With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Republican women who voted for President Trump in North Carolina said during a focus group Wednesday night that they are embarrassed by and exasperated with him.

-- Annie Anthony, 56, voted for Trump last year because she opposes abortion and did not like how Hillary Clinton handled Benghazi. Now she fears that Trump is marching us toward war with North Korea. She describes the first 10 months of his presidency as “chaotic, stressful and an uphill battle.”

“While I thought his ideas appealed to me, since he’s been in there he’s embarrassed me by his behavior,” said Anthony, a divorced college graduate who runs a local nonprofit volunteer center and drives for Uber to make ends meet. “He behaves so unpresidential. The words he uses. The tweeting. I mean, he dresses nice. And Melania is looking good. When he was away (in Asia), he was great at being a president. He’s the showman. But here at home, I can’t imagine how they let him build a country club — let alone be in one. Because adults don’t behave that way. I’ve been surprised that a billionaire would behave the way he has

“I don’t have a problem with him tweeting,” she continued. “I follow him because I want to see what he’s saying myself and not have someone interpret it for me. But I think that his language is unprofessional. He uses words like ‘sad’ and ‘bad.’ That’s first grade language. We’re an intelligent population who elected you. Represent us!

Anthony, a registered Republican, remains hopeful that Congress will soon pass tax cuts, but she’s nervous that they’ll take away the deduction for charitable donations. She’s also worried that, if her health insurance rates continue to go up, she won’t be able to afford to go see the doctor any more. (She makes less than $50,000 a year.)

Looking ahead to the midterms, she offered an ominous warning for the GOP: “I think the swamp is still full. I might be voting to drain that swamp some more.”

-- Veteran pollster Peter Hart organized the two-hour-and-15-minute session in Wilmington for Emory University. Five independents, four Republicans and three Democrats participated. The Washington Post was invited to observe.

Coinciding with Trump’s 300th day in office, the wide-ranging conversation with a cross section of voters in a swing state illuminated why Trump’s job approval rating nationally is at 37 percent in Gallup’s daily tracking poll. In the history of polling, no president has ever had a 57 percent disapproval rating at this stage of his presidency.

-- When Hart asked for one word or phrase to describe Trump, the group initially erupted in laughter. Only two of 12 said something positive (“bold” and “fights back”). The others called him incompetent, a baffling fool, childlike, a loose cannon, an immature narcissist and ignorant.

Emily Bell, a 32-year-old occupational therapist who voted for Trump, described him as rude and stressful. “I feel like he told people that he had all these big ideas and big plans, and it just seems to kind of roll to something else. It’s like nothing is ever accomplished,” said Bell, who is married and has a postgraduate degree. “I’m going to stay optimistic, but I lean more toward being independent. Really it will come down (in 2020) to who I can trust more.”

-- Melissa Hight, a 62-year-old married retiree who has a postgraduate degree and voted for Trump, used the word “antagonistic” to describe him. “I had high hopes, but he just goes about things in a way that gets everybody’s back up against the wall,” she lamented. “He doesn’t facilitate working together. He comes out with these grandiose ideas, and there’s no follow through. It’s a lot of talk. … He hasn’t acted presidential at all. The tweets bother me. They may be enlightening to some people. I’m not a tweeter. But to me, firing off these tweets is just childish. … He should be above that. … I will call a spade a spade because I’m a conservative more than a Republican.”

-- Only one of the 12 participants emerged as an unapologetic defender of the president. Cynthia Layton, a 64-year-old nurse, said she loves Trump’s tweets. “I like him because he talks like my neighbor talks to me,” she explained. “I don’t need an elitist person talking down to me. The media does not give an honest opinion. That’s why I turned off cable 10 years ago. I read my sites. I listen to his tweets. … That’s how I hear from him. The media doesn’t tell you what’s going on, so you have to find out what’s going on on your own. … To me, I think his tweets are simply what he honestly feels because he uses white and black language and doesn’t give you all these flowery descriptions about everything. I appreciate that he’s direct and tells it like it is.”

-- Hart is a Democrat, but he plays it very straight when he moderates these focus groups and never tries to tip the scales. The sessions he convened before the presidential election always wound up underscoring Hillary Clinton’s weaknesses, for instance. (Check out my write-up of Hart’s August 2016 focus group with swing voters in Milwaukee, which foreshadowed Clinton’s defeat in Wisconsin.)

-- Trump carried North Carolina by four points last year. With 15 electoral votes, the Tar Heel State was a hotly contested battleground and will be again in 2020. Barack Obama won here in 2008, and Mitt Romney picked it off in 2012.

The economy and health care were the issues that everyone cared about most. Seven of the 12 participants said they think Trump is doing a good job on the economy; 10 said he’s not doing a good job at addressing racial tensions.

Asked to name their top concerns, no one mentioned Russian interference or the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who got reelected last year, is leading one of the inquiries into Moscow’s meddling as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

-- Hart had a lightning round in which he asked everyone to say the first word that came to mind when they heard a politician’s name.

All 12 used a negative word to describe Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Two said spineless. Others said sleazy, insecure, incompetent and narcissistic.

About half the group hadn’t heard about Roy Moore. Those who were familiar with the Alabama story called him troubled, a scumbag and disgusting. The sole exception was Layton, who called him a scapegoat.

The room remained quite downbeat about Clinton. Participants described her as annoying, crooked, a thief, outmatched, troubled, despicable and a sore loser.

Interestingly, Joe Biden received widespread praise as savvy, smart, nice and levelheaded.

-- The focus group really underscored the extent to which the deep unease that propelled Trump’s victory a year ago has only gotten worse. Asked for one word to describe the state of America today, the answers were chaotic, tornado, backward, troubled, disrupted, fearful, anxious and embarrassing. Only Layton used a positive word: “Improving.”

Hart prompted everyone to name the last president who they think united the country. For the most part, the Democrats said Obama and the Republicans said Reagan. Someone picked John F. Kennedy. No one named George W. Bush or Bill Clinton.

Then he told everyone to imagine that they have a magic wand and could take a positive quality from a former president and transfer it over to Trump. What would it be? The answers included Reagan’s sense of humor, JFK’s grace under pressure, Abraham Lincoln’s ability to bring the country back together and Obama’s professionalism.

-- The 2020 election is not for three years, which is an eternity in politics. There were some signs that Trump has not completely depleted the reservoir of goodwill among the folks who voted for him.

Michael Leimone, 41, cooks pizzas at a chain restaurant and backed Trump last year. Asked to describe how the presidency has gone, he used the words “whirlwind” and “vacant.” “He’s not been there when you needed him to be there,” he said. “After Charlottesville and (the hurricanes), he was out doing other stuff.”

Leimone — who is married, has kids at home and didn’t go to college — added later that he still thinks Trump is probably doing a better job than Clinton would have. “We kind of knew what we were getting with him,” he said. “He’s kind of a loose cannon — I don’t like that — but what we’ve had for years and years — not just Obama, but leading up to that — they weren’t getting the job done in terms of leading the country. So he’s still better than the alternative of a career politician.”

He said he remains optimistic. “I expected a lot out of him … but nobody can do it all,” Leimone said. “He has a harder road because everyone hates him, not just the Democrats. He still has a lot of time to prove himself.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

TWO NEW MOORE ACCUSERS:

-- Two more women have described unwanted overtures by Roy Moore at an Alabama mall — where his behavior began making young employees so uncomfortable that some would “draw straws” to decide who would deal with him during his frequent visits. Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites report: “Gena Richardson says Moore pursued her during her senior year of high school while she was working in the men’s department at Sears. “Richardson says Moore … asked her where she went to school, and then for her phone number, which she says she declined to give, telling him that her [father] would never approve. A few days later, she says, she was in trigonometry class at Gadsden High when she was summoned to the principal’s office over the intercom in her classroom. She had a phone call.

“I said ‘Hello?’” Richardson recalls. “And the male on the other line said, ‘Gena, this is Roy Moore.’ I was like, ‘What?!’ He said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m in trig class.’” Richardson says Moore asked her out again on the call. A few days later, after he asked her out at Sears, she relented and agreed, feeling both nervous and flattered . . . They met that night at a movie theater in the mall after she got off work, a date that ended with Moore driving her to her car in a dark parking lot behind Sears and giving her what she called an unwanted, ‘forceful’ kiss that left her scared.

  • “In all, The Post spoke to a dozen people who worked at the mall … and recall Moore as a frequent presence — a well-dressed man walking around alone, leaning on counters, spending enough time in the stores, especially on weekend nights, that some of the young women who worked there said they became uncomfortable.”

-- Another Alabama woman, Tina Johnson, 28 at the time, says Roy Moore groped her in 1991 while she was visiting his law office with her mother. The encounter is also the first alleged to have occurred during Moore’s marriage. AL.com’s Anna Claire Vollers reports: “At one point during the meeting, she said, Moore came around the desk and sat on the front of it, just inches from her. He was so close, she said, she could smell his breath. According to Johnson, he asked questions about her young daughters, including what color eyes they had and if they were as pretty as she was. She said that made her feel uncomfortable, too. Once the papers were signed, [her] mother walked through the door first, she said, Moore came up behind her. It was at that point, she recalled, he grabbed her buttocks. ‘He didn't pinch it; he grabbed it,’ said Johnson. She was so surprised she didn't say anything. She didn't tell her mother. She said she told her sister years later how Moore had made her feel uncomfortable during that meeting. Her sister told AL.com she remembers the conversation.”

-- BUT, Alabama Republicans are standing behind Moore. NBC News’s Alex Johnson and Vaughn Hillyard report: “The steering committee of the state Republican Party — the only entity with the power to remove Moore from the Dec. 12 special election ballot — took no action on Moore's nomination at a meeting Wednesday [night]. Two members of the committee said late Wednesday that the state party is continuing to support Moore[.]”

-- Moore punched back: “If you are a liberal and hate Judge Moore, apparently he groped you,” a campaign spokesman said in a statement responding to the Post story. “If you are a conservative and love Judge Moore, you know these allegations are a political farce.”

He also tweeted this:

Which prompted replies like this, from a New Republic editor:

MCCONNELL AND COMPANY ARE GETTING DESPERATE:

-- Republican leadership hoped Trump would address the controversy after returning from Asia, but no such luck. Sean Sullivan, Philip Rucker and David Weigel report: “Senate Republican leaders increasingly see Trump as pivotal to restoring some order to a race that has spiraled quickly out of their control. … [But] Trump did not respond to questions from reporters about Moore after touting his Asia trip at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. The president sidestepped questions about Moore during his travels. … But there is consensus among senior White House aides that the president is in a bind. If he publicly calls on him to withdraw and Moore demurs — or, worse for Trump, wins the race nevertheless — the president could suffer another embarrassment in Alabama. Yet continued silence from Trump may not be tenable.

  • One person not avoiding the topic: Ivanka Trump. The president’s daughter told AP, “There’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children. I’ve yet to see a valid explanation and I have no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts.”

-- With a new NRSC poll showing Moore down 12 points to Democrat Doug Jones, Republicans are considering drastic options to keep the seat in their hands. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt and Eliana Johnson report: “Mitch McConnell and his top advisers are discussing the legal feasibility of asking appointed Sen. Luther Strange to resign from his seat in order to trigger a new special election. McConnell aides express caution, saying they're uncertain whether such a move, one of several options being discussed, is even possible. Yet the talks underscore the despair among top Republicans over relinquishing a seat in deep-red Alabama, further diminishing their slim Senate majority. … McConnell’s team had been high on the idea of asking Jeff Session … to run as a write-in candidate. But the committee polled the prospect of Sessions waging a write-in bid and the outcome was unfavorable[.]

-- The controversy raises the real possibility that Alabama may have a Democratic senator for the first time in 25 years, Paul Kane writes. “It’s still too early to say that Jones is the front-runner, but what had been a fairly comfortable lead for Moore has been upended . . . as long as Moore stays in the race, the contest is going to continue to be a referendum on his behavior and the allegations against him — and not a referendum on the state’s traditional conservative posture and the leftward lurch of Democrats at the national level.”

-- Who is Doug Jones? The Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey paints a picture: Jones “is buoyed not only by the salacious allegations against Moore, who has long been divisive, but also by his own strong standing as a law-and-order candidate with some cross-over appeal to Republicans. The Democrat is betting that the voters, especially the younger generation living in the suburbs, have changed with the times and are willing to turn away from the state’s past and its legacy of divisive leaders[.] … His message to them evokes the concept of a New South willing to exorcise racist ‘demons’ — a word Jones uses.”

-- Meanwhile, in Alabama, those who have spoken out against Moore are getting vicious threats and insults. Marc Fisher writes: “On Twitter and Facebook, in texts and in phone calls, Alabamians say they are on the receiving end of a muddy river of threats, dirty tricks and angry attacks, all aimed at undermining allegations [against] Moore[.] … After Blake Usry told AL.com, an Alabama news site, that he knew girls Moore tried to flirt with, Usry received threatening phone calls and Facebook messages, as well as texts informing him that he had been sued for defamation. … Lawyers representing Moore and his campaign have sent letters to news organizations, including AL.com and The Post, warning that they are preparing to file suit against the outlets for ‘making false reports.’

MOORE’S DEFENDERS:

-- Moore's wife, Kayla Moore, has emerged as her husband’s most visible and aggressive champion. Jenna Johnson, Ellie Silverman and Lindsey Bever report: “[Moore] has used Facebook to question the credibility of her husband’s accusers, threaten lawsuits and spread information that sometimes turns out to be false. … Upon learning that Washington Post reporters were contacting people she knows for this article, Moore on Wednesday posted one of the reporters’ personal cellphone numbers on her Facebook page, and a commenter posted a copy of that reporter’s résumé, which included her home address. Later in the day, Moore posted a link to the campaign website where people can now report any interaction they have with a reporter.

“'In the past month our hometown, county, and state have been invaded by the Washington Post and liberal media,’ Moore wrote. ‘We have had numerous reports of phone calls, cellphone calls, Messages, emails, even to the point of them showing up at peoples houses[.] … It’s called a witch hunt. We are filing suit.’”

-- Steve Bannon and Breitbart News are not backing down. Paul Farhi reports: “Rush Limbaugh began backing away … as did the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page[.] … The Drudge Report put a dagger firmly into Moore on Wednesday; its lead headline referred to him as ‘Judge Whore.’ That left Breitbart as the odd man out, or possibly still in, in its support of Moore’s troubled candidacy among the most influential organs of the right.

“‘Steve is stuck between a rock and a hard place,' said [former Breitbart spokesman] Kurt Bardella[.] … Bardella doesn’t think Breitbart or Bannon will abandon Moore, but, he said, their loyalty will be costly. Bannon’s ambitions for the 2018 midterms were dependent on momentum for Moore and demonstrating that he could find and recruit viable candidates, he said. ‘Now,' said Bardella, ‘that rationale has been obliterated . . . Bottom line, this debacle is devastating to Brand Bannon.’”

-- After warning that Moore had “24 hours” to come up with a plausible excuse for the allegations or “get out of this race,” Fox News’s Sean Hannity backed off. Callum Borchers reports: “By the time the deadline arrived on Wednesday night, Moore had not cleared his name. … Yet Hannity lost his nerve, telling viewers on Wednesday that Moore’s fitness for office ‘shouldn’t be decided by me.’ Hannity declined to say whether he believes Moore or his accusers and did not call for the former Alabama chief justice to exit the race, even though Moore failed to ‘remove any doubt’ within the 24-hour window. Instead, Hannity devoted most of his program to rehashing accusations of sexual misconduct by Bill Clinton.”

-- With this and the #metoo movement following the Harvey Weinstein scandal, liberals are reexamining the allegations about sexual impropriety by Bill Clinton. The New York Times’s Peter Baker writes: “The cultural conversation about women, power and sexual misconduct that has consumed the United States in recent weeks has now raised a question that is eagerly promoted by those on the political right just as it discomfits those on the political left: What about Bill? … The emerging revisionism may influence a historical legacy that Mr. Clinton and his allies have spent the past 17 years scrubbing of scandal. Despite his impeachment on perjury and obstruction for covering up sexual liaisons with [Monica] Lewinsky, Mr. Clinton until lately had made progress in framing the national memory of his presidency as a time of peace and prosperity. But the arrival of President Trump on the political stage has chipped away at that.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. UCLA said Wednesday it will “indefinitely” suspend three members of its basketball team who were arrested for shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton store in China. Their arrests created an international incident — prompting direct intervention from Trump, who later scolded them on Twitter. (Tim Bontemps)
  2. Trump used a White House speech to take a sort of victory lap after his Asia trip, claiming that Asian leaders now have a new resolve to confront North Korea. “America’s renewed confidence and standing in the world has never been stronger than it is right now,” Trump said. (Anne Gearan)
  3. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced bills in the House and Senate to help tackle Capitol Hill’s sexual harassment problem. The move comes amid fresh stories of misconduct in Washington — including some accusations against sitting members. (CNN)
  4. An Ohio state lawmaker with ties to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was forced to resign over “inappropriate behavior.” Ohio Rep. Wes Goodman’s name had been thrown around as a possible replacement for Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), who recently announced his retirement. (Cleveland.com)
  5. The Trump administration reversed an Obama-era ban on importing trophies from elephant hunts in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Though listed as a “threatened” species, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that money collected from the move could help grow the elephant population. (Darryl Fears and Juliet Eilperin)
  6. The death toll in the Northern California shooting rampage rose to five, after authorities discovered the shooter killed his wife before attempting to attack an elementary school. (Mark Berman, Susan Svrluga and Ellie Silverman)
  7. The Virginia parents of a 4-year-old with leukemia can no longer buy a plan on the Obamacare state exchange that covers her hospital care. The Briggses have bought health insurance from Anthem for years, which covers the hospital where their daughter receives treatment, but it pulled out of a number of Virginia counties for the upcoming year. (Colby Itkowitz
  8. Actress and Harvey Weinstein accuser Rose McGowan turned herself in to Virginia authorities after they issued a warrant for her arrest on a drug possession charge. McGowan has disputed the charges and previously suggested the drugs — which were found in her wallet after she left it on a plane — could have been planted. (Dana Hedgpeth)
  9. Actor Terry Crews identified the Hollywood executive who allegedly groped him last year. He told “Good Morning America” that Adam Venit, who runs the motion picture department at a major talent agency, was the alleged perpetrator. “I will not be shamed. I will not be shamed. I did nothing wrong,” Crews said. (Marwa Eltagouri)
  10. Detroit police officers got into a fistfight after undercover drug dealers attempted to sell their product to undercover drug users. The Detroit Police Department has launched an internal investigation. (Fox2 Detroit)
  11. A long-lost original painting by Leonardo da Vinci was auctioned for a world-record-setting price of $450 million. The painting changed hands among royalty, spent centuries in obscurity and eventually landed in the hands of a very lucky NYU art professor. (Travis M. Andrews)

THEN THERE WERE TWO (ON TAXES):

-- Republican’s hopes for a speedy passage on tax cuts might be dashed, as one GOP senator has come out against the plan and another has voiced major concerns. Damian Paletta and Mike DeBonis report: “Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he opposed both the Senate and House versions of the tax legislation because they benefited corporations at the expense of other, typically smaller companies. Earlier in the day, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Republicans had erred when they changed their tax bill this week to include a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which requires every American to have health insurance or pay a fine.”

The math is against the GOP on its biggest legislative priority in more ways than one: Without Johnson and Collins, Republicans would need every other member of their caucus to vote for the plan — far from a guaranteed outcome. And neither senator’s concern can be easily addressed without changes that could drive other Republicans to oppose the bill. Adding additional tax breaks for smaller businesses could appease Johnson, but it could force the GOP to raise taxes elsewhere. Leaving the [ACA] alone could make the measure more attractive to Collins and other moderates. But it would run against the wishes of many conservatives and Trump and create other challenges in making the bill comply with Senate rules allowing passage with fewer than 60 votes.”

Any chance of Democratic support went out the window with the individual mandate repeal, and a few more Republican senators who have expressed hesitation about the plan — including Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.) and John McCain (Ariz.) — still haven’t firmly established how they will vote.

-- Reality check: Johnson made similar noise about the Senate GOP's health-care plan — and ended up voting for it.  Before that vote, Johnson told Politico“'It’s not a bluff,' Johnson [said]. 'Until I have the information where I am certain this is … in the best interest for the folks in Wisconsin — that this puts us in a better position tomorrow than we are today — I’m not going to be voting yes.' The vote totals are here.

-- In better news for Republicans, the House is expected to pass its tax bill today. Our colleagues report: “As of Wednesday evening, fewer than a dozen GOP members had come out against the bill — most of them from the high-tax states of New York, New Jersey and California, where the bill’s partial elimination of a tax deduction for state and local taxes is controversial. But other members from those states … said in recent days they are supporting or leaning toward supporting the bill. … Trump is expected to visit Capitol Hill on Thursday morning and deliver a pep talk to House Republicans moments before they go to the House floor to advance the legislation.”

-- How it's playing in D.C.: House tax plan faces bipartisan backlash over repeal of development incentives,” by Peter Jamison: “The grand opening Wednesday of Archer Park, an affordable housing complex of 190 units in a long-troubled neighborhood of Southeast Washington, had the trappings of similar ceremonies in the past. But along with oversized ribbon-cutting scissors and celebratory speeches, the gathering had something less typical: An undertone of alarm over looming changes to the federal tax code that D.C. officials say would make developments like Archer Park impossible.

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

-- Richard Cordray announced he is stepping down as Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director by the end of the month — abruptly ending his six-year tenure and clearing the way for Trump to reshape the watchdog agency long loathed by Republicans and Wall Street financiers alike. Renae Merle reports: “Cordray did not explain the timing of his decision, but it clears the way for him to potentially run for Ohio governor. It also comes just a month after the CFPB suffered a major rebuke from Republicans in Congress who took the unusual step of blocking an agency rule that would have allowed consumers to sue their banks for the first time.

“Cordray’s [tenure] was marked by aggressive efforts to rein in banks, payday lenders and debt collectors that often drew protests from the business community. Republicans had become increasingly exasperated that Cordray [had] not stepped aside when Trump took office, and instead continued to press for aggressive rules disliked by the business community. … Under the agency’s current structure, Trump could only fire Cordray for cause.”

-- Lawmakers are expressing increasing alarm over anticipated cuts to the State Department. Carol Morello reports: “Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday to lift a hiring freeze and promote experienced Foreign Service officers, requesting in a letter more details about Tillerson’s reorganization plan. Citing reports of declining morale, recruitment and retention levels, the senators wrote that ‘America’s diplomatic power is being weakened internally as complex, global crises are growing externally."

-- CIA Director Mike Pompeo is a leading contender to replace Tillerson if he resigns. Politico’s Eliana Johnson and Annie Karni report: “It’s not clear when Tillerson might leave — he has vigorously denied rumors that he plans to resign anytime soon — but Pompeo has told associates that he expects the president to tap him for the position and that he’d accept the job if it’s offered to him. Trump’s relationship with Pompeo mirrors the close bond he developed with John Kelly while the retired Marine general was serving as secretary of Homeland Security[.]"

-- Julia Duin profiles Paula White, the televangelist who has become a “part life coach, part pastor” to White House staff — including Trump: “Not all Christians, including evangelicals, are fans of the wealthy, thrice-married White, who has long been associated with the prosperity gospel, a set of beliefs that says God will reward faith, and very generous giving, with financial blessings. Detractors point to a congressional investigation of her former church’s finances and accusations that she has taken advantage of her mostly African American parishioners through her fundraising. … White has no title and no official position at the White House but plays several roles. After helping to put together an evangelical council for Trump during the campaign, she is now, she explains to me, the convener and de facto head of a group of about 35 evangelical pastors, activists and heads of Christian organizations who advise Trump.”

-- New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi takes a look inside the “Breitbart Embassy” – the Capitol Hill townhouse where Steve Bannon plots populist takeover by day and entertains political elite by night – and maybe lives as a permanent resident. (The verdict is still out.) “The Breitbart Embassy of yore had been a fringe enclave; but in 2017, it’s a venue for Bannon to showcase his unusual, if overstated, political power,” she writes. “[In] the deeply weird environs of Washington in the Trump era, the [Breitbart Embassy] has taken on a sense of ominous gravity — in spite of being more than a little ridiculous. If, like in Ghostbusters, there were a vortex above one building in this troubled city, it could be this one rather than the White House or the Capitol."

At a recent party, Bannon was “surrounded” by establishment political types, Olivia writes. “The room wasn’t smoke-filled, but guests quite literally slapped Bannon’s back and whispered into his ear. I even saw one guy I’d met in Iowa when he was working for Hillary Clinton; he walked around with his eyes bulging, like he’d sleepwalked his way into the party and had just been jolted awake. ’It’s quintessential Bannon,’ said a journalist who attended the party. ‘He wants to be seen as this populist, flame-throwing, take-on-the-whole-Establishment — and yet he has a Dean & Deluca party and clearly covets everyone being there, standing under chandeliers and taking selfies, and his private security carrying his bags out to the private plane to California.’”

-- At least 10 Justice Department lawyers and paralegals, whose salaries are paid by taxpayers, are dedicated to cases about Trump’s businesses. USA Today’s Nick Penzenstadler reports: “Neither the White House nor the Justice Department will say how much it is costing taxpayers, but federal payroll records show the salaries of the government lawyers assigned to the cases range from about $133,000 to $185,000. The government legal team is defending President Trump in four lawsuits stemming from his unusual decision not to divest himself from hundreds of his companies that are entangled with customers that include foreign governments and officials. In the cases, Justice Department attorneys are not defending policy actions Trump took as president. Instead, the taxpayer-funded lawyers are making the case that it is not unconstitutional for the president's private companies to earn profits from foreign governments and officials while he's in office.”

THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Former MI6 officer Christopher Steele, who wrote the infamous Trump dossier, told the Guardian’s Luke Harding that he believes the document is “70 percent to 90 percent accurate.” “I’ve been dealing with this country for 30 years. Why would I invent this stuff?” Steele told Harding, who recently published a book on Russian meddling efforts in the 2016 election.

-- “One of the reasons his dossier was taken seriously in Washington in 2016 was Steele’s reputation in the US for producing reliable reports on [Russia],” Julian Borger explains. “Between 2014 and 2016, he authored more than a hundred reports on Russia and Ukraine, which were commissioned by private clients but shared widely within the state department and passed across the desks of [John Kerry] and the assistant secretary Victoria Nuland, who led the US response to the annexation of Crimea and the covert invasion of eastern Ukraine. The sources for those reports were the same as those quoted in the dossier on Trump …” 

-- Meanwhile, the head of British intelligence flew to the U.S. to personally brief John Brennan about the seriousness of Trump-Russia connections, after agents tasked with spying on known Kremlin operatives saw they were talking with people in Trump’s orbit. Harding reports: “The precise nature of these exchanges has not been made public, but according to sources in the US and the UK, they formed a suspicious pattern [and] continued through the first half of 2016. The matter was deemed so important that it was handled at ‘director level’, face-to-face between the two agency chiefs. James Clapper, director of national intelligence, later confirmed the ‘sensitive’ stream of intelligence from Europe. After a slow start, Brennan used the [British] information and other tip-offs to launch a major inter-agency investigation.”

-- The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), expressed confidence in Steele. “The biggest thing that I think people need to realize about the dossier is that Christopher Steele discovered that the Russians were embarked on a broad effort to help the Trump campaign before our own intelligence agencies came to the same conclusion,” Schiff said in an interview. “In the broadest outline of what he investigated, he proved more than prescience — he proved accurate in terms of the Russian involvement and what their motivations were.” (Wall Street Journal)

-- In an interview with Mother Jones, Hillary Clinton slammed Trump’s calls for the Justice Department to investigate her as “abuse of power [that] goes right at the rule of law.” “As secretary of state, I went around the world bragging about America’s rule of law,” Clinton said. She added, “If they send a signal that we are going to be like some dictatorship, some authoritarian regime where political opponents are going to be unfairly, fraudulently investigated, that rips at the fabric of the contract that we have that we can trust our justice system.”

-- Related: New polling suggests concerns about an aging Democratic leadership echo beyond Washington: A national SurveyMonkey poll asked Americans to pick between two concerns about the Democratic Party, finding 59 percent saying “the older generation of leaders will stay in power too long” while 36 percent predict “the next generation of leaders will not rise to the challenge.” Concerns about older Democrats overstaying their time were lower among self-identified Democrats at 53 percent. But this concern resonated among 69 percent of independents who lean toward the Democratic Party, a key component of the party’s base that may need extra motivation to turnout in off-year elections like 2018. (How the poll was conducted)

THE BIBLE MUSEUM IS OPENING:

-- The fundraiser for the Bible Museum’s opening is being held at Trump’s D.C. hotel, raising concerns about the museum’s political ties. Michelle Boorstein reports: “The leadership of the Museum of the Bible has been working hard in the run-up to this weekend’s opening to emphasize the inclusive, academic, apolitical nature of the museum, which organizers say will be the world’s largest dedicated to the Bible and sits just off the Mall. And so its opening black-tie gala Thursday night is presenting a challenge: The $50,000-a-table fundraising event is at the Trump hotel. Officials at the nonprofit museum say the decision was for pragmatic, scheduling reasons but some museum employees and academic consultants refused to enter the hotel affiliated with the controversial president.”

-- Art critic Philip Kennicott writes that the museum could set a new standard for blending entertainment with educational exhibits: “It is rich in content, stocked with historic treasures and carefully plotted to appeal to audiences of all ages. It brings to museum design the sophisticated marketing intelligence of the Oklahoma City-based Green family, who have used a fortune made from the Hobby Lobby retail chain to promote evangelical Christian causes. Their latest venture is a museum that offers a one-stop-shopping cultural experience, with history, art, architecture, theater and music conveniently packaged under one roof. What it does well, it does as well or better than any museum in the country, and its failings, which are significant, will be difficult to detect for anyone who isn’t a scholar, or firmly committed secularist.

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump spent his day on Twitter attacking the New York Times:

He also patted himself on the back for asking the Chinese president to intervene in the UCLA players' case:

But then issued these ominous tweets this morning:

And he accused Democrats of obstruction:

CNN's senior White House correspondent responded to Trump's harsh criticism of his network:

These photos of the Treasury secretary and his wife at the U.S. mint pretty much made everyone's day on Twitter:

From a CNBC reporter:

From one of The Post's data reporters:

From a national political correspondent for The Post:

From the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol:

From another Post reporter:

From Obama's former NSC spokesman:

From George W. Bush's former speechwriter:

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) retweeted this in what he called “a moment of weakness”:

The director of U-Va.'s Center for Politics altered his Alabama prediction:

Meghan McCain, the daughter of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), refused to endorse Moore:

A Post reporter provided this snippet from Capitol Hill:

Trump drew comparisons to the infamous Marco Rubio (a.k.a. “Little Marco”) moment when he stopped during a speech to sip water:

More:

Rubio commented on the clip:

A Hillary alum on the new policy regarding elephants:

Papa John's apologized for its owner's “divisive” remarks on the NFL:

And Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) was an answer to a Jeopardy question:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Politico, “GOP strategists worry incumbents aren't ready for a blue wave,” by Elena Schneider: “Nearly three dozen Republicans were outraised by their Democratic challengers in the most recent fundraising quarter. Others, the strategists say, are failing to maintain high profiles in their districts or modernize their campaigns by using data analytics in what is shaping up as a stormy election cycle. After Democrats’ sweeping victories last week, Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm, wrote a pointed memo — titled ‘Surviving the 2018 Election’ — addressing Republican incumbents. The firm counseled incumbents to start their reelection campaigns earlier than planned, to do early message testing, and to begin planning their voter turnout operation now, as opposed to next fall.” “Some [members] get it and some don’t,” said GOP pollster Glen Bolger. “First thing we’re saying to them is, ‘don’t be in denial, this can happen to you.’”

-- The Daily Beast, “‘Unsafe and Just Plain Dirty’: Women Accuse Vice of ‘Toxic’ Sexual-Harassment Culture,” by Brandy Zadrozny: “[Phoebe] Barghouty says [Kaj] Larsen would touch her at work—on the small of the back, on her bare thigh—in ways that he didn’t touch the other employees. And she wasn’t producing much journalism. Instead, Larsen, a former Navy SEAL turned journalist, had her do things like accompany him to parties in the Hollywood Hills. At one party, Larsen demonstrated headsets, telling the group that he would be the first person to report in virtual reality from a war zone. Larsen told her he was ‘grooming her,’ but Barghouty felt instead like she was being shown off as arm candy.”

-- Politico, “The IRS Is Building a Safe to Hold Trump’s Tax Returns,” by Michael Grunwald: “[Recently retired IRS Commissioner John] Koskinen basically believes the IRS and its professional culture are virtually impregnable to political agendas. He hasn’t spoken to Trump or anyone in the White House in 2017, even though he’s known the president since they negotiated the sale of the Commodore Hotel in New York City in 1975. He’s never looked up Trump’s tax returns — legally, he can’t, and neither can any other IRS employee who isn’t working on them — and says the agency not only keeps them in a locked cabinet in a locked room, but is replacing the cabinet with a safe.”

-- Rolling Stone, “Elon Musk: The Architect of Tomorrow,” by Neil Strauss: “A ring of red forms around his eyes as he stares forward and sits frozen in silence. [Elon] Musk is a titan, a visionary, a human-size lever pushing forward massive historical inevitabilities – the kind of person who comes around only a few times in a century — but in this moment, he seems like a child who is afraid of abandonment. And that may be the origin story of Musk's superambitions, but more on that later. In the meantime, Musk has something he'd like to show me. ‘If you say anything about what you're about to see, it would cost us billions,’ he says, rising from his desk. ‘And you would be put in jail.’”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“Cards Against Humanity is doing ________ to stop Trump’s border wall,” from Amy B Wang: “That’s right, Cards Against Humanity wants to kill Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. How, you ask? The company claims it has purchased some vacant land along the border that it will apportion into plots and give away to all who signed up for this year’s holiday promotion. Sometime in December, those customers will receive in the mail ‘an illustrated map of the land, a certificate of our promise to fight the wall, some new cards and a few other surprises,’ it said.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Local pastor calls GOP ‘sissies’ for asking Moore to ‘step aside,’” from Fox10: “Dr. David Gonnella is the pastor of Magnolia Springs Baptist Church in Theodore. He is one of the pastors who supports Moore after the sexual misconduct allegations surfaced.  … As more Republicans in Congress call for Moore to ‘step aside,’ Gonnella says this leaves a sour taste in his mouth about the GOP. ‘It's funny how the Republican Party is. What a bunch of sissies! The Democrats rally around their candidate even when they're guilty, Republicans want to throw them under the bus on a minor accusation without knowing whether they're guilty or not,’ he said.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump is on Capitol Hill to discuss taxes with the House Republican Conference.

Pence and the second lady are hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at the Naval Observatory for service members and their members. He will also later deliver a speech at the Tax Foundation’s annual dinner.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said of Roy Moore, “I've got a general rule. If you can't be in a mall, you shouldn't be in the Senate.”

 

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

-- D.C. will see mild but windy weather today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Clouds may linger, especially east of the city in the early morning. Sunshine warms the area nicely later in the morning but breezes pick up at just about the same time. By afternoon, leaves are flying, with northwest winds gusting to 25 mph. Highs in the upper 50s to low 60s are some consolation.”

-- The Wizards beat the Heat 102-93. (Candace Buckner)

-- The Nationals’ Max Scherzer won the National League Cy Young Award. It’s Scherzer’s second consecutive time winning the pitching award and third time overall. (Chelsea Janes)

-- Gun control advocates are rejoicing over the Virginia election results. Fenit Nirappil reports: “Exit polls showed gun policy ranked as the second most important issue in the governor’s race, and voters motivated by guns were evenly split between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie. That’s a shift from data that usually shows voters casting ballots based on guns are overwhelmingly opposed to gun control and say they want to protect their Second Amendment rights against new limits.”

-- An eighth-grade class from Ohio canceled its school trip to D.C. over possible terrorist attack concerns. (Joe Heim)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Samantha Bee cited Roy Moore as an example of how every industry "has to kick out their own creeps”:

House Democrats introduced articles of impeachment against Trump:

The Post's fact-checking team ruled the claim by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that repealing the ACA's individual mandate would “kick” millions off health insurance to be “misleading”:

Roy Moore's attorney made this oh-so-subtle comment:

The Post compiled a side-by-side analysis of Trump and Rubio's water breaks: