With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA:

MONROEVILLE, Ala. — For Democrats to win a Senate race in a state as red as Alabama, which President Trump carried by 28 points last year, everything needs to break their way. Doug Jones must persuade significant numbers of Republicans to back him in next week’s special election over Roy Moore, but victory also requires a level of black turnout not seen since Barack Obama’s 2008 election. Even with so much working in his favor, that remains a very tall order.

Two dozen interviews with African Americans on Thursday in this rural town of 6,500 showed that Jones still has his work cut out for him. The conversations revealed deep distaste for Trump but also disillusionment with the political process.

Paulette Williams, 62, will vote for Jones, but she lamented that most people she knows are apathetic and predicted that he will not win. She said Republicans are going to pull the lever for Moore despite allegations of sexual misconduct against him, but too many Democrats can’t be bothered.

“People died to have the right to vote. Now that people have the privilege, they waste it,” said Williams, who retired after 33 years as a technical inspector at a pulp and paper mill. “People talk more about the Alabama-Auburn game than politics. Everything President Obama implemented, Trump is trying to reverse: civil rights, equal rights, helping the poor, all of it. But they’re more interested in Alabama versus Auburn than what’s going wrong in the country.”

Monroeville was Harper Lee’s home town, and she used it as the model for Maycomb in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” her classic novel about racial injustice in the South during the Jim Crow era. Midway between the port in Mobile and the capital in Montgomery, the city is part of what’s known as the Black Belt. The region was originally named for its dark top soil but is now known for heavy concentrations of African Americans and persistent poverty. Turnout in this region historically lags the rest of the state.

African Americans account for 27 percent of Alabama’s population. Trump carried Monroe County last year with 57 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 42 percent. Reflecting deep polarization along racial lines, the county’s population is 55 percent white and 42 percent black. Each of the 10 whites I talked with here yesterday said they plan to vote for Moore.

The  Washington Post-Schar School poll, which gave Jones a narrow lead that is within the margin of error, found that he has the support of 93 percent of blacks and 33 percent of whites statewide. The open question, though, isn’t whether African Americans will support the Democrat. It’s whether they’ll go to the polls.

Charles Robbins Kidd, 77, said he thinks both Trump and Moore try to capitalize on racial division for political advantage, which makes him bearish on Jones’s odds. “He might win. I hope he wins. I’m going to vote for him. … But I know it’ll be hard,” Kidd said. “It’ll be so hard for Doug Jones to win because there are so many white folks against black folks. I don’t know why, but they are.”

Kidd operated a dye machine at a textile mill. But he quit to paint houses, he said, when he realized that he was getting paid less than white men for the same work. “I don’t know why white folks are so against black folks. Black folks never did anything but work hard,” said Kidd, who wore an elegant gray hat with a feather and has two gold front teeth. “They’re tough around here on black folks.”

Most of the folks I talked with in the Monroeville town square, directly across the street from the old courthouse described vividly in “Mockingbird,” said they are depressed about the direction of the country but feel powerless to do anything about it. For the first time in a long time, their votes could have a real impact on national politics. But they don’t see it that way.

John Dewayne Richardson is an unemployed construction worker with three kids. His dad drove him to the post office yesterday in a red pick-up truck so that he could check on his claim for jobless benefits. It got rejected, he complained, because his last employer didn’t fill out required paperwork. Richardson said he keeps hearing on TV that the economy is doing well. “But I haven’t seen a change,” he said. Now he’s thinking about moving out of state to find work.

The 35-year-old hasn’t paid close attention to the election but says he’d still like to vote next week. He believes George W. Bush stole the 2000 election with shenanigans in Florida, and he thinks Republicans will probably steal this election if Moore doesn’t get the most votes. “Do you get where I’m coming from?” he asked. “People don’t vote because they don’t feel their votes matter because nothing is going to change. What difference is it going to make?”

Jessica Nettles, 28, voted for the first time in 2008, so that she could support Obama, but she stayed home in 2012 because she felt he had been co-opted by Wall Street. She didn’t vote in 2016 either because she did not see any meaningful difference between Trump and Clinton. If she had been forced to vote, she said, she would have written in Bernie Sanders.

“I don’t vote because I don’t feel like there’s a purpose,” she said on her lunch break. “I feel like Republicans and Democrats all work together. I just feel like it’s all one big setup. … Nothing changes. It’s the same thing no matter who is in power. … All hope goes out the window when you realize what’s really going on. At the end of the day, the real players in this country are not going to let the people make changes.”

-- Jones is working hard to galvanize the African American community in the final days. As a U.S. attorney, he successfully prosecuted two Ku Klux Klan members for their role in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four black girls. For his closing argument, Jones has contrasted his work on that case with the allegations that Moore improperly pursued teenage girls when he was an assistant district attorney in his 30s. One woman has said she was 14 when Moore touched her sexually. “Men who hurt little girls should go to jail, not the United States Senate,” Jones, 63, said in a speech Tuesday. (Moore, now 70, has denied any wrongdoing.)

In mailers to black households, the Jones campaign has highlighted the allegations and suggested that an African American man would not be treated the same way if he was accused of similar sexual misconduct.

Without prompting, several black voters I interviewed praised Jones for going after the KKK. “I pray that we get some Christian people that just do what’s right and vote for Doug Jones,” said Edith Ruffin, 66, who recently retired from a plant in Monroeville that manufactures bras. “It’s not that I dislike the other candidate, but I like what he did for the little black girls in Birmingham. He got justice for them.”

There are other important contrasts between the candidates. An African American man asked Moore during a campaign event when he thought America was last “great.” “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another,” he said in September, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Our families were strong. Our country had a direction.”

Moore has twice been removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to respect the judicial process. He once opposed removing segregationist language from the state constitution, he says Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress, and he is a birther. Trump has now conceded, at least publicly, that Obama was a natural-born citizen, but Moore has continued to say — even after the 2016 election — that he still doesn’t think so.

Jones spoke last Friday in a black church to mark the anniversary of Rosa Parks's 1955 arrest for refusing to give up her seat on the bus. Then he marched Saturday in Selma’s Christmas parade and visited nine predominantly African American churches in Tuscaloosa on Sunday. He’s held several rallies at historically black colleges, including Tuskegee University, Alabama State University and Alabama A&M. He’s been a regular guest on radio programs popular with African Americans.

This weekend, surrogates are mobilizing across the Black Belt and in urban areas like Birmingham to make the case for voting. Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.) has been organizing a slate of Sunday campaign events that will feature Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and former Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.).

“Our campaign is running the largest, most active get-out-the-vote program Alabama has seen in a generation,” said Jones campaign spokesman Sebastian Kitchen.

-- Why Jones still has a shot: Moore has routinely underperformed compared to other Republicans. As part of an excellent deep dive into the political geography of Alabama, our Darla Cameron, Dan Keating and Kim Soffen discovered that lots of Republicans are accustomed to not voting for him. Moore won his 2012 race for chief justice of the state Supreme Court by just four points, for example, on the same day Mitt Romney won by 22 points.

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MORE ON AMERICA, DIVIDED:

-- Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said they will skip celebrating the opening of a Mississippi civil rights museum this weekend because Trump plans to attend, saying the president’s “attendance and hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed” in the museum. “After careful consideration and conversations with church leaders, elected officials, civil rights activists, and many citizens of our congressional districts, we have decided not to attend or participate in the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum,” the two said in a statement. Sarah Huckabee Sanders called their cancellations “unfortunate”: Trump “hopes others will join him in recognizing that the movement was about removing barriers and unifying Americans of all backgrounds.”

-- Many black residents in the state say Trump's presidency has revived troubles of the past. Marc Fisher reports: “Three miles from the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, over rutted roads, past littered lots, abandoned houses, and shuttered plants and warehouses … [black residents] of this struggling capital city say that after nearly a year of the Trump presidency, they have a definitive answer to the question candidate Trump posed when he spoke at a rally in Jackson in August last year. ‘What do you have to lose?’ Trump asked, making a quixotic and ultimately failed bid for black votes to a nearly all-white crowd.” Now, their answers here are resounding:

  • “We’re losing a lot,” said auto shop owner Pete McElroy. “Losing Obamacare. Losing money. … Mostly, we’re losing respect. No way you can evade that. The way he speaks, the racists feel like they can say anything they want to us.”
  • “It’s getting worse, not better, not just for black Americans but for poor whites, too,” said taxi driver Burrell Brooks said. “You see the Confederate banner back up, the whole Confederate monuments thing. This country is going back to more segregation, and a museum makes people think that’s all history, that’s all fixed.”
 
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The latest jobs report showed that the unemployment rate stayed at a strong 4.1 percent. U.S. employers added 228,000 jobs last month, slightly outpacing Wall Street’s expectations. But some of the industries producing the most jobs also offer some of the lowest wages. The home health aide industry, where workers are paid only $22,000 a year on average, will create an estimated 425,600 jobs by 2026. (Danielle Paquette)

-- Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), one of the most socially conservative members of Congress, announced his resignation after asking two female staffers if they would bear his children as surrogates. Mike DeBonis reports: “Franks’s announcement came as the House Ethics Committee said it would create a special subcommittee to investigate Franks for conduct ‘that constitutes sexual harassment and/or retaliation for opposing sexual harassment.’ His resignation, which Franks said is effective Jan. 31, will end the ethics investigation. Franks said in his statement that the investigation concerns his ‘discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable.' He denied ever having ‘physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff.’” He added: “I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress.”

-- Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) released a statement saying he asked Franks to resign.

-- Britain and the E.U. reached an agreement on their divorce proceedings. Michael Birnbaum reports: “The bargain came as May compromised on the biggest challenges facing Britain during its split. A disagreement over borders between Northern Ireland and Ireland nearly derailed the deal this week. British factions have also tangled over the amount of money they will have to pay as they leave the [E.U.] as well as who will guarantee the rights of E.U. citizens after the divorce. On those issues and a host of others, Britain has been forced to capitulate to the European Union after saying earlier this year that it held the upper hand in the negotiations.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Wildfires continued to ravage Southern California for a fourth day, tearing across Ventura to San Diego at dizzying speeds leaving scenes of destruction in their wake. Meanwhile, new mandatory evacuations were ordered; major roadways were shut down, and authorities warned dangers could continue through the week’s end. “We are a long way from being out of this weather event,” the director of Cal Fire said. “In some cases, the worst could be yet to come.” (Scott Wilson, Mark Berman and Eli Rosenberg)
  2. Russia’s foreign minister claimed North Korea is prepared to open direct talks with the United States about their nuclear standoff. Sergei Lavrov said he passed the message on to Rex Tillerson when the two met this week in Vienna. (The Guardian)

  3. Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital sparked violent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops, leaving at least 51 Palestinians injured as U.S. missions in the region braced for more conflict. The violence comes one day before Hamas is expected to hold a “day of rage.” (Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash)
  4. Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Trump would undergo a full physical early next year and release the results. The day before, Trump’s slurred speech during his Jerusalem announcement spurred concern and conspiracy theories about his health. (Philip Rucker)

  5. The former South Carolina police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Scott, a black man, was unarmed when officer Michael Slager pulled him over in a traffic stop in 2015. (Mark Berman)
  6. Two students were killed after a gunman opened fire at a high school in Aztec, N.M. Authorities have said little about the shooting, but confirmed the gunman is dead and that none of the school’s other 1,000 students were injured. (Moriah Balingit)
  7. Meanwhile, a new study found that a surge in gun sales following the Sandy Hook shooting — prompted by fears of stricter gun laws — caused a “significant” jump in accidental firearm deaths. Researchers estimate the 3 million firearms sold after the elementary school massacre caused 60 more accidental gun deaths than would not have occurred otherwise. One-third of the victims were children. (William Wan)
  8. Former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen (D) officially launched his Senate campaign, offering his party a path (albeit an extremely narrow one) to the Senate majority next year. But some doubt his chances of victory given Tennessee’s increasingly Republican leanings since Bredesen last held office. (New York Times)
  9. Joe Arpaio is “seriously, seriously, seriously considering running for the U.S. Senate.” The former sheriff, who was convicted of criminal contempt of court and then pardoned by Trump, said he has been eyeing Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat. (The Daily Beast)

  10. Amazon has launched a new $250 door lock that connects to the Internet and allows its deliverers to drop off packages directly inside your home. But is it genius or just plain creepy? Reviews so far are mixed. (Geoffrey A. Fowler gave it a trial run.)
  11. A team of scientists have just discovered the oldest, most distant black hole known to man. It’s 13 billion light-years away, 800 million times more massive than the sun and could offer clues to the enigmatic early years of the universe. (Sarah Kaplan)
  12. And speaking of discoveries: A record-setting, 17-foot Burmese python was killed last week in the Florida Everglades. The terrifying creature boasted rows of razor-sharp teeth, weighed in at more than 130 pounds and was roughly the size of three human adults. (Lindsey Bever)

MEN BEHAVING BADLY:

-- Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) announced he will resign from the Senate in the “coming weeks,” yielding to pressure from his Democratic colleagues after multiple women accused him of inappropriate touching. Franken has continued to deny the allegations. Ed O’Keefe, Elise Viebeck and Karen Tumulty report: “The former rising Democratic star used his resignation speech to take aim at [Trump and Moore], who have not been forced aside despite facing arguably more serious allegations of sexual misconduct. ‘There is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,’ Franken said in a speech on the Senate floor. … Franken called the reckoning an ‘important moment’ that is ‘long overdue,’ but he denied engaging in behavior that disrespected or took advantage of women. ‘I know there’s been a very different picture of me painted over the last few weeks, but I know who I really am,’ he said. ‘I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator — nothing — has brought dishonor on this institution.’”

-- Some of Franken's accusers were not satisfied with his remarks. “His speech was about his experience, his grief, his embarrassment and his pain and had nothing to do with the female experience of what he did against his accusers,” said Tina Dupuy, a former Democratic Hill staffer who accused Franken of groping her in 2009. “It was a very un-empathetic speech to the women who told him and the public that it was not okay. There was no apology.” (Kimberly Kindy)

-- “Franken’s departure [comes at an] inflection point for Democrats,” Karen Tumulty writes in a smart analysis. “Shut out of power completely, they are looking for a way out of the wilderness. Toward that end, getting rid of Franken was both a moral and political calculation. It was the Democrats’ strongest declaration yet that they — unlike the Republicans — are willing to sacrifice their own in the interest of staking out the high ground. … On the other hand, Trump’s reaction to allegations against him has been to brand as liars the women who have made them. It worked, as evidenced by the outcome of the election. In Alabama, Moore has taken the same approach.”

-- Avi Selk explains how Franken’s Senate career began with a controversy in which he was accused of misogyny: “[I]n late May of [2008] — less than two weeks before a state convention in which he hoped Minnesota Democrats would choose him as their Senate nominee — Republicans began publicizing an article he had written for Playboy magazine in 2000. It was called ‘Porn-O-Rama!’ — a sci-fi story in which Franken visited a fictional university to have sex with a doctor in some sort of virtual reality machine. The doctor was an ‘extremely attractive blonde’ with ‘legs that won't quit and firm but ample breasts,’ he wrote. ‘She seemed to be coming on to me.’ … As the state convention approached, more and more women demanded that he apologize — and not only Republicans.” Franken finally did apologize, but he wrote years later that he never actually felt sorry for having written the article.

-- The Minnesota senator found some unlikely defenders on Fox News, where Newt Gingrich described the Democratic push for Franken to resign as a “lynch mob.” Callum Borchers writes: “The former House speaker argued that Democrats' mind-set is, ‘Let's just lynch him because when we are done, we will be so pure.’ Gingrich's point about purity is at the center of Fox News's commentary on Franken. The contention is that Democrats are not acting nobly but are merely trying to claim the moral high ground on the issue of sexual misconduct so that they will have standing to denounce Republicans such as Roy Moore and President Trump, who face accusations of their own.”

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said Franken “didn’t have to resign.” “There’s no due process for Franken,” Cassidy said. “[Franken] decided to accept being drummed out. … I’m not defending him. You just can’t help but observe what I’m saying is true.” Cassidy added, in the case of Moore, “I, among others, have withdrawn my endorsement for Mr. Moore. … But it’s up to him to decide whether or not to accept that.”

-- Senators are stepping up their scrutiny of sexual harassment complaints and taxpayer-funded settlements. Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports: “Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) on Thursday joined two Senate committees in seeking records of complaints and settlements from the Office of Compliance, which carries out the required counseling and mediation process for legislative employees filing workplace claims. Kaine said he would publicly release any data he receives. In the past week, the House started releasing limited data on claims and settlements, without identifying any accusers or the lawmakers said to be involved. Even less is known about the number of workplace complaints involving Senate offices and how much public money was used to resolve them[.] … It’s unclear whether the Office of Compliance will provide any information in response to Kaine’s request.”

-- The House Ethics Committee formed a subcommittee to investigate the sexual misconduct allegations against Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.). Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports: “The committee initially launched an investigation into Farenthold in September 2015, but it was ‘significantly delayed’ because the committee could not get ‘key witnesses other than Representative Farenthold’ to testify, according to the committee’s statement. His former communications director, Lauren Greene, in 2014 accused Farenthold of making sexually charged comments designed to gauge whether she was interested in a sexual relationship. … The House Ethics Committee has requested Greene to cooperate with the investigation and appear before the panel. Prior to coming forward, Greene had declined, wanting to move on from the matter. But she has now agreed to cooperate with the investigation[.]”

-- Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) called on Farenthold to resign, becoming one of the first House Republicans to do so. “I don't think he thinks he's done anything wrong, but the fact is, someone was paid off,” Love said. “Where he may not feel like his behavior was inappropriate, obviously somebody did. Obviously people felt uncomfortable.” (CNN)

-- Former congressman Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) was fired by Morgan Stanley following an HR investigation into accusations of misconduct. One woman who was interviewed as part of the HR probe separately told HuffPost that Ford harassed her and “forcibly grabbed” her during an event in Manhattan several years ago, leading her to seek aid from a building security guard.

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- A top Russian social media company made several overtures to Trump’s campaign in 2016, urging it to create a page on the website as an effort to appeal to Russian-Americans. Rosalind S. Helderman, Anton Troianovski and Tom Hamburger report: “The executive at Vkontakte, or VK, Russia’s equivalent to Facebook, emailed Donald Trump Jr. and social media director Dan Scavino in January and again in November of last year, offering to help promote Trump’s campaign to its nearly 100 million users[.] … ‘It will be the top news in Russia,’ Konstantin Sidorkov, who serves as VK’s director of partnership marketing, wrote on Nov. 5, 2016. While Scavino expressed interest in learning more at one point, it is unclear whether the campaign pursued the idea. An attorney for Trump Jr. said his client forwarded a pitch about the concept to Scavino early in the year and could not recall any further discussion about it.” 

-- The overture with VK was brokered by British music producer Rob Goldstone, who also helped arrange the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr. Goldstone is slated to meet with both the Senate and House intelligence panels for closed-door meetings as early as next week. (CNN)

-- The emails also show Goldstone sent follow-up messages after the meeting with Don Jr. at Trump Tower. Don Jr. had previously denied there was any follow-up to the meeting. CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report: The emails “were discovered by congressional investigators and raised at Wednesday's classified hearing with Trump Jr., who said he could not recall the interactions, several sources said. None of the newly disclosed emails were sent directly to Trump Jr. They are bound to be a subject during Goldstone's closed-door meetings with the House and Senate intelligence panels[.] … In one email dated June 14, 2016, Goldstone forwarded a CNN story on Russia's hacking of DNC emails to his client, Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, and Ike Kaveladze, a Russian who attended the meeting along with Trump Jr., Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and Manafort, describing the news as ‘eerily weird’ given what they had discussed at Trump Tower five days earlier.”

-- During a House hearing, Republicans repeatedly accused the FBI of harboring anti-Trump bias. Devlin Barrett and Ellen Nakashima report: “[FBI Director Christopher] Wray spent the morning being grilled at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee about how FBI personnel — particularly a senior counterintelligence agent now the subject of an internal ethics investigation — handled sensitive probes of Trump and his former political rival, Hillary Clinton. … Republicans at the hearing said Wray needed to prove to them that the FBI was proceeding without picking political favorites. … In a remarkable moment, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) read aloud from a list of FBI officials, asking Wray after each name whether that person had shown political bias in their work. After every name, Wray vouched for the person’s character, though he acknowledged he did not know everyone Gohmert named.”

-- Meanwhile, the House Ethics Committee ended its investigation of Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), clearing him of any wrongdoing and potentially allowing him to retake control of his committee’s Russia probe. Karoun Demirjian reports: “The Ethics Committee said Thursday that ‘classification experts in the intelligence community’ determined that when Nunes suggested to the press in March that Trump transition-team members’ identities may have been improperly revealed in foreign surveillance reports, he was not disclosing classified information. … Nunes welcomed the news but criticized the committee in a statement for taking eight months to clear him of allegations that he argued ‘were obviously frivolous and were rooted in politically motivated complaints filed against me by left-wing activist groups.’" He would not say whether he intended to resume his full duties as chairman of the panel's Russia investigation.

-- Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is calling for tighter restrictions on “unmasking” Americans in intelligence reports, a practice criticized by Trump and his allies after campaign officials – including Michael Flynn – were unmasked by Obama administration officials. Reuters’s Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay report: “In a Nov. 30 letter sent to [Devin Nunes] and other top lawmakers, [Coats] said the new unmasking policy is due by Jan. 15. … Coats wrote that the new policy will reinforce existing procedures that ‘make clear that IC (intelligence community) elements may not engage in political activity, including dissemination of U.S. person identities to the White House, for the purpose of affecting the political process of the United States.’”

-- Paul Manafort’s attorneys acknowledged his role in editing an op-ed for a Ukrainian newspaper but sidestepped the question of whether he drafted it with an associate known to have Kremlin ties. Spencer S. Hsu reports: “Manafort’s defense argued in a court filing to a federal judge in Washington that Manafort’s work on the op-ed piece for an English-language newspaper in Kiev defending himself did not violate a court gag order because it would not likely bias potential jurors in any U.S. trial.”

-- Opinions on the Russia investigation are deeply divided along party lines, a new Pew Research Center poll finds. Pew reports: “While just 30% of Americans think senior Trump officials definitely had improper contacts with Russia during the campaign, a majority (59%) thinks such contacts definitely or probably occurred; 30% think they definitely or probably did not happen. In views of Mueller’s investigation, 56% are very or somewhat confident he will conduct the probe fairly.

The divide: “Only about a quarter of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (26%) say Trump officials definitely or probably had improper contacts with Russia during the campaign; 82% of Democrats and Democratic leaners think there were improper contacts – with 49% saying they definitely took place. About two-thirds of Democrats (68%) and 44% Republicans say they are at least somewhat confident Mueller’s investigation will be conducted fairly.”

-- But a reporter for McClatchy pointed this out about the poll:

SHUTDOWN AVERTED . . . FOR NOW:

-- Congress passed a short-term spending deal — temporarily staving off a government shutdown even as lawmakers are bracing for a more heated fight in the weeks ahead. Mike DeBonis reports: “Trump has indicated that he will sign the deal, preventing a government stoppage that had been set to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. The deal does not resolve numerous debates over domestic spending, immigration and funding for the military that brought the government to the brink of partial closure, leaving party leaders with a new Dec. 22 deadline to keep the government open. … [Earlier Thursday] congressional leaders of both parties went to the White House [to] begin talks with Trump on a long-term spending pact. But there are clear obstacles to any deal.”

  • Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows warned that any long-term deal risked Republican revolt. “It takes two bodies to put something into law, and the president’s agreement to a caps deal does not mean that it is fiscally the best thing for the country,” Meadows said. “I want to avoid a headline that says [Trump’s] administration just passed the highest spending levels in U.S. history.”
  • Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) laid out a list of Democratic demands, including funding for veterans and the opioid crisis, and a bill to grant permanent legal status for “dreamers.” She sent mixed signals on how far Democrats would go to secure their priorities, arguing “Democrats are not willing to shut government down” but they “will not leave” Washington for the holidays without a “dreamers” fix.

TRUMP’S AGENDA:

-- The Justice Department is reportedly moving toward an investigation of Planned Parenthood. The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff reports: “The head of Justice’s office of legislative affairs has sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee asking for documents from its investigation of Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue practices. The Daily Beast reviewed the letter, which says the requested documents are ‘for investigative use.’ … The Justice Department’s request refers to a report that the Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans released last December, called ‘Human Fetal Tissue Research: Context and Controversy.’ That report discusses how biomedical research corporations contracted with Planned Parenthood affiliates for fetal tissue. … It called for the Justice Department to investigate the matter. At the time, Planned Parenthood said [the] report did not demonstrate any wrongdoing.”

-- Only 21 of the country’s 34 Republican governors signed a letter calling on Congress to pass tax cuts. John Wagner reports: Of the 13 GOP governors who didn't sign on, “[a]t least a handful object on policy grounds to parts of the legislation, while others appear to be sensitive to home-state politics — or some combination of both. Several, for instance, preside over traditionally Democratic states, where the Republican tax legislation is particularly unpopular and where many residents could take a hit from provisions that curb the current practice of allowing state and local taxes to be deducted on federal filings.”

-- BuzzFeed News published Blackwater founder Erik Prince’s pitch to the administration on privatizing the war in Afghanistan. BuzzFeed’s Aram Roston reports: “One surprising element is the commercial promise Prince envisions: that the US will get access to Afghanistan’s rich deposits of minerals such as lithium, used in batteries; uranium; magnesite; and ‘rare earth elements,’ critical metals used in high technology from defense to electronics. One slide estimates the value of mineral deposits in Helmand province alone at $1 trillion. … The presentation makes it plain that Prince intends to fund the effort through these rich deposits. His plan, one slide says, is ‘a strategic mineral resource extraction funded effort that breaks the negative security economic cycle.’ The slides also say that mining could provide jobs to Afghans.”

-- Former Census officials and statisticians are airing concerns over Trump’s reported pick to serve as deputy director of the bureau. Tara Bahrampour writes: “Reports had surfaced saying the White House planned to install as the bureau’s deputy director Thomas Brunell, a political science professor with scant managerial experience who is best known for his testimony as an expert witness on behalf of Republican redistricting plans and a book that argues against competitive electoral districts. … The appointment would ‘undermine the credibility’ of the traditionally nonpartisan bureau, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said in a statement. Brunell ‘appears to lack the necessary management and statistical agency experience, and may be viewed by many to have a very political perspective,’ the president of the American Statistical Association wrote.”

LIFE IN TRUMP'S WASHINGTON:

-- Ryan Zinke spent more than $14,000 on government helicopters to attend D.C. events this summer to accommodate a congressional swearing-in ceremony and a horseback ride with Mike Pence, according to travel logs. Politico’s Ben Lefebvre reports: “In a case detailed in the new documents, Zinke ordered a U.S. Park Police helicopter to take him and his [chief of staff] to an emergency management exercise in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, on June 21. Zinke’s staff justified the $8,000 flight by saying official business would prevent him leaving Washington before 2 p.m. … The event that prevented Zinke from leaving before 2 p.m. was the swearing-in ceremony for Rep. Greg Gianforte [R-Mont.] … Zinke also ordered a Park Police helicopter to fly him and another Interior official to and from Yorktown, Virginia, on July 7 in order to be back in Washington in time for a 4 p.m. horseback ride with Pence. The trip cost about $6,250, according to the documents.”

-- Josh Dawsey has an inside look at a $100,000-per-person Trump fundraiser in New York last weekend: “When Trump returned to his home city, he zipped up Park Avenue to huddle with a number of former business associates and friends at the triplex of Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman. About two dozen of them paid $100,000 each to hear Trump talk for about 20 minutes — or about $5,000 a minute. … Trump seemed, several people familiar with the event said, in his element. Many of the donors praised his performance in office, and he soaked in the adulation.”

The best anecdote from the event: “The president told the donors — which included gas magnate John Hess, billionaire Richard Lauder, sugar magnate Pepe Fanjul and casino executive Steve Wynn — all about his tax plan and how it would help the middle class. The crowd was filled with hedge fund managers and other titans that will see their taxes cut. It was ‘a little ironic,’ one person with direct knowledge of the event said.”

-- But, but, but: Attendees attempted to convince Trump to make last-minute changes to the tax bill to benefit New York. Damian Paletta and Josh Dawsey report: “At the fundraiser, [real estate magnate Richard] LeFrak asked Trump about changes in the tax bill that could help wealthier New Yorkers, people familiar with the exchange said. At least one other donor jumped in to echo the concerns, the people said. In response, Trump told the group he was aware of the concerns among his old friends and business associates — and that he understood them. ‘The president was a little vague in his response on that,’ an attendee at the fundraiser said, saying Trump said, ‘Well, we’ve got to see what happens. Maybe there are ways to try to be helpful.’

-- Democratic lawmakers were excluded from the White House Hanukkah reception, breaking with a tradition of bipartisanship. Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Katie Rogers report: “He also did not invite Reform Jewish leaders who have been critical of him or progressive Jewish activists who have differed with him publicly on policy issues. The move injected a partisan tinge into a normally bipartisan celebration at the White House, where on Thursday Mr. Trump spoke to a crowd standing amid Christmas trees.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Obama’s former chief strategist lamented Franken’s resignation:

From Vox’s editorial director:

From a Post reporter:

The editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight made this suggestion:

From an NPR reporter:

From Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.):

From former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin:

Rep. Trent Franks's resignation sparked shock, criticism and a few jokes. From a Post correspondent:

From the Nevada Independent's editor:

From a Post opinions editor:

From a writer for Media Matters:

A HuffPost reporter parodied Franks's statement on his resignation:

Hillary Clinton encouraged her supporters to channel their frustrations with politics into the CHIP fight:

A Time columnist shared this photo of the California wildfires:

A reporter for The Fix noticed these errors:

A Post reporter mocked the White House response to John Lewis's decision not to attend the civil rights museum opening:

A writer for Tablet magazine pointed out this about the White House's Hanukkah reception:

Here's the Trump tweet in question:

The Pences mourned the loss of a family pet:

And Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) shared this very 90s throwback from the recently demolished Silverdome:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Politico Magazine, “Kirsten Gillibrand’s Moment Has Arrived,” by David Freedlander: “The 51-year-old Gillibrand has come to represent a rising generation of Democratic leaders, one who came of age in an era when equality of the sexes was something almost taken for granted. And the buzz about her presidential ambitions has only grown. For years, the issues that Gillibrand has made her name on—aid for 9/11 workers, ending ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ in the military, transgender rights—were important but distinct, touching on segments of American life that most people never interact with. And now, at a moment when the cover has been ripped off toxic workplaces from Hollywood to Wall Street, Gillibrand is finding that the rest of the world has caught up with her crusades.”

-- AP, “Trust no one: Scholar risked all to document Islamic State,” by Lori Hinnant and Maggie Michael: “The weight of months and years of anonymity were crushing him. … He wasn’t a spy. He was an undercover historian and blogger. [But as ISIS] turned the city he loved into a fundamentalist bastion, he decided he would show the world how the extremists had distorted its true nature, how they were trying to rewrite the past and forge a brutal Sunni-only future for a city that had once welcomed many faiths. … He called himself Mosul Eye [and] made a promise to himself in those first few days: Trust no one, document everything. And now, he was running for his life.”

-- The New York Times, “James O’Keefe, Practitioner of the Sting, Has an Ally in Trump,” by Kenneth P. Vogel: “[T]hese should be good times for Mr. O’Keefe. He has an ally in the Oval Office who shares his views. The nonprofit group he started in 2010, Project Veritas, and an affiliated political arm called Project Veritas Action Fund have raised nearly $16 million, according to tax filings, and last year the group paid him $317,000. After years of criticism from across the political spectrum — including from a conservative establishment that has viewed him with suspicion — Mr. O’Keefe would seem well positioned to be more broadly embraced by the right, and feared by the left. Yet Mr. O’Keefe cannot seem to get out of his own way.”

-- The New Yorker, “Why Russia Will See Its Olympic Ban as a Declaration of War,” by Masha Gessen: “Since resuming the duties of President for the third time … [Putin] has restored many of the habits and cultural institutions of Soviet society. The lived experience of a Russian citizen is that of the subject of a totalitarian society, one in which everything is political: genuinely private space shrinks into nonexistence. In this disposition, the choice that the I.O.C. has posed to the athletes is one between self and country. Kremlin shills have already started bandying about the word ‘treason.’ The word suggests that Russia is at war with the world, and that is exactly how it sees itself: a country under attack, surrounded by hostile forces. This pervading sense of life in a fortress under siege is what makes today’s Russia, for all its visible superficial differences, so fundamentally similar to the Soviet Union.”

-- The New York Times, “The Adopted Black Baby, and the White One Who Replaced Her,” by John Eligon: “It was around 1970 in Deerfield, Ill., and Ms. Sandberg told her youngest child a closely guarded secret about a choice the family had made, one fueled by the racial tensions of the era, that sent a black girl and the white girl that took her place on diverging paths. Decades later, the journeys of the two women tell a nuanced story of race in America, one that complicates easy assumptions about white privilege and black hardship. Lives take unexpected twists and turns, this family story suggests, no matter the race of those involved. And years later, it is not easy to figure out the role of race when looking for lessons learned.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“The odd episode of Sam Seder’s firing — and rehiring — by MSNBC,” from Paul Farhi: “First, MSNBC fired a left-wing commentator over an eight-year-old tweet the pundit said was a joke but which a far-right activist said showed insensitivity about rape. Then a small ruckus ensued: Over the firing. Over the tweet. Over MSNBC’s caving to the right-wing guy’s complaint about the tweet. On Thursday, the saga took another sharp turn: MSNBC reversed itself and hired back the lefty guy, Sam Seder, whom it had dismissed earlier in the week amid a pressure campaign from conservative conspiracy theorist and gadfly Mike Cernovich.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Lindsey Vonn: I won't be representing US President at Winter Olympics,” from CNN: “Targeting Olympic gold at February's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Vonn is in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where she spoke passionately about what it means to compete for the US ski team. ‘Well I hope to represent the people of the United States, not the president,’ Vonn told CNN's Alpine Edge. … And Vonn revealed she wouldn't accept an invitation to the White House if she were to win gold at Pyeongchang. ‘Absolutely not,’ said Vonn. ‘No. But I have to win to be invited. No actually I think every US team member is invited so no I won't go.’”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump has a lunch with Pence and a meeting with Jim Mattis. He will then leave for his rally in Pensacola, Fla., after which he’s flying to West Palm Beach.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

While recognizing the heroic actions veteran George Blake took during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Trump said, “Thank you, George. It was a pretty wild scene. You’ll never forget that, right?”

 

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

-- D.C. will see cloudy skies and temperatures in the 40s today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “It’s more cloudy than not, with high temperatures staying muted and chilly. We may be stuck around 40 to as high as the mid-40s if we’re lucky. Other than a stray flake or two, we should remain dry[.]”

-- The Wizards beat the Suns 109-99. (Candace Buckner)

-- National GOP leadership is searching for another Republican to run against Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) next year, dreading the idea of supporting a Corey Stewart bid. Jenna Portnoy and Laura Vozzella report: “Sen. Cory Gardner (Colo.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, recently summoned former governor James S. Gilmore III to Washington to ask him to run, while Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mike Lee (Utah) met with Del. Nick Freitas (Culpeper) to advise him on a likely campaign. Stewart dismissed national Republicans working against him as ‘Mitch McConnell’s bozos.”

-- Virginia Democrats filed an amended complaint in federal court to seek a new election for a House of Delegates race affected by voter assignment errors. Laura Vozzella reports: “Republican Robert Thomas beat Democrat Joshua Cole by 82 votes on Nov. 7 in [the] contest[.] … But the outcome, which could affect which party leads the chamber, is in dispute because of errors that led 147 voters to cast ballots in the wrong race.”

-- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) proposed legislation to allow virtually D.C. student to use public funds to cover private school tuition. Parents who opt out of public schools for their children would be given money directly to use on private schools or even home-schooling costs. Similar bills introduced last year didn't receive hearing; the measure is unlikely to pass this year either. (Moriah Balingit)

-- The New York restaurant Sushi Nakazawa, which is preparing to open a second location in Trump’s D.C. hotel, was accused of wage theft in a class-action lawsuit. (Maura Judkis)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Seth Meyers tackled Al Franken's resignation:

Stephen Colbert made fun of Donald Trump Jr. following his testimony on Capitol Hill:

Jeff Sessions argued with Justice Department interns during an event this summer, according to newly obtained footage:

A CNN reporter found this old video of Roy Moore:

Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), who lost the GOP primary to Moore, delivered his farewell address in the Senate:

And this moment gave Californians hope amid the wildfires: