-Western neighbor, said the embassy move from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem would have ‘catastrophic consequences,’ inflaming religious passions and rallying extremists in the region. The Palestinians have also called the move ‘a red line’ that would dash hopes for a two-state solution to their long-running conflict with the Israelis. Palestinian leaders are now pleading with Trump not to do it. They have asked mosques around the world to offer prayers this Friday against the move.” 

-- Can the Iran nuclear deal survive under a President Trump? More from Carol Morello: “The Iran nuclear deal was written with several ‘sunset’ provisions setting expiration dates, some of them 15 years into the future, when restrictions on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program would lift. Then Donald Trump was elected president, and a sunset on the deal itself became possible. Trump is expected to take a more confrontational approach with Iran, showing no tolerance for even small breaches of what was agreed upon. The strategy seems designed to increase pressure on Iran, stopping what critics consider backsliding or cheating, but also to compel it to moderate its actions elsewhere in the region. ‘I was skeptical that the deal would survive, even if Clinton were elected, but the chances of it reaching its expiration date under Trump are very slim,’ said [Iran analyst] Karim Sadjadpour.”

Hillary Clinton campaigns with Eric Holder in Philadelphia last year. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

THE RESISTANCE:

-- Former Attorney General Eric Holder will lead the Democratic efforts to challenge redistricting maps. From the New York Times’ Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin: “As he prepared last week to deliver his farewell address, President Obama convened three Democratic leaders in the White House for a strategy session on the future of their party. One topic of urgent concern[:] how to break the Republican Party’s iron grip on the congressional map. Emerging as Mr. Obama’s chief collaborator and proxy is Holder … [who] has signed on to lead the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a newly formed political group aimed at untangling the creatively drawn districts that have helped cement the Republican Party in power in Washington and many state capitals. For Mr. Obama, the redistricting campaign signals how personally engaged in electoral politics he intends to be after leaving office, unlike many former presidents who enjoy something of a cooling-off period. But redistricting may be a special preoccupation among Mr. Obama and his allies: For them, Mr. Holder said, there is considerable resentment of how an entrenched House Republican majority undermined the president’s goals over three-quarters of his tenure." 

-- As Trump readies to complete his final victory lap in Washington, many District residents are… skipping town. From Perry Stein: “While [Trump] is being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20, David Harris will be with his wife on Easter Island, a remote Polynesian isle possessed by Chile. There will be no cellphone service. No easy access to Internet. No way for him to follow what is going on more than 5,000 miles away in the nation’s capital. ‘We found it attractive to be on the most isolated, uninhabited island in the world,’ said Harris … D.C. residents have a front-row seat to inaugurations every four years. But in a city where 76 percent of the registered voters are Democrats, that prime seat can be rebuffed when a Republican president is elected — particularly, it seems, when the president being sworn in is Trump. Residents who are still reeling from Trump’s unexpected victory — and who have some extra cash to burn — are fleeing the nation’s capital so they don’t have to witness the history they never wanted to happen.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump urges his supporters to shop at L.L. Bean this morning:

This development feels a little on-the-nose, all things considered:

Notes on Wednesday's press conference:

No, don't compare Trump to Nelson Rockefeller:

And don't say it's just journalists who care about seeing Trump's tax returns:

Even Republican Rep. Mark Sanford (S.C.) joined in the chorus last night:

Overheard in the Capitol:

Note the Trump team's treatment of CNN reporter Jim Acosta, who pressed to ask a question at the news conference:

Shep Smith of Fox News backed up Acosta on air:

This was his question:

Later, Spicer slammed Acosta on Twitter:

Trump himself attacked CNN again this morning:

A selection of moments from Wednesday's hearings:

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) had this retort for someone who called him the n-word for supporting Sessions:

Some news from our colleague, Dave Fahrenthold:

This is now Obama's most re-tweeted post on Twitter ever:

Does your household pet love Obama? These ones seem to:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd interviews Silicon Valley billionaire and unlikely Trump supporter Peter Thiel: “Mr. Thiel is comfortable being a walking oxymoron: He is driven to save the world from the apocalypse. Yet he helped boost the man regarded by many as a danger to the planet. ‘Everyone says Trump is going to change everything way too much,’ says the famed venture capitalist, contrarian and member of the Trump transition team. ‘Well, maybe Trump is going to change everything way too little. That seems like the much more plausible risk to me.’ His critics demanded to know how someone who immigrated from Frankfurt to Cleveland as a child could support a campaign so bristling with intolerance. How could a gay man back someone who will probably nominate Supreme Court justices inclined to limit rights for gays and women? How could a futurist support a cave man who champions fossil fuels [and] puts profits over environmental protection …? Let others tremble at the thought that [Trump] may go too far. Peter Thiel worries that Mr. Trump may not go far enough.”

-- The Times, “The Real Story About Fake News Is Partisanship,” by Amanda Taub: “’Partisanship, for a long period of time, wasn’t viewed as part of who we are,’ said [Dartmouth professor Sean Westwood]. ‘It wasn’t core to our identity. It was just an ancillary trait. But in the modern era we view party identity as something akin to gender, ethnicity or race — the core traits that we use to describe ourselves to others.’ The fake news that flourished during the election is a noticeable manifestation of that dynamic, but it’s not what [experts] find most worrying. To them, the bigger concern is that the natural consequence of this growing national divide will be a feedback loop in which the public’s bias encourages extremism among politicians, undermining public faith in government institutions and their ability to function."

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Students, parents raise concerns over Highland High dating assignment,” from Fox News Salt Lake City: “It's a simple assignment that's getting a failing grade from parents. A paper for girls and a paper for boys were handed out to 11th graders in the required "adult roles and financial literacy class.” Bullet point after bullet point, the assignment tells girls how to act on a required five-dollar date with a boy. The bullet points say things like ‘don't waste his money,’ ‘if you think you're fat keep it to yourself,’ ‘be feminine and lady like’ and ‘don't correct his personal habits.’ The paper for the boys tells them to say what you're going to order so she will have a guide in ordering. The assignment was on a statewide website where teachers can download quizzes, lesson plans and assignments for use in their classes.” “This one blew me out of the water. I couldn't believe some of the questions and guidelines,” one concerned parent said.

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“A woman claims she was denied an abortion while in jail. Now she’s suing for $1.5 million,” from Kristine Guerra: “A Tennessee woman is seeking $1.5 million from law enforcement officials in a federal lawsuit that claims she was denied access to abortion while incarcerated in a county jail. Kei’choura Cathey found out she was pregnant in August 2015, about two weeks after she was arrested … According to a complaint filed in a Tennessee federal court in late December, Maury County Sheriff Bucky Rowland told Cathey that his department would not pay to transport her to a clinic unless the abortion is medically necessary or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. But by the time she was able to pay her bond in January 2016, she was more than halfway into her pregnancy … The lawsuit claims that denying Cathey’s request inflicted cruel and unusual punishment on her — a violation of the Eighth Amendment.”

 

DAYBOOK:

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

On Capitol Hill: Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, nominated for Defense Secretary, will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. Ben Carson, nominated for Housing and Urban Development Secretary, will appear before the Senate Banking Committee at 10 a.m. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), nominated for CIA director, will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee at 10 a.m. The House meets at noon to consider the Commodity End-User Relief Act and the SEC Regulatory Accountability Act, with first and last votes expected between 4 and 5 p.m. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

"I'm also very much of a germaphobe," Trump said as he dismissed reports that the Russians might have compromising information on him. "Believe me."

 

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

-- A rare January surge of warmth that (almost) breaks records. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Clouds obscure the sunrise, and even a brief sprinkle can’t be ruled out mainly north and east of the city. However, clouds should at least partially break up by midday. With some afternoon sunshine and a moderate south breeze, we are in for a taste of spring. Highs top out in the mid-60s which might be good enough to break the record of 63 set in 1995 at Dulles, but National is safe with a record of 76 for the date.”

-- The Celtics beat the Wizards 117-108.

-- The Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2.

-- The Redskins interviewed former Jaguars Coach Gus Bradley about their vacant defensive coordinator position. The team reportedly has a strong interest in Bradley, who was fired by the Jaguars after their loss to the Houston Texas and has “deep ties” with people in the Redskins organization. (Master Tesfatsion and Mike Jones)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

If you missed it, our video team made a super cut of Trump's news conference in three minutes:

(Read the full transcript here.)

Read Glenn Kessler's fact checks on 15 Trump statements from the presser, and watch a video summary:

Booker said Sessions needs more empathy to be attorney general:

Conan O'Brien imagined more phone calls between Trump and Obama:

Seth Meyers took a closer look at Russian hacking as it relates to Trump:

And the start of the Senate confirmation hearings for Trump's Cabinet:

Van Jones explained why some Obama voters supported Trump:

Stephen Colbert called for a Million Meryl March:

And talked about Trump's nuclear plan:

Finally, in case you missed it, here's Jimmy Fallon's charming La-La-Land-themed opening for the Golden Globes: