With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump’s tax cuts may not have stalled on the Senate floor last night if Republican leaders had followed regular order and the White House had shown more respect for the traditional legislative process.

-- Here’s the state of play: Senate leadership, who had hoped to vote to pass the $1.5 trillion tax bill by late Thursday night, instead sent lawmakers home and began to search for a new way to offset the cost of the legislation,” per Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis and Damian Paletta. “They are looking to win the support of several senators, including Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has led a small group of colleagues in demanding that the bill not drive up the nation’s debt (too much). … The Senate parliamentarian ruled that a Corker-backed proposal to automatically raise taxes in the future if Republican expectations of higher growth did not materialize was not consistent with Senate rules. Although most of the Republicans would have been happy to move on and pass the bill, Corker stood his ground and demanded a solution. He is joined by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in insisting the bill not drive up the deficit.”

-- The Senate debate is now likely to continue into Friday night at the earliest.

-- Bigger picture, this latest donnybrook highlights several problematic elements of the process that has been pursued to this point and exposes some of the political headaches that may come back to haunt Republicans — assuming they find the votes. In this age of disruption, here are six violations of traditional governing norms that we’ve witnessed during the tax debate:

1. The Treasury Department still has not released a formal estimate of how the tax code overhaul will impact the economy, despite repeatedly promising to do so.

Congress’s nonpartisan scorekeeper, the Joint Committee on Taxation, announced yesterday that the Senate GOP tax plan would add $1 trillion to the deficit — even after accounting for the positive impact from economic growth. “The tax committee projected the bill would raise economic growth by only 0.8 percent over a decade, a small fraction of what Republicans had projected,” Heather Long reports. “Some Republicans argued that the tax committee’s report just couldn’t be correct. Yet outside experts were not surprised by the results, which align with the view of many mainstream economists and several independent analyses.”

-- The JCT numbers drew fresh attention to the fact that the Trump administration has never followed through on its commitment to release an analysis to back up its claims that these tax cuts will pay for themselves.

Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, has said repeatedly that over 100 people on his staff are “working around the clock on running scenarios for us,” Alan Rappeport notes in the New York Times. “Mr. Mnuchin has promised that Treasury will release its analysis in full. … [But] those inside Treasury’s Office of Tax Policy, which Mr. Mnuchin has credited with running the models, say they have been largely shut out of the process and are not working on the type of detailed analysis that he has mentioned. An economist at the Office of Tax Analysis, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize his job, said Treasury had not released a ‘dynamic’ analysis showing that the tax plan would be paid for with economic growth because one did not exist. Instead of conducting full analyses of tax proposals, staff members have been running numbers on individual provisions or policy ideas, like lowering the tax rate on so-called pass-through businesses and figuring out how many family farms would benefit from the repeal of the estate tax.”

-- The Treasury inspector general announced yesterday that he will open an inquiry into whether Mnuchin has tried to hide the department’s analysis. “Either the Treasury Department has used extensive taxpayer funds to conduct economic analyses that it refuses to release because those analyses would contradict the Treasury secretary’s claims, or Secretary Mnuchin has grossly misled the public about the extent of the Treasury Department’s analysis,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote in a letter calling for an investigation. “I am deeply concerned about either possibility.”

Rich Delmar, counsel to the inspector general, told the Los Angeles Times that getting to the bottom of whether there’s a secret report will be a “top priority.”

-- For perspective: The national debt grew to over $20 trillion for the first time ever this fall. Even if the tax bill does pass, this year’s budget deficit is already more than $600 billion.

-- Goldman Sachs, for its part, sounded the alarm Thursday in a note to clients that the national debt is on track to hit unsustainable levels in coming years. The Wall Street bank noted that America’s debt is already at the highest level since 1950 as a fraction of the economy: “The tax reform bill and spending increases that are making their way through Congress should increase the deficit further, raising it from 3.2% of GDP in 2016 to 5.1% in 2021.”

2. The lack of meaningful committee hearings to scrutinize the draft legislation means flaws and problems won’t become totally clear until after it takes effect — at which point it will become much harder to grapple with unintended consequences. A handful of negotiators designed this bill almost entirely behind closed doors, and specifics were closely held secrets until the home stretch. GOP leaders are now trying to rush it through before opponents have time to mobilize against it.

“Schoolhouse Rock” this is not. A lot of the current hang-ups from people like Corker and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) might have been dealt with in committee.

Instead, most of the senators who plan to vote for the biggest overhaul to the tax code in 30 years still don’t seem to have a super clear sense of what exactly it would do. The biggest motivating factor is desperation for a political victory after a year of legislative failures and a desire among Republicans to prove that they’re capable of governing as the midterms approach. “Failure is not an option,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “It’s like making a cocktail. If you’ve got to add more of this and less of that, I’m fine.”

“The U.S. tax system is a complex, jury-rigged contraption,” Greg Ip explains in the Wall Street Journal. “At the best of times, tampering with any part invariably triggers collateral consequences. Those risks are magnified now by Republicans’ determination to pass the plan with minimal hearings on party lines by Christmas. … The bills, as they stand, contain countless incentives for gamesmanship: differing tax rates for different types of foreign property and profits, arbitrary expiration and implementation dates to hold the 10-year deficit impact below $1.5 trillion, and changes to the Affordable Care Act ​to free up government dollars that could roil private insurance markets. ‘There are more ticking time bombs in this bill than a Road Runner cartoon,’ says Martin Sullivan, chief economist for the nonprofit group Tax Analysts.

3. Previous tax cuts have passed with crossover support. This is not a bipartisan effort. Democrats offered an amendment last night to return the bill to committee, and it went down on a 52 to 48 party-line vote.

-- Frankly, it would not have been that hard for Republican negotiators to design true tax reform that could have gotten the support of moderates like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. But Republicans made a strategic decision to spurn Democrats so that they could make the package more ideologically conservative and tilt it further toward helping big corporations and the richest 1 percent of Americans.

-- There are several precedents: In 1986, when Ronald Reagan completed the largest overhaul of the tax code in a generation, it passed the Democratic-controlled House by a voice vote and the Senate by a vote of 97 to 3. This happened because the Reagan administration negotiated in good faith with Democrats like then-Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and then-Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.)

Eight Senate Democrats voted for the tax cuts signed into law by George W. Bush in June 2001.

-- Using the reconciliation process ensured that Republicans wouldn't have to rely on Democrats. That means they can pass the bill with just 50 votes, instead of 60, but it curtails what the measure can accomplish and prevents it from being permanent. Furthermore, going this route empowers the Senate parliamentarian to rule on whether an amendment is germane under the 1974 budget control act. That’s how the language to win over Corker got invalidated last night. If GOP leaders had worked across the aisle to build consensus, the bill could have moved through the process without these constraints.

Relying on reconciliation … amplifies the partisanship that drives its use in the first place,” George Washington University political scientist Sarah Binder explains on our Monkey Cage blog. “It arguably makes policy worse. And reconciliation spotlights cleavages within the majority party, making it harder to blame the opposition for legislative failure, as we saw with the health-care vote.

To Binder’s point: Trump this morning on Twitter is trying to blame Democrats – when everyone watching this sees that it is recalcitrant Republicans holding up the bill: 

4. Many Republican politicians are not being forthright with their constituents that some in the middle class are going to see their taxes go up under this bill. They continue to insist on television and elsewhere that everyone is going to benefit, but that’s just not the case.

The new JCT report finds that only 44 percent of taxpayers would see their tax bills reduced by more than $500 in 2019 under the Senate plan. “Overall, the majority of Americans — 62 percent — would get a tax cut of at least $100 in 2019, according to JCT. The remaining 38 percent would either pay about the same in taxes as they do now or get a tax hike,” per Heather Long. “Among families with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000, JCT found that 80 percent get a tax cut of $100 or more in 2019, but 10 percent would pay about the same, and the remaining 10 percent would face a tax increase of $100 or more. … Wealthier Americans, earning between $500,000 to $1 million, appear to get the biggest benefits.”

You can take it to the bank that this statistic will appear in attack ads against Republicans who vote for this bill:

5. Trump has not released his tax returns, so we cannot fully assess how much this legislation will personally enrich him.

-- Breaking with a bipartisan tradition that dates back more than 40 years, he is the first president to conceal his returns from the American people since Richard Nixon. He promised voters during the campaign that he’d release them, but he made clear after the election that he has no intention of keeping his word.

-- Trump has repeatedly insisted that this tax bill would actually hurt him. “This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me,” he said on Wednesday in Missouri, where he flew to promote the bill. “This is not good for me! … I think my accountants are going crazy right now.”

“If anyone believes this line, we have a bridge in Brooklyn available for them,” writes Glenn Kessler, the director of our fact checking unit. “Obviously, it would be easier to verify his claims if we had a current tax return to review. But a portion of his 2005 tax return was leaked — and the White House confirmed the bottom-line numbers were correct. So we will have to do our analysis based on that return. … When you add it up, Trump would have saved as much as $42 million on his 2005 taxes under the House bill and $35.1 million under the Senate bill. A big part of the savings is from elimination of the alternative minimum tax.”

6. Breaking with history, Republicans are trying to pass massive tax cuts when the economy does not need a stimulus.

Republicans are looking to grow the debt by a trillion dollars to cut taxes at a moment when the economy grew 3.3 percent in the third quarter and the unemployment rate is down to 4.1 percent. Stocks hit record heights Thursday, as the Dow Jones closed above 24,000 for the first time ever.

-- “In a little-noticed development, recent economic data indicated that the economy has actually, finally, reached its potential capacity,” Andrew Van Dam explains on Wonkblog. “For the first time since the end of 2007, the economy, measured as gross domestic product (GDP), is at its (theoretical) potential. … Potential GDP tells us, in rough terms, how big the economy can be. … The CBO combines estimates of the country’s labor potential — how many people are working or looking for work, and how many hours a week people are working — with estimates of the nation’s capacity to produce goods and provide services …

“The good news is that this means we’ve come a long way since the recession. But it is unlikely that pace can be sustained, and because there’s not much more room to grow, the ambitions of President Trump and Republicans in Congress carry some big risks. First, consider that the economy hasn’t spent much time above its potential in recent decades. It requires deft policy to manage growth in an economy that’s nearing capacity while keeping inflation low and simultaneously quashing bubbles or other dangerous distortions. Note that the last three times the economy ran above potential, it was followed by a recession …

“That’s why, in a survey conducted by University of Chicago's Initiative on Global Markets, just one of 38 experts agreed GDP would be ‘substantially higher’ under the proposed tax plans than under the status quo (all else being equal).”

-- If Republicans are right that lower rates will lead to faster economic growth, there will also be a rise of inflation — which would force the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates at a faster pace. “That in turn would cool off the expansion the cuts aim to boost,” Tory Newmeyer explains in The Finance 202. “Economists for Wall Street banks have been … warning that the tax package will supply a fiscal sugar high. … Meanwhile, to the extent Republicans are relying on the corporate rate cut at the heart of the proposal to drive new hiring and wage increases, corporate executives have made clear again and again they won’t be passing the gains along to workers.”

“I’m not in favor of tax stimulus at the current time because the economy doesn’t really need it,” New York Fed President William Dudley said at a forum this week, according to Reuters.

-- Another intraparty flash point, which will come to the forefront today, centers on the corporate tax rate. The current version slashes the rate from 35 percent to 20 percent starting in 2019. A handful of Republicans are pushing for changes:

  • Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) appears to be a holdout because of concern that the bill does not do enough for “pass-through” businesses like a plastics manufacturer that he partially owns. Johnson wants the rate to go to 22 percent, rather than 20 percent, so that it can take effect immediately.
  • Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) propose a 22 percent corporate rate, but they want to use the extra revenue that generates to expand tax credits for low-income working parents. Their amendment will come up for a vote today.
  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) says she supports any effort, including Rubio-Lee, to transfer more benefits in the bill from the rich to the middle class. She’s also still trying to add in a provision, which is in the House bill, to let people deduct a certain amount of their state and local taxes.
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- A jury in California acquitted the homeless undocumented immigrant accused of killing Kate Steinle, whose death then-candidate Trump used to bash immigration policies and “sanctuary cities.” The San Francisco Chronicle’s Vivian Ho reports: “[T]he Superior Court jury also pronounced Jose Ines Garcia Zarate not guilty of assault with a firearm, finding credence in defense attorneys’ argument that the shot that ricocheted off the concrete ground before piercing Steinle’s heart was an accident, with the gun discharging after the defendant stumbled upon it on the waterfront on July 1, 2015. Garcia Zarate, a 45-year-old Mexican citizen who was released from County Jail before the killing despite a federal request that he be held for his sixth deportation, was convicted of a single lesser charge of being a felon in possession of a gun. He faces a sentence of 16 months, two years or three years in state prison. …

“The verdict set off a flurry of reactions. Defense attorneys said the case had been overcharged, while U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions blamed the killing on San Francisco’s policy of refusing cooperation with immigration agents. Jim Steinle, who had been strolling on the pier with his daughter when she fell, told The Chronicle he was 'saddened and shocked,' adding, ‘Justice was rendered, but it was not served.’”

-- Authorities plan to deport Garcia Zarate following the verdict. (CNN)

-- Trump quickly responded:

-- Trump ratcheted up the rhetoric this morning:

-- Trump repeatedly asked top Senate Republicans to “move on” from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian election interference. The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin, Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns report: “Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the intelligence committee chairman, said in an interview this week that Mr. Trump told him that he was eager to see an investigation that has overshadowed much of the first year of his presidency come to an end. ‘It was something along the lines of, “I hope you can conclude this as quickly as possible,’’' Mr. Burr said. He said he replied to Mr. Trump that ‘when we have exhausted everybody we need to talk to, we will finish.’… Mr. Burr said he did not feel pressured by the president’s appeal, portraying it as the action of someone who has 'never been in government.’… Mr. Burr told other senators that Mr. Trump had stressed that it was time to ‘move on’ from the Russia issue, using that language repeatedly, according to people who spoke with Mr. Burr over the summer. One Republican close to Mr. Burr, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Trump had been ‘very forceful.’ Asked why Mr. Trump is so irritated with the investigation, Mr. Burr said: ‘In his world it hampers his ability to project the strength he needs to convey on foreign policy.’”

-- From The Post's White House bureau chief:

--"House Republican leaders are likely to try averting a partial government shutdown next week by extending talks on a longer-term funding deal until just before Christmas and possibly again into early 2018,” Sean Sullivan and Ed O’Keefe report: “Up against a Dec. 8 spending deadline, House Republican leaders are likely to introduce a measure that would extend current funding until Dec. 22, said the aides, who were granted anonymity to describe private deliberations. If negotiations on a longer-term deal to fund the government are not resolved by that time, GOP leaders are prepared to pursue another stopgap plan that would kick the talks into January, the aides said. Aides stressed that the plans are not finalized. House Republicans plan to gather Friday morning in the Capitol to discuss the matter, and leaders will begin assessing potential support.”

-- But Trump has told confidantes a shutdown could be a political win for him. Josh Dawsey, Sean Sullivan and Ed O'Keefe report: “Over the past 10 days, the president has also told advisers that it is important that he is seen as tough on immigration and getting money for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to two people who have spoken with him. He has asked friends about how a shutdown would affect him politically and has told several people he would put the blame on Democrats. Trump’s mixed messages on a partial government shutdown could hamper the ability of congressional Republicans to negotiate with Democrats, whose support they need to pass spending legislation in coming weeks. Many Republicans said this week that a shutdown is a possibility they hope to avoid. Even inside the White House, aides fret about the possibility, saying it would not poll well.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Trump intends to shrink the Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by 50 percent, a much larger cut for both Utah sites than administration officials had originally signaled. (Juliet Eilperin)
  2. Trump may recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel. The likely decision would allow Trump to delay moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. (AP

  3. A 4.1-magnitude earthquake struck seven miles northeast of the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Thursday afternoon, per the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake could be felt as far south as Washington, D.C. and as far north as the Poughkeepsie, N.Y. area. (The News Journal)
  4. Mark your calendars for Trump’s first State of the Union speech. Speaker Paul Ryan has formally invited Trump to address a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Jan. 30. (Politico)
  5. The administration is reportedly considering allowing former intelligence officers to conduct privatized covert and intelligence operations. One proposal involves allowing a private company to capture wanted terrorists on behalf of the United States. (BuzzFeed News)
  6. The Secret Service has spent over $140,000 on golf cart rentals since Trump’s inauguration. The agency spent almost $7,500 on rentals during Trump’s Thanksgiving outing at Mar-a-Lago alone. (USA Today)
  7. A charity that had been dormant for years is now hosting a fundraising gala at Mar-a-Lago, reportedly at the urging of Trump’s sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau. (David A. Fahrenthold)
  8. Barack Obama gave a speech in New Delhi where he took shots at Trump without ever naming him. “You know, I have about 100 million Twitter followers, more than some people who use it a lot,” Obama said. (The Times of India)
  9. Project Veritas is at risk of losing its ability to raise money in New York after the conservative charity failed to disclose its founder’s criminal record to state regulators. (Shawn Boburg)
  10. Russell Simmons, the founder of hip-hop label Def Jam Recordings, is stepping down from the companies he founded amid new allegations of sexual misconduct against him. His exit follows an essay in the Hollywood Reporter from screenwriter Jenny Lumet who wrote that Simmons forced her to go to his apartment to have sex with him in 1991. (Elahe Izadi)
  11. The White House has revealed a new first for the Trump family: the “First Family’s official Christmas ornament.” The ornament, with a glittery gold design bearing the presidential coat of arms, has already been displayed around the White House and will also be given away as gifts. (Emily Heil)
  12. American Airlines and a union representing thousands of its pilots issued contradictory statements about how many December flights remain unassigned. According to the airline, only a few hundred flights are currently unassigned to pilots, but a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association put the number in the thousands. (Lori Aratani)
  13. Walmart pulled a shirt featuring the text, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED,” from its website. The Radio Television Digital News Association complained about the shirt to Walmart, who removed it from its online store within hours of receiving the complaint. (StarTribune)
  14. The website Nameberry announced the most popular baby names of 2017. Atticus jumped to the top of the list for boys’ names, while Olivia kept its spot atop the girls’ list for the second year in a row. 

REXIT TIME:

--The White House has devised a plan to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — whose rocky relations with Trump are an open secret — and replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Pompeo would in turn be replaced by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a GOP hawk who has the president's ear on national security issues. Phil Rucker, Ashley Parker and Anne Gearan report: “The plan, hatched by White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, is expected to be set in motion over the next few weeks, and has broad support within Trump's inner circle, the officials said. But it was unclear whether Trump had signed off on the plan yet, and the president has been known to change his mind about personnel and other matters before finalizing decisions with public announcements . . . The secretary of state has alienated both onetime allies at the White House and his underlings at the State Department with what many call a highhanded and tone-deaf manner. Tillerson’s main project, a downsizing and streamlining of the State Department bureaucracy, is still a work in progress, but it has drawn widespread criticism on Capitol Hill, from leading congressional Republicans as well as Democrats.”

-- Asked Thursday morning whether he wants Tillerson to remain as secretary of state, Trump responded in this not-confidence-inspiring way: “He’s here. Rex is here.” The New York Times’s Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman note that “for all of his public combativeness, Mr. Trump is notoriously reluctant to fire people, and it was not known if Mr. Tillerson had agreed to step down by then. Public disclosure of Mr. Kelly’s transition plan may be meant as a signal to the secretary that it is time to go.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn't dispute the reports or answer directly whether Trump still has confidence in the secretary. But she said Tillerson is working to “close out what has been a successful year” and noted that “when the president loses confidence in someone, they will no longer serve in the capacity that they’re in.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the reports were “not true,” explaining that the former ExxonMobil chief “enjoys this job. He has a lot of work to do,” but added that he “does serve at the pleasure of the president.”

-- CNN’s Michelle Kosinski and Sara Murray argue that the Rexit reports are an effort to publicly shame Tillerson: “The hope from the White House, the source said, is to push out the plan to replace Tillerson and then wait for him to punch out.’ The news that the White House is seriously considering replacing Tillerson with [Pompeo] comes as Trump remains deeply frustrated with his secretary of state, another source familiar with the President's thinking said. And the plan is not just being considered at the staff level, but by the President himself, the source said.”

-- Tillerson’s closest ally in Washington dismissed the Rexit stories. Phil, Ashley and Anne report: “I don't think Secretary Tillerson's getting ready to be ousted,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker [R-Tenn.] told reporters. “It's been evident to me that, for some time, somebody has been seeking to undermine his presence. I don't know who that is.” Speaking about Tillerson's potential replacement, Corker added: “I could barely pick Pompeo out of a lineup . . . I just don't know him. That's not dismissive. I just don't have any frame of reference.”

-- Josh Rogin writes that Pompeo had been informally preparing to move into a role at Foggy Bottom long before Rexit went public: "'Pompeo is quietly looking at staff and figuring out how the department could be reorganized to be effective again,' a White House official told me. A CIA spokesman declined to comment. Pompeo has been calling around to friends and top Republican foreign policy hands and asking them to help him get ready to be America’s top diplomat, if he is ultimately chosen, two GOP foreign policy sources who are familiar with the calls said.”

-- Career diplomats would be glad to see Pompeo — or anyone, really — replace Tillerson at State, Politico’s Nahal Toosi reports: “Current and former State officials said they’d lay aside their many reservations about Pompeo in the hopes that his close relationship with Trump might empower their struggling department. Under Tillerson, whose ties to the president have been strained, State officials have felt largely sidelined from policy-making and complain that their department has lost stature and influence. ‘Rex has done so much damage that people at State will give Mike a chance and hope for the best,’ said Brett Bruen, a former State Department official who now serves as president of the Global Situation Room, a crisis management consulting firm.”

-- What would Tillerson have to show for his time as secretary of state, in what Philip Bump writes may end as one of the shortest stints for the role in history? Anne Gearan and Carol Morello write he has become a “symbol of dysfunction and tension.” “If he does head back to his Texas ranch soon, Tillerson will leave without banner diplomatic achievements and with little to show for his signature effort at downsizing and streamlining the State Department.”

Meanwhile, with North Korea on the front burner: “Tillerson went about his day as usual, including two routine meetings at the White House, department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly called Tillerson’s chief of staff, Margaret Peterlin, to say the ‘rumors are not true,’ according to Nauert. She said Tillerson ‘brushed this off today’ because he’s lived through rumors of his imminent departure before.”

-- As for Cotton, a spokeswoman told The Post “Senator Cotton's focus is on serving Arkansans in the Senate.” Our colleagues report: “Cotton was the central congressional figure in the White House plan, unveiled last month, to back away from the Iran nuclear deal and throw the question of U.S. participation in the international agreement to Congress. Should Cotton be nominated and confirmed as CIA director, he would leave a Senate seat vacant in a reliably Republican state. [Mitch McConnell] is said to prefer for Cotton to remain in the Senate but would not try to stand in his way should the Arkansan want the CIA post, according to one McConnell ally[.]”

-- Paul Kane has more on why the move would be risky for the “rising star” from Arkansas: “Cotton seems poised for a presidential campaign at any point in the next decade or beyond, holding a safe Republican seat,” Paul writes, portraying a the CIA job as “such a risky move [that] would speak volumes, in two key ways, about how Cotton views his future.

He falls in the camp of some young and ambitious politicians who hold in derision the dysfunctional nature of the plodding Senate. The possible move also shows that some Republicans believe Trump has fundamentally shifted their party going forward, and that planting a flag in the camp of the former reality-TV star is a better long-term bet than staying in the orbit of traditional conservative orthodoxy[.] . . . There has been a clear bet placed by Cotton, along with Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), that the GOP’s future is with Trump’s more nationalist views, particularly on immigration and instituting an entry ban on nations with majority-Muslim populations.”

(For more on Cotton read Jeffrey Toobin's recent profile of him in the New Yorker: “Is Tom Cotton the future of Trumpism?")

-- If you’re beginning to wonder if the Trump administration is a fan of musical chairs, you’re not alone. The Atlantic’s David A. Graham does a nice job summarizing all the shuffling: “If Trump does choose Pompeo to replace him, it would reflect the president’s preference for shuffling aides around. He replaced Chief of Staff Reince Priebus with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly; shuffled Dina Powell to the National Security Council; made longtime aide Hope Hicks communications director; and appointed Mick Mulvaney, the head of the Office of Management and Budget to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on an interim basis.

“There are several reasons for this. In Pompeo’s case, it’s much easier to get the Senate to confirm someone to a post if they’ve already been confirmed to another one. It doesn’t require finding new people, nor does it require vetting them, which has been a consistent problem for this White House. It reflects Trump’s deep-seated dislike of novelty. Moreover, it avoids a recruiting problem: So many qualified candidates for the secretary job have either been disqualified by past criticism of Trump or don’t want to work with him. Given the chaos of the administration, the president’s treatment of Tillerson and other Cabinet members, and the looming Russia investigation, it’s much easier to rearrange the deck chairs than to ask someone else to leap aboard a listing ship.”

-- And Tillerson’s departure may not be the only administration exit. Reuters’s Jeff Mason reports: “Tillerson’s expected exit from the Trump administration is one of many staff changes likely as President Donald Trump nears the end of his first year in office, with sources saying top economic adviser Gary Cohn and son-in-law Jared Kushner could be among those who depart. Cohn, whose relationship with Trump became tense earlier this year, has considered leaving once the Republican effort to overhaul the U.S. tax system is completed in Congress, according to the sources with ties to the White House who spoke on condition of anonymity. … Kushner, who has seen his influence in the White House shrink, may receive a “face-saving” exit as he deals with legal challenges related to a special counsel’s investigation of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign’s potential ties to Russia, one of the sources said.”

-- Any new shuffle would come amid escalating tensions with North Korea following public clashes between Tillerson and the president on the issue. This week, as North Korea launched its third and most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile, which experts now believe could reach the mainland United States, Tillerson offered diplomatic ways to pressure Pyongyang. Tillerson has stressed dialogue and diplomacy while the president has tweeted about “Rocket Man.”

Tillerson said Thursday he would welcome efforts from China to help solve the North Korea problem. “The Chinese are doing a lot. We do think they could do more with the oil. We’re really asking them to please restrain more of the oil, not cut it off completely.” (Reuters)

MORE ON NORTH KOREA’S RISING THREAT:

-- Responding to a question about Trump’s North Korea tweets and whether the administration has considered regime change, Huckabee Sanders told reporters the administration is “focused on one big thing when it comes to North Korea, and that's denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. . . . Anything beyond that is not the priority at this point.” (Reuters)

-- The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos explains the implications of the rogue regime's latest test of “what appears to be its most powerful rocket yet”: “On a technical basis, the début of a rocket called the Hwasong-15 added a powerful new tool to North Korea’s arsenal. Japanese defensive missiles would have been ineffective against it. The Defense Secretary, James Mattis, said that North Korea is now capable of hitting ‘everywhere in the world.’… On the diplomatic front, the launch should erase any illusions about Chinese political influence on Pyongyang, because it showed the ineffectiveness of a recent visit by the highest-ranking Chinese envoy to go to North Korea in two years. . . . For the United States, the launch demonstrated that the Trump Administration’s approach — a combination of threats, sanctions, and isolation — had not stalled the advance of the weapons program.”

--NPR's Jeff Brumfiel reports: “[T]he missile is so much larger than previous versions that Narang suspects it could carry a powerful thermonuclear weapon, regardless of whether the North has managed to make a compact, missile-friendly version.”  

-- Julie Vitkovskaya expands on some of the basics of why the latest test is so worrisome: “North Korea claims the transporter erector launcher — the vehicle used to move the missile — has one more axle than the previous version[.] . . . The nose cone is much blunter than on previous versions, indicating that the missile was designed to slow as it flies and protect the warhead as it comes back down[.] … The missiles likely carried a small payload, allowing it to fly farther[.] … There were likely two additional engines that gave the missile a higher altitude[.] … North Korean analysts were surprised to see more advanced steering of the missile via gimbaling. ‘This is a sort of maneuvering which is pretty fancy. You lose the least thrust that way,’ said Scott LaFoy, an imagery analyst for NK News.”

MEN BEHAVING (VERY) BADLY:

-- Rep. John Conyers Jr. is facing growing pressure from party leaders on both sides of the aisle to resign amid multiple allegations that he sexually harassed female aides. Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — finally — joined calls for the Michigan Democrat’s resignation. “Zero tolerance means consequences for everyone. No matter how great the legacy, it is no license to harass or discriminate. In fact, it makes it even more disappointing,” Pelosi said. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also said he thinks Conyers should step down “immediately.”

From The Post’s Elise Viebeck and Dave Weigel: “Conyers, the longest-serving member of Congress, is accused of mistreating female aides over two decades, including alleged episodes of verbal abuse, inappropriate touching and sexual advances. He has denied wrongdoing and said through his attorney late Wednesday that he has no plans to resign or retire from the House. … The calls for his resignation came the day after members of the Congressional Black Caucus declined to ask him to step down, complicating efforts by Democratic leaders to ease the veteran lawmaker toward an exit.”

--Conyers has been hospitalized in the Detroit area for a stress-related illness, Elise and Dave report. The congressman’s family spokesman confirmed the news just as a woman who settled a sexual harassment complaint with him in 2015 broke her silence on national television. Our colleagues report: “In an interview with NBC’s ‘Today’ show, former Conyers aide Marion Brown said Conyers touched her inappropriately and invited her to a Chicago hotel room to discuss business before propositioning her for sex. ‘He asked me to satisfy him sexually,’ Brown told NBC. ‘He pointed to areas of, genital areas of his body, and asked me to, you know, touch it. It was sexual harassment, violating my body, propositioning me for sex.’”

-- Conyers’s attorney Arnold Reed, who noted the Democrat hasn’t decided whether to resign, charged that calls for the congressman to step down may be racially motivated. Politico’s Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan report: “'Pelosi did not elect the congressman, and she sure as hell won’t be the one to tell the congressman to leave,' said Conyers’ attorney, Arnold Reed . . . ‘I would suspect that Nancy Pelosi is going to have to explain what is the discernible difference between [Sen.] Al Franken and John Conyers,’ Reed said.”

Read more from Eugene Scott on the racial dynamics of the allegations against lawmakers that are causing division within the Democratic Party.

-- Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have argued Franken is being held to a different standard than Conyers. Politico’s Heather Caygle reports: “[T]he close-knit group of 49 black lawmakers is agonizing over how to address the Conyers scandal. They say questions about a racial undertone are impossible to avoid as Democrats debate how to respond to sexual harassment by colleagues. ‘I think the chorus of people that are calling for John to resign is noticeably larger than everyone else,’ CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) said in an interview. Members of the CBC were furious when Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) became the first Democrat to call on Conyers (D-Mich.) to resign shortly after the allegations surfaced last week. At the weekly CBC meeting this week, several members angrily discussed what Rice did and said they’d be watching for others who followed suit — and wouldn’t forget.

Pelosi isn't alone:

  • Rep. James Clyburn, the House’s highest-ranking African American, said he “told Conyers several days ago that I thought it was in his best interest that he do the same for his constituents that he did for his colleagues here.”
  • Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil, who led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the 2012 and 2014 campaigns, also called on Conyers to resign. Cecil, who helped Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) win reelection, called for the senator to step down as well:

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who waged an unsuccessful bid for Pelosi's leadership position earlier this year, also called on the two men to resign:

-- House Democrats are now having discussions on how to make Congress’s handling of sexual harassment claims more transparent. Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports: “[Pelosi] held a meeting Thursday with roughly two dozen attendees, including House Democrats, victims advocates and employment lawyers, to discuss a pending proposal to overhaul the system. Among other things, it would make public the names of employing congressional offices that paid out settlements in harassment or discrimination cases, which are often resolved through confidentiality agreements that can bind only the accuser to silence. It also would require members of Congress to pay settlements out of their own pockets. Some main points of discussion were whether naming individual member offices would make the victims identifiable without their consent, and how to pay for settlements, attendees said.”

-- Reports of past settlements for sexual harassment claims are adding urgency to the proposed overhaul. ABC News’s Justin Fishel reports: “The Congressional Office of Compliance secretly paid close to $100,000 in taxpayer funds to settle sexual harassment claims from at least two young male staffers who worked for disgraced former Congressman Eric Massa, multiple sources with direct knowledge of the matter told ABC News. The claims were settled after Massa, a Democrat from upstate New York, resigned in 2010 amid a pending ethics investigation into allegations he groped and sexually harassed members of his staff.”

-- The Senate Ethics Committee confirmed it has launched a preliminary probe into Franken’s behavior. After CNN reported that a fifth woman, Stephanie Kemplin, accused Franken of inappropriate touching in 2003, the website Jezebel quoted an unnamed former elected New England official who alleged Franken tried to give her a “wet, open-mouthed kiss” at a 2006 event. Following CNN’s story of Kemplin’s allegations, Franken’s office released a statement saying “he takes thousands of photos and has met tens of thousands of people and he has never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct,” adding Franken “remains fully committed to cooperating with the ethics investigation.”

Citing “new revelations about the senator,” top House Democrat Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) told Politico’s Heather Caygle “it’s time for Sen. Franken to go.”

Elise, Karen Tumulty and Ed O'Keefe report further on how Democrats have reacted to allegations against him. "'In light of Pelosi demanding that Conyers step down, I don’t know how Franken can survive it,' said Jim Manley, who was a longtime top aide to [Harry Reid.] None of his fellow Senate Democrats has yet called for Franken to resign; the party line has been that he should be dealt with by the Ethics Committee.”

-- On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) said he would not seek reelection. Barton’s announcement follows reports that he had extramarital relationships with multiple women before his 2015 divorce and after a lewd image he sent to one of the women was circulated online. From The Post’s Mike DeBonis: “Barton confirmed his retirement, which was first reported by the Dallas Morning News, in a statement issued Thursday. ‘I am very proud of my public record and the many accomplishments of my office,’ he said. ‘It has been a tremendous honor to represent the 6th District of Texas for over three decades, but now it is time to step aside and let there be a new voice.’ Barton told the Dallas Morning News that he thinks he could still win reelection. ‘But it would be a nasty campaign, a difficult campaign for my family,’ he told the paper.”

-- Jeff Zucker, CNN president and former executive producer of the “Today” show, said he had no knowledge of any misconduct by Matt Lauer. The New York Times’s Rachel Abrams reports: “Mr. Zucker made the remarks at Business Insider’s Ignition conference in Manhattan during an interview with Mike Shields, the advertising editor of Business Insider. Mr. Shields opened the discussion with a question on many people’s minds: How much did Mr. Zucker know about Mr. Lauer, the longstanding host of the Today’ show, who was fired on Wednesday after a woman accused him of sexual misconduct? ‘No one ever brought to me, or to my knowledge, there was never, there was never a complaint about Matt,’ Mr. Zucker said. ‘There was never a suggestion of that kind of deviant, predatory behavior. Not even a whisper of it, nothing like that.’”

-- NBC is already facing questions over who will replace the disgraced former anchor on “Today.” Emily Yahr reports: “[M]orning-show viewers are known to crave consistency and familiarity with their hosts, and — even if they’re unaware it’s happening — tend to form a bond with them. A good morning-show host has to be able to go into ‘hardcore news mode’ if a breaking story happens, as [Robert J. Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University,] put it, and the next day throw on an apron and banter with an author promoting their latest cookbook. However, despite viewers’ connection to the hosts, ‘Today’ is powerful enough as a franchise that it could easily still thrive with a new anchor, Thompson said. The show has survived rocky transitions before, from Deborah Norville’s brief tenure to Ann Curry’s awkward final episode.”

-- Page Six reports that lawyers for Lauer are working to get him paid for the remainder of his NBC contract, an agreement worth $30 million: “NBC had in 2016 renegotiated a new deal with Lauer valued at $20 million a year which would have kept him on the air through the end of 2018. But moral clauses are often included in TV contracts and specify that talent could be fired without pay if they bring the company into any disrepute.”

-- But in the world of business, payouts are still far more common than terminations in the wake of sexual harassment accusations. USA Today’s Nathan Bomey and Marco della Cava report: “For many firms, paying fines for sexual harassment has been treated as a cost of doing business. In the past seven years alone, U.S. companies have paid out more than $295 million in public penalties over sexual harassment claims, according to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission records. And that sum does not count all the private settlements that typically are granted in exchange for alleged victims signing non-disclosure agreements. Even those who were hit publicly with varying types of harassment charges managed to carry on with their careers in the aftermath. The highest-profile example is President Trump. But there are many others.”

FALLOUT FROM TRUMP’S TWEETS:

-- Britons re-upped calls to revoke Trump’s invitation for a state visit following his retweeting of three inflammatory videos from far-right group Britain FirstBut history suggests it’s unlikely that Trump’s visit would be officially canceled.

The Post’s Amanda Erickson reports: “A state visit has never been canceled, though the United Kingdom has hosted some pretty unsavory characters. In 1973, Mobutu Sese Seko, then president of Zaire, was welcomed with much fanfare. At the time, he was considered an important Cold War ally. He was also a murderous dictator who embezzled billions. In 1978, Romania's communist, authoritarian leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, paid a state visit to Britain. Zimbabwe's recently deposed dictator Robert Mugabe was a guest of the queen in 1994 …. Some have suggested Trump's case might be different. ‘If there is a groundswell of political resistance, and if we continue to see the Crown push back against what they call the 'premature invitation,' then May might well have to venture into this uncharted territory,’ James Morrison, an assistant professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, explained in the New Statesman …. But that doesn't seem likely. The odds are that the trip will either be downgraded or postponed, perhaps indefinitely. Already, it has been relabeled a ‘working trip’ timed to the opening of a new U.S. Embassy in London. He will not be a guest of the queen.”

-- State Department officials worried the president's promotion of anti-Muslim videos by a far-right group could spark increased threats or protests at U.S. embassies.

CNN’s Elise Labott and Abby Phillip report: “Officials feared that the tweets, which appeared to depict Muslims engaged in different acts of violence, would spark a reprise of the violent protests at US embassies in the Middle East which are already on high security alert. Protests erupted in September 2012 following the publication of an anti-Muslim video on the internet. Embassies were on alert throughout the day, although no incidents have been reported thus far, the State Department officials said. A White House official confirmed that the White House was alerted to those concerns by the State Department. The official said that there is still discussion in the White House about whether the administration should issue a stronger statement addressing concerns that the tweets might raise tensions with the Muslim world, but this official cautioned that it is not clear that any action will be taken.”

-- Trump originally tweeted at the “wrong” Theresa May account, which belongs to a woman named Theresa May Scrivener who had six followers at the time. Scrivener said in an interview, “I'm just waiting for a call from the White House with an apology.” She added, “It's amazing to think that the world's most powerful man managed to press the wrong button. … I'm just glad he was not contacting me to say he was going to war with North Korea.” (Jennifer Hassan)

-- Huckabee Sanders persisted in defending the widely discredited material. From Bloomberg’s Toluse Olorunnipa and Jennifer Epstein: “’What he’s done is elevate the conversation to talk about a real issue and a real threat, that’s extreme violence and extreme terrorism, something that we know to be very real and something the president feels strongly about,’ [Sanders] said Thursday. British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned Trump’s retweets Wednesday morning of three unverified anti-Muslim videos posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First, a fringe ultranationalist British group. Asked if Trump knew who Fransen was when he retweeted her videos, Sanders said: ‘I don’t believe so.’”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Attorneys for ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort struck an $11.65 million deal with Robert Mueller’s office to allow him to travel. Manafort has been on house arrest for four weeks. Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Darren Samuelsohn report: “In court filings released Thursday afternoon, Manafort's defense attorneys revealed ‘an agreed-upon bail package’ with lawyers from special counsel Robert Mueller's office, which obtained an indictment last month charging Manafort and business partner Rick Gates with money laundering and failing to register as foreign agents. The deal involves the pledging of four properties: Manafort's Alexandria, Virginia, condominium where he's been under home detention, his Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, home, a condo in Manhattan and another property in Bridgehampton, New York …’The Defendant will execute an agreement to forfeit four (4) separate real properties if there is a bail violation with a total estimated net value (i.e., fair market value less encumbrances) of approximately $11.65 million. The OSC has agreed that the properties posted provide the reasonable assurance required under the Bail Reform Act,’ Manafort lawyers Kevin Downing and Tom Zehnle wrote.”

-- Mueller’s investigation has reportedly already cost over $5 million. ABC News’s Pierre Thomas reports: “Those expenses include money for a staff of more than 16 attorneys, dozens of FBI agents, support staff, travel and office supplies. A more detailed breakdown of those expenditures is expected to be released in the coming days. Investigations of this nature can take years to resolve and run into the tens of millions of dollars.”

-- Blackwater founder Erik Prince told House investigators that he met with a close ally of Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles earlier this year. Karoun Demirjian reports: “Under questioning, Prince told members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that he had met Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, during a secret Jan. 11 meeting in the Seychelles brokered by the United Arab Emirates as part of an apparent attempt to set up back channel communications between then-President-elect Donald Trump and Moscow. … The admission to investigators that he met with Dmitriev is a turnaround for Prince, who initially refused through a spokesman to identify the Russian with whom he had met, and later said he couldn’t remember his name. He denied to House investigators that he was representing the Trump transition team during the Seychelles meeting[.]

--Top House Intelligence Committee Democrat Adam Schiff criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for refusing to answer questions about whether Trump asked that he obstruct the Justice Department’s Russia investigation. Reuters’s Sarah N. Lynch and Patricia Zengerle report: “Sessions testified behind closed doors for several hours before the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. [Schiff] told reporters he was troubled by Sessions’ refusal to answer what he believes are essential questions. ‘I asked the Attorney General whether he was ever instructed by the president to take any action that he believed would hinder the Russia investigation and he declined to answer the question,’ Schiff said after the hearing. ‘There is no privileged basis to decline to answer a question like that. If the president did not instruct him to take an action that would hinder the investigation, he should say so. If the president did instruct him to hinder the investigation in any way, in my view that would be a potential criminal act,’ Schiff said. Sessions declined to comment to reporters as he left the secure hearing room.”

THE LATEST FROM ALABAMA:

-- Although Trump has no plans to campaign for Roy Moore, he is expected to hold a campaign-style rally next week in nearby Pensacola, Fla. Josh Dawsey reports: “At the Dec. 8 rally, advisers said the president is likely to attack national Democrats and may attack Jones. It is unclear if Trump will specifically praise Moore. Pensacola is in the same media market as Mobile, Ala., which could allow Trump to reach Alabama voters without having to actually travel to the state and specifically rally for Moore.”

-- Meanwhile, a minister who appeared at a Moore campaign event has a history of covering up his son’s alleged pedophilia. Birmingham News’s Ivana Hrynkiw reports: “Rev. Bill Atkinson led the music portion of the Moore event at the Magnolia Springs Baptist Church[.] … In 2012, Atkinson was found guilty of obstruction and conspiracy for ordering two of his children to destroy a hard drive of a digital video recorder, which held evidence that incriminated his son for child molestation. At the time, William James ‘Will’ Atkinson IV was in a Honduras jail awaiting trial on charges that he molested children at an orphanage the Atkinson family owned. Those allegations came to light when his younger brother, Jonathan Atkinson, set up a secret surveillance system in Will's office after some of the children said they had been touched inappropriately.”

-- Doug Jones’s emergence as a contender for statewide office comes after years of building connections and resources in Alabama, the New York Times’s Alexander Burns reports. “From the outside, Mr. Jones had the look of an accidental contender — someone whose campaign was lifted to prominence by Mr. Moore’s problems like a man who plays the lottery on impulse and wins a record jackpot. But far from a local ingénue thriving on pure luck, Mr. Jones, his friends and colleagues say, spent years preparing to make a leap into elective office, building a web of relationships beyond his deep-red state that helped sustain a seemingly long-shot candidacy through its lean early months. A former United States attorney, Mr. Jones, 63, has relied most heavily on a community of liberal lawyers and veteran prosecutors who have vouched for him in Washington.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump made this claim about the economy:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) lambasted the philosophy behind the GOP tax plan:

From a HuffPost political reporter:

A New York Times reporter shared this after the acquittal in the Kate Steinle case:

The president's son commented on the verdict:

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) spoke out against sexual harassment settlements in Congress:

The cover of the New York Post slammed NBC’s management:

Bill Clinton's former secretary of state spoke out against Trump's handling of the State Department:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has undergone a radical change of opinion on Trump. From ABC News's executive editorial producer:

After a comedian affiliated with Jimmy Kimmel's show interrupted a campaign event for Roy Moore at a church, Moore fired a shot at Kimmel:

Kimmel retorted:

The back-and-forth continued with Kimmel alluding to the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore:

Bill O'Reilly, who has faced multiple allegations of sexual harassment, promoted his podcast:

CNN's Jake Tapper replied to O'Reilly's tweet:

The New York Times's deputy managing editor responded to Trump's assertion that the paper's editorial board tweeting violated the Times's social media guidelines:

Capitol Hill become a little more festive, per one of The Post's congressional reporters:

And Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) witnessed the lighting of the National Christmas Tree:

From a local ABC reporter:

CNN's chief national security correspondent offered this satirical commentary on the empty seats:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Time, “The New American Way of War,” by W.J. Hennigan: “The little noticed buildup in Niger is just a snapshot of the expanding worldwide deployment of U.S. commandos. At any given moment, 8,000 of the country’s most elite forces, including Navy SEALs, Army Delta Force, Army Special Forces and others, are operating around the globe. In 2001, that number was 2,900. So far in 2017, the service members have deployed to 143 countries, or nearly three-quarters of the nations in the world, according to data provided by U.S. Special Operations Command, which runs the units. Name a country in the world’s most volatile regions and it is likely that Special Operations forces are deployed there.”

-- The New York Times, “Why a Generation in Japan Is Facing a Lonely Death,” by Norimitsu Onishi: “With no families or visitors to speak of, many older tenants spent weeks or months cocooned in their small apartments, offering little hint of their existence to the world outside their doors. And each year, some of them died without anyone knowing, only to be discovered after their neighbors caught the smell. The first time it happened, or at least the first time it drew national attention, the corpse of a 69-year-old man living near Mrs. Ito had been lying on the floor for three years, without anyone noticing his absence. His monthly rent and utilities had been withdrawn automatically from his bank account. Finally, after his savings were depleted in 2000, the authorities came to the apartment and found his skeleton near the kitchen, its flesh picked clean by maggots and beetles, just a few feet away from his next-door neighbors.”

-- Politico Magazine, “Has Trump Made Approval Polls Meaningless?” by Jeff Greenfield: “The president has been able to freeze his standing among Americans. If you look at where the polls have been over the past six months or so, the trend line looks like the brain activity of a patient who has flat-lined. His approval ratings have stayed within a 2-point range from May until now. … For roughly 4 in 10 Americans, nothing Trump has said or done — not the insults, the White House chaos, the failure (so far) to achieve any of his biggest legislative goals, has mattered in the least. And if past is prologue, there is no reason to think his latest effusions, conspiracy theories and head-snapping denials of the patently obvious, will make any difference. At this rate, would anyone be surprised if the president actually tested one of his most famous theories about his popularity by wandering onto Fifth Avenue with a Smith & Wesson and shooting somebody?”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“Scarborough: Trump allies told me he has dementia,” from The Hill: “MSNBC's Joe Scarborough said on Thursday that people close to President Trump told him during the campaign that Trump has ‘early stages of dementia.’ During MSNBC's ‘Morning Joe,’ Scarborough said Trump is ‘completely detached from reality.’ ‘You have somebody inside the White House that the New York Daily News says is mentally unfit,’ Scarborough said. ‘That people close to him say is mentally unfit, that people close to him during the campaign told me had early stages of dementia.’… On Wednesday, Trump took aim at Scarborough on Twitter with a tweet appearing to call for an investigation into the death of a staffer who was found in the former GOP congressman's district office in 2001. Scarborough said Wednesday the president is ‘not well.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Trump to donate part of his salary to combat opioid addiction,” from CNN: “Trump will donate his third-quarter salary to the Department of Health and Human Services' efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, the Trump administration said Thursday. Acting Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Hargan, speaking with reporters at Thursday's White House press briefing, said the donation shows Trump's ‘sense of duty to the American people.’ Trump's money will be used on a ‘large-scale public awareness campaign about the dangers of opioid addiction,’ Hargan said. Since taking office in January, Trump has opted to donate his salary to a series of government agencies and efforts. His first-quarter salary went to the National Park Service and his second-quarter pay went to the Department of Education.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump has a morning meeting with the prime minister of Libya followed by a lunch with Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis. He will attend the White House Christmas reception this evening.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said of Rex Tillerson amid reports of his imminent departure, “The secretary is someone whose feathers don't get ruffled very easily.”

 

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

-- D.C. will kick off December with a lot of sun. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Sunny but windy at times. Dress in a couple layers, despite roughly average high temperatures for this time of year — highs are expected to be in the low to mid-50s. Northwesterly breezes averaging around 10-15 mph could have a few gusts at times. The last of our remaining foliage may finally succumb!”

-- The Redskins lost to the Cowboys 38-14, effectively delivering the final blow to the team’s playoff chances. (Liz Clarke)

-- The Capitals lost to the Kings 5-2. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- A Virginia judge was thrown off the bench for contacting two witnesses in a pending federal corruption case against his wife. Tom Jackman reports: “Kurt J. Pomrenke, 64, was elected to the bench in 2013 to oversee juvenile and domestic court cases in Washington and Smyth counties and Bristol City along the Virginia-Tennessee border. He is only the second Virginia judge in the past 23 years to be removed by the state Supreme Court, court records show[.] … Pomrenke also has been found guilty of contempt of court by a federal judge in Bristol in connection with his wife’s case and on Thursday was sentenced to two months in prison and ordered to pay the maximum allowable fine of $1,000. His wife, Stacey Pomrenke, a former chief financial officer of Bristol Virginia Utilities, is serving a 34-month prison sentence on multiple charges of conspiracy, extortion and wire fraud[.]”

-- Water bills for D.C.’s cemeteries are skyrocketing as the city attempts to clean up the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. Rachel Chason reports: “Three Supreme Court justices, four Civil War generals and America’s first female Marine are among those buried in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington’s oldest burial ground. Now, operators say the future of the nearly 300-year-old cemetery is threatened by skyrocketing water bills that surged from about $3,500 in 2008 to nearly $200,000 in 2016. The bulk of Rock Creek Cemetery’s bill — $144,184 in 2016 — goes toward a fee to help the District’s independent water and sewage authority pay for a federally mandated project to clean up the Potomac and Anacostia rivers by 2030.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Jimmy Kimmel addressed his Twitter fight with Roy Moore and defended his own Christian values:

Trump has emphasized the importance of saying “Merry Christmas” since he was a presidential candidate:

“More than a year before he was elected, Trump had begun working into his stump speech references to the proverbial ‘war on Christmas,’ a familiar refrain among some on the religious right and on Fox News during former president Barack Obama’s eight years in office,” David Nakamura writes. “Trump’s embrace of that rhetorical flourish helped a New York business mogul who has not been a regular churchoer win crucial evangelical support during the Republican primary campaign and the general election. Now, entering his first December in office, Trump is embracing a similar tactic to help shore up his base supporters amid record-low approval ratings.”

The Post explained why control of the Virginia House is still up for grabs and why it matters:

Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera apologized for defending Matt Lauer following reports of Lauer's sexual misconduct:

A candidate in Michigan's attorney general race addressed the fallout from sexual misconduct cases with a provocative question:

And an endangered African penguin hatched at the Minnesota Zoo: