with Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: Will President Trump’s second year in office go better than his first?

He flies to Palm Beach today for some R&R at Mar-a-Lago with historically low approval ratings but a major legislative achievement finally under his belt. Many opportunities — and land mines — are on the road ahead.

We’re taking a hiatus next week, so this will be the last edition of The Daily 202 until the new year. With that in mind, here are some important known unknowns for 2018. We will likely have answers to each of these 100 questions by this time next year:

Mueller, Mueller, Mueller: As much as anyone but Trump himself, the president’s fate is in the hands of the special counsel. What does Robert Mueller know that we don’t? Will anyone who currently works in the White House get indicted? Has anyone else flipped? Or perjured themselves? Is Mueller’s team going to interview Trump? If so, what will be the ground rules?

Will Mueller get fired? If he does, would elected Republicans try to look the other way? Or would they take meaningful steps to protect the integrity of his investigation? Will Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, resign or get fired?

Will intensifying efforts by Trump allies to discredit the FBI undercut public confidence in Mueller’s work? Would Mueller go public with his findings outside of a court of law if he got pushed aside?

Do Paul Manafort and Rick Gates get convicted? Will Trump use his pardon power again? Remember Joe Arpaio.

Are Trump loyalists on the House and Senate intelligence and judiciary committees going to succeed at shutting down or neutering the various congressional investigations into Russian meddling?

Will we find out what the president is trying to hide in his tax returns?

Is this the year that Trump finally criticizes Vladimir Putin?

James Comey’s tell-all comes out May 1. What will the ousted FBI director say that he has not already told Congress? 

The midterms: How many more Democratic lawmakers call for Trump to be impeached and/or resign? Does this work to the GOP’s advantage politically?

Is Trump’s approval rating more likely to dip below 30 percent or rise above 50 percent?

With the generic ballot so bad for Republicans in every poll, how many more GOP lawmakers see the writing on the wall and announce their retirements in January?

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) can easily win reelection if he runs in Utah, but will he step aside for Mitt Romney? The 2012 GOP nominee would become a big thorn in Trump’s side, which is why the White House has been trying to induce the Senate Finance Committee chairman to stay put. There are conflicting reports about his plans.

Liberated by their decisions not to run for reelection, how many headaches will the departing conservative senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker cause for Trump?

Does Paul Ryan stick around as speaker of the House? If he steps down after the election, will Steve Scalise or Kevin McCarthy replace him? Or is it a moot point because Nancy Pelosi would get his gavel?

Does Mitch McConnell’s job as majority leader continue to be safe?

Will Steve Bannon and his acolytes topple any Senate GOP incumbents in primaries?

The president wants to hold lots of political rallies next year. How many Republican candidates will want to appear with him, even in red states, if he continues to be this unpopular? In a similar vein, how many Democratic candidates in competitive races will ask Hillary Clinton to come stump with them?

Trump has focused the lion’s share of his attention this year on places he carried in the last election, often governing like he’s the president of the Red States of America. How many blue states will Trump visit in 2018 where he doesn’t own a golf course? (That takes out New York, New Jersey, Virginia and California.)

How many of the 10 Senate Democrats up for reelection in states Trump carried go down?

Bigger picture, is the populist revolt over? Or will anti-elite anger just manifest itself in new ways? Does the suburban revolt continue? Can the progressive grass roots stay energized through November? How much Democratic infighting will there be?

Will the GOP hold Tim Murphy’s Pennsylvania House seat in the March 13 special election? The married congressman was one of the most outspoken opponents of abortion in Congress until he resigned when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that he had sent texts encouraging his mistress, a woman half his age, to terminate her pregnancy. Trump easily won the district last year, but both parties think this could become a dogfight.

How many Puerto Ricans who fled to Florida because of the federal government’s abysmal response to Hurricane Maria will vote for Democrats? It might tip the tight Senate or governor’s races there. The island also got punished by Republicans in the tax bill; will expats exact revenge for that?

Will the tax bill become more popular once it takes effect? (As I’ve written the past two days, there are good arguments on both sides.)

Does former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen run a strong campaign for the open Senate seat in Tennessee or will he be a rusty flameout in the tradition of has-beens like Evan Bayh, Bob Kerrey and Ted Strickland? His performance may determine which party controls the Senate.

Will Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) give Sen. Ted Cruz (R) a run for his money in Texas, or will his campaign continue to be a long shot?

What is the October surprise? Because there always is at least one. Remember Ebola in 2014 and Comey in 2016.

The Weinstein effect: Will the #MeToo moment fizzle? Growing numbers of women fear a backlash.

How many more lawmakers are felled by accusations of sexual misconduct or harassment? Are House leaders of both parties going to let Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) and Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) finish out their terms?

How many women run for office — and win — because of the cultural awakening we’ve experienced the last few months? Last month’s elections suggest it could be a lot.

Will additional women come forward to accuse Trump of sexual misconduct?

The courts: Will Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court’s most pivotal member, return for another term? If he retires, who does Trump pick to replace him? Would moderate Republican women like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski get behind a nominee who would almost certainly overturn Roe v. Wade?

Two cases on the high court’s docket could have massive reverberations. Forced to choose between religious freedom and anti-discrimination laws, will the conservative majority side with the baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple?

Accepting a case from Maryland after already hearing a challenge from Wisconsin, the Supremes have showed they’re serious about finally deciding if extreme partisan gerrymandering violates the Constitution. What political impact will their decisions have on the next round of reapportionment?

How many Trump decisions get struck down by the judicial branch? 2018 is the year we will learn what the president can — and cannot do — under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Trump is facing a slew of lawsuits for his decision to slash both the Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante national monuments down to a fraction of their original size. A president’s authority to create a national monument unilaterally is clear, but does he have the power to reduce one?

Does the Justice Department succeed in its efforts to stop AT&T from buying CNN

The reality show presidency: Does Trump tone down his tweeting for any sustained period of time?

When is Rexit? Who takes the reins at Foggy Bottom?

Omarosa getting axed last week highlighted the lack of racial diversity inside the White House. Will Trump hire an African American for a high-ranking slot in the West Wing?

Is there more staff turnover in year two than year one? Do Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump stay on as White House employees? Will Larry Kudlow replace Gary Cohn?

Is anyone going to emerge as a likely GOP primary challenger to Trump in 2020 — besides John Kasich? 

Domestic policy: Trump is scheduled to give the State of the Union on Jan. 30. What priorities will he lay out? Does Congress pass any more pieces of significant legislation before the elections? There’s some talk about trying to do a big infrastructure package, which might blow up the deficit almost as much as the tax bill. Would heretofore fiscal conservatives go along with such spending if it’s not revenue neutral?

How often does incoming Alabama Sen. Doug Jones (D) vote with Republicans?

Will there be a government shutdown when funding runs out on Jan. 19?

Immigration: Will Trump start deporting “dreamers” if a congressional compromise isn’t reached by the artificial March 5 deadline that he set last September? How much money does Trump get for his border wall, if any, as part of “the DACA fix”? Will Trump’s DHS really separate undocumented children from their parents?

Obamacare: Do Republicans take another whack at trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, as Trump has promised? How many more insurers withdraw from the marketplaces, driven by the chaos and uncertainty that now exists after the individual mandate was repealed? Will conservatives vote to subsidize insurance companies after the president ended the cost-sharing reduction payments? How much do premiums spike next year?

Race relations: Will Trump again pour salt on open wounds the way he did after Charlottesville? Or pick at scabs the way he did by going after African American NFL players who kneel during the national anthem?

Guns: Will society continue to grow inured to massacres like the ones in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Tex.? Five years after Sandy Hook, most people seem to move on more quickly than ever after mass-casualty events. Think about how little attention was paid to the shootings at a UPS facility in San Francisco, the airport in Fort Lauderdale, and that nightclub in Little Rock. If Congress didn’t act after its own members were attacked at baseball practice, what will it take? Are Republicans really going to pass concealed-carry reciprocity but do nothing about bump stocks? Will GOP leaders give floor time for bipartisan legislation that would make it harder for domestic abusers to get guns?

Climate change: After a year of fires and hurricanes, how much more extreme weather can we expect?

The stock market: Stocks once again broke record highs this week. The Dow is up 23 percent over the past year. Will it rise above 25,000? Or will there be a course correction?

The economy: How fast does the Federal Reserve raise interest rates under its new chairman? How many businesses hire more workers and raise wages because of the corporate tax cuts? When does the bitcoin bubble burst?

Foreign policy: Will the United States go to war with North Korea? Does Kim Jong Un test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific?

Don’t forget our troops in Afghanistan this holiday season. Will Trump’s mini-surge make a difference on the ground?

Does Trump pull out of NAFTA? If not, what concessions does he get to stay in? Does the United States withdraw from any other trade deals?

Whither the Iranian nuclear agreement?

Is Trump going to reverse himself again and label China a currency manipulator?

Will the president visit the U.K. after his recent Twitter spat with conservative Prime Minister Theresa May?

Finally, on a lighter note, who is the highest-ranking American official to attend Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle on May 19? It will be a fun spectacle to escape what could be another very sobering year.

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  1. Apple confirmed it intentionally slows down older iPhones, issuing a rare statement amid mounting complaints that it's trying to coerce customers into purchasing newer models. Get this: The tech giant claims to be doing this for the customer's protection. (The Guardian)
  2. Eric Schmidt is stepping down as executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. Schmidt joined Google in 2001 as chief executive, a role in which he served for a decade, and the company said little about the timing of his transition. (The Wall Street Journal)
  3. A federal judge dismissed a high-profile lawsuit alleging that Trump violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by holding onto his properties, which have continued to do business with foreign governments while he is president. The judge said the plaintiffs, including a government watchdog group, lacked legal standing and that it's ultimately up to Congress to prevent Trump from accepting emoluments. (David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell)
  4. A federal appeals court refused the Trump administration’s request to delay a requirement that the military begin enlisting transgender men and women. (Ann E. Marimow)
  5. The winner of the tied Virginia House of Delegates race will be determined by pulling a name, tucked inside a film canister, from a bowl or other receptacle. The selection will come on Wednesday at 10 a.m., and a CNN reporter said it could be “one of the most watched lot draws in American history.” (Jenna Portnoy)
  6. The first six Inauguration Day protesters to go to court were cleared on all charges of rioting and destruction of property. The decision from a D.C. Superior Court jury came after a nearly four-week trial and two full days of deliberations. (Keith L. Alexander and Ellie Silverman)
  7. The Thomas Fire in California has been effectively contained. Evacuation orders were lifted for 16,000 as firefighters pushed the blaze — which has already burned more than 272,000 acres — away from thousands of homes. (Scott Wilson)
  8. A voter fraud complaint stemming from the Alabama Senate race was found to be baseless. Alabama’s secretary of state determined a man who was interviewed saying people “from different parts of the country” helped elect Democrat Doug Jones was actually a legally registered Alabama voter. (David Weigel)
  9. Papa John’s founder is stepping down as CEO. The announcement from John Schnatter comes less than two months after he blamed slumping sales on the NFL’s national anthem protests. (Marwa Eltagouri)
  10. Washington Kastles owner Mark Ein, a D.C. businessman, is slated to buy the Washington City Paper for an undisclosed sum, ending weeks of speculation about where the financially troubled alt-weekly would land after being put up for sale by its previous owner. (Aaron Gregg)
  11. More than a century after an Australian naval submarine disappeared without a trace during WWI, the 800-ton boat has been recovered. The sub, whose disappearance is widely considered to be one of the greatest maritime mysteries of all time, was found 1,000 feet below the waves near Papua New Guinea. (Lindsey Bever
The House and Senate passed short-term spending measures on Dec. 21 to avert a partial government shutdown.. The House also advanced a disaster relief bill. (The Washington Post)


-- Congress passed a stopgap spending bill, avoiding a government shutdown but punting on several controversial issues. Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner report: “Among the issues still to be resolved is federal aid for victims of recent hurricanes and wildfires. The House on Thursday passed a separate $81 billion disaster relief bill, but the Senate did not immediately take it up amid Democratic objections. The stopgap extends federal funding through Jan. 19 and provides temporary extensions of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which has languished politically since it expired in October, a veterans health-care program and a warrantless surveillance program set to expire Jan. 1. … It passed the House 231 to 188 and cleared the Senate 66 to 32.”

This scene from Mike and Erica underscores the frustration felt by many lawmakers with the Band-Aid: “While many House Republicans burst into applause after passing the short-term spending measure, not everyone saw cause for celebration. ‘That we’re clapping for a three-week [spending measure] just basically shows we can’t do appropriations, we can’t take care of our constituents back home, we just have to punt for three more weeks so we can leave for Christmas,’ said Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.), a member of the Appropriations Committee . . . ‘For some reason, that justifies applause. I don’t get it. I don’t get this place.’”

-- Meanwhile, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus unloaded on Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) after a deal for “dreamers” was jettisoned from the package. Ed O'Keefe reports: “[T]he meeting with Schumer began with cordial remarks by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), who chairs the Hispanic Caucus. But Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) — arguably the most outspoken Democrat on immigration matters — spoke next and unloaded on Schumer, accusing him and Democratic senators of not caring about the fate of dreamers and ‘throwing them under the bus’ in the ongoing spending debate with Republicans, participants said. In response, Schumer raised his voice, telling Gutiérrez not to insult fellow Democrats. Gutiérrez shot back, telling Schumer, ‘Don’t raise your voice.’” Mitch McConnell signaled he would allow a vote on the “dreamers” in January if a bipartisan group can present him with a compromise bill.  

-- Republican leadership is divided over what issue to tackle in the new year. John Wagner, Ed O'Keefe and Paul Kane report: “[Paul Ryan] and other conservatives have been trying to build momentum for reining in spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other safety-net programs, long-standing goals that catapulted Ryan to prominence in the GOP. But [Mitch McConnell] threw cold water on those ambitions Thursday, saying he would rather focus on an issue with potential for bipartisan appeal: an infrastructure initiative that spurs new spending on the nation’s ailing roads, bridges, airports and waterways. … Aides to President Trump say the White House has yet to finalize an agenda for the new year but is interested in pushing both an infrastructure plan — which could be rolled out as early as mid-January — as well as more targeted revisions to welfare programs, such as cash assistance and food stamps, than Ryan has floated.”


-- The same afternoon as the tax overhaul victory, a heated debate over political strategy for the 2018 midterms played out before the president at the White House among Trump's closest aides — and some who were dumped from his 2016 campaign. The group included ex-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who tried to convince the president that “he wasn’t being served well.” Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa report: “The late-afternoon meeting — attended by White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, counselor Kellyanne Conway, political director Bill Stepien, marketing and data specialist Brad Parscale, communications director Hope Hicks and [Lewandowski], among others — quickly became a griping session for Lewandowski and others about the way the White House manages the GOP and handles its planning for what is sure to be a hotly contested campaign season[.] … Lewandowski told the president that the RNC was not raising nearly enough money — even though the party has raised record sums — and not doing enough to support his agenda. …

Trump did not react angrily to what Lewandowski said and instead listened and watched for the reaction of others, revealing little about where exactly he lands in these debates among Trump associates[.] … [S]ome White House aides bristled at the outside adviser’s attempt to steer the political strategy. Later, outside the Oval Office, Stepien and Lewandowski had a ‘very intense’ conversation about the broader political operation and what some aides see as Lewandowski’s meddling in it from the outside[.] … Trump’s reaction to the meeting could play out in the coming days and weeks while he is away at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, advisers said. But with 2018 and its stakes frequently on his mind, changes of personnel or strategy are possible, the people said.”

-- Trump allies have reportedly warned the president directly of a possible blue wave in next year’s midterms. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “A few weeks before Alabama's special Senate election, [Trump’s] handpicked Republican National Committee leader, Ronna Romney McDaniel, delivered a two-page memo to [Kelly] outlining the party’s collapse with female voters. The warning … reflected deepening anxiety that a full-throated Trump endorsement of accused child molester Roy Moore in the special election — which the president was edging closer to at the time — would further damage the party’s standing with women. McDaniel’s memo, which detailed the president's poor approval numbers among women nationally and in several states, would go unheeded[.]”

-- The West Wing is already bracing for some turnover as Trump’s presidency hits the one-year mark. Politico’s Andrew Restuccia and Annie Karni report: “In recent weeks, … Trump has been particularly high on Larry Kudlow, an outside economic adviser to the president and a former adviser to President Ronald Reagan. … Kudlow has been discussed internally as a potential successor to National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who has announced no immediate plans to leave but has told friends he will be weighing his options over the holidays. … But the White House isn’t facing a wholesale rebirth. Several senior administration officials are planning to stay for now, including Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner, communications director Hope Hicks and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, lending some stability to a constantly lurching ship.”

-- Two more departures:

  • Deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn will leave the White House early next year. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Jeremy Katz, who served as Gary Cohn’s deputy at the National Economic Council, will leave the administration next month. (Damian Paletta)

-- Meanwhile, Vanity Fair published a dishy profile of Stephen Bannon in which the former chief White House strategist discusses his own political ambitions, Javanka and his love-hate relationship with Trump. Gabriel Sherman writes: “In October, Bannon called an adviser and said he would consider running for president if Trump doesn’t run for re-election in 2020. Which Bannon has told people is a realistic possibility. … While Bannon praised Trump during our conversations—he said he’s the best orator since William Jennings Bryan—he doesn’t deny he was unhappy in the White House. ‘It was always a job,’ he said. ‘I realize in hindsight I was just a staffer, and I’m not a good staffer. I had influence, I had a lot of influence, but just influence.’ He told me he now feels liberated. ‘I have power. I can actually drive things in a certain direction.’”

Some other key quotes:

  • On Jared Kushner’s influence in the White House: “He doesn’t know anything about the hobbits or the deplorables,” Bannon said, using two terms for Trump voters. “The railhead of all bad decisions is the same railhead: Javanka.”
  • On Trump’s decision to fire Jim Comey: “It’s the dumbest political decision in modern political history, bar none. A self-inflicted wound of massive proportions.”
  • Bannon recalled an Oval Office meeting in which he accused Ivanka Trump of being “the queen of leaks.” The president’s daughter allegedly fired back, “You’re a f---ing liar!”
  • On Ivanka’s comment about Roy Moore that, “there’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children:” “What about the allegations about her dad and that 13-year-old?” Bannon asked, referring to an allegation from a California woman that Trump raped her as a teen. “Ivanka was a fount of bad advice during the campaign.”
On Dec. 21, the United Nations voted 128-9 in favor of rejecting President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (Reuters)


-- The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to condemn Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which foreign leaders warned would undercut peace prospects in the region. The 128-9 vote was a stunning rebuke to the United States and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley vowed there would be consequences. Carol Morello and Ruth Eglash report: “The vote in a rare emergency session was a public reproach of an administration that stands alone in the world in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital … The vote also underscored the apparent futility of the U.S. campaign to sway votes by threatening to cut funding, which some countries viewed as an effort to intimidate them into submission. [On Thursday], the list of co-sponsors grew at the last minute to include Egypt and Jordan, the only two countries besides Israel that receive more than $1 billion in U.S. aid annually.” Meanwhile, even countries that abstained from the vote attempted to distance themselves from Trump’s controversial decision.

Sounding very Trumpian, Haley said that “[t]he [U.S.] will remember this day in which it was singled out in this assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation,” she said, characterizing the United States as “disrespected” and saying the embassy will be moved to Jerusalem regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. “No vote in the United Nations is going to make any difference on that,” she said. “But this vote will make a difference in how Americans look at the U.N. and how we look at countries that disrespect us at the U.N. And this vote will be remembered.”

-- Mike Pence traveled to Kabul for a surprise visit, delivering remarks to U.S. troops and meeting with top Afghan officials to discuss Trump’s strategy in the 16-year conflict. “I hope my presence here is tangible evidence” of the Trump administration’s commitment to Afghanistan, Pence said in a meeting with President Ashraf Ghani and his staff. (Jenna Johnson)

-- Pentagon chief Jim Mattis traveled to the Army Navy base at Guantanamo Bay to offer holiday greetings and words of encouragement to American troops stationed there. Mattis is the first Pentagon chief since 2002 to visit the site of the U.S. military prison. (AP)

-- Adam Taylor and Tim Meko explain how, in 2017, North Korea’s weapons program went from a joke to a nightmare: “This change wasn't due to a sudden surge in North Korean tests or a change in leader Kim Jong Un's stance. In fact, data collected by researchers show that the number of tests in 2017 is similar to the number last year, while the bellicose threats made against the United States and others are consistent. Building on decades of tests, North Korea has made remarkable technological gains in the past year, despite diplomatic and economic isolation.


-- Despite the elimination of the individual mandate in the tax overhaul, enrollment in Obamacare for 2018 drew a record surge of first-time customers, with more than 8.8 million Americans signing up for health plans ahead of the Dec. 15 deadline. The overall tally defied widespread expectations that Obamacare enrollment would slump amid Trump’s efforts to undermine the law. (Amy Goldstein)

-- The giant corporate tax cut is already paying off politically for the administration — several big companies touted its benefits within hours of the tax plan's passage. Philip Rucker reports: “Moments before [Trump] claimed his first legislative victory, he was notified that AT&T would be investing an additional $1 billion in U.S. networks and offering its employees a one-time bonus — thanks, the company said, to the Republican tax bill. Then, as if on cue, the president crowed about it at a celebratory photo opportunity Wednesday afternoon on the South Lawn of the White House.” Other companies who crowed about their actions post-passage: Comcast offered its employees $1,000 bonuses; Boeing touted $300 million in new investments; Fifth Third Bancorp and Wells Fargo vowed to raise their employees minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Trump commented on the companies’ announcements in a tweet this morning:

-- The Trump administration is waging a broad “linguistic battle” across the executive branch, seeking to shift the way the government talks about climate change, science and vulnerable communities. But the effort has sparked resistance from bureaucrats and other outside experts, Juliet Eilperin and Lena Sun report: “Climate change, for example, has for months presented a linguistic minefield; multiple references to it have been purged repeatedly at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department. And in late summer, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention issued a ‘language guidance’ document to employees and contractors bearing a column of words and phrases to be avoided, alongside a column of acceptable alternatives. The one-page 'language guidance' document recommends using 'all youth' instead of 'underserved youth,' referring to crime as a 'public issue/public concern' rather than a 'public health issue/public health concern' and describing young people who commit crimes as 'offenders' rather than 'system-involved or justice-involved youths,' according to a copy of the document …”

-- The administration is weighing new measures targeting families trying to cross the border — including a proposal to separate parents from their children. Nick Miroff reports: “These measures … would also crack down on migrants living in the United States illegally who send for their children. That aspect of the effort would use data collected by the [Health and Human Services Department] to target parents for deportation after they attempt to regain custody of their children from government shelters . . . The most contentious proposal — to separate families in detention — would keep adults in federal custody while sending their children to HHS shelters. … Tyler Houlton, a DHS spokesman, confirmed the agency has ‘reviewed procedural, policy, regulatory and legislative changes’ to deter migrants. Without giving further details, he said some of the measures ‘have been approved,’ and DHS is working with other federal agencies ‘to implement them in the near future.’”

-- Meanwhile, the State Department is preparing to “sharply” slash the number of refugee resettlement agencies in the United StatesReuters's Yeganeh Torbati and Mica Rosenberg report: “Advocates said the decision is likely to lead to the closure of dozens of resettlement offices around the country, potentially leaving some refugees without access to services that help them integrate into American life. Aid workers and state officials involved in refugee resettlement said the agencies were informed by the State Department [in a Dec. 1] meeting that offices expected to handle fewer than 100 refugees in fiscal year 2018 will no longer be authorized to resettle new arrivals, which means many of them will have to close. There are about 300 resettlement offices spread across 49 states, and advocates estimate several dozen are at risk, though shuttering plans will not be finalized until next year.”

-- Newly unsealed court documents revealed that E. Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, opposed an abortion for an immigrant teen in U.S. custody because his office could not “participate in violence against an innocent life.” Ann E. Marimow reports: “Attorneys for the teenager challenging the administration’s policy as an unconstitutional ban on abortion say Lloyd is inappropriately using his government office to impose an antiabortion ideology on pregnant teens who cross the border illegally. … The memo provides more details about the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy of the 17-year-old known only in court papers as Jane Poe. She told officials that she had been raped before crossing the border, and she threatened to hurt herself if she could not end the pregnancy.”

-- Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era Justice Department letter advising local courts against issuing fines and fees to poor defendants. Matt Zapotosky reports: “It’s the latest move in Sessions’s effort to dramatically reshape the Justice Department by undoing many of the reforms imposed by his predecessors and giving the institution a harder edge.”

-- The EPA was sued by current and former advisory board members for its decision to keep scientists who receive agency grants from serving as outside advisers. Sarah Kaplan and Brady Dennis report: “Calling the new policy ‘unlawful, arbitrary and capricious,’ the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia argues Pruitt did not have authority to change the agency's ethics rules. … Their complaint argues that Pruitt's new ethics policy is an unprecedented break from the past, when grant recipients were allowed to sit on advisory committees and potential conflicts of interest were handled on a case-by-case basis.”


-- FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was grilled this week by congressional investigators over the department’s Russia investigation, handling of the Clinton email probe and interactions with Jim Comey. The deputy director told members of the House Intelligence Committee that Comey informed him of conversations he had with Trump “shortly after they happened.” CNN’s Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report. “The testimony suggests McCabe could corroborate Comey's account, including Trump's ask that Comey show him loyalty, which the President has strongly disputed. Comey previously testified that he briefed some of his senior colleagues at the FBI about this conversation with Trump . . . Intelligence Committee Republicans also grilled McCabe about how the FBI used the [infamous Trump dossier]. Some Republicans were dissatisfied with the responses … The mood, according to Illinois Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, was ‘tense.’”

-- The FBI’s top lawyer, James Baker, has been reassigned. The move represents one of the first attempts by FBI Director Christopher Wray to shake up the bureau’s senior staff amid calls from conservatives to clean house. Baker was very close to Comey and has told associates he expected to be reassigned after Wray took over. (Devlin Barrett, Ellen Nakashima and Carol Leonnig)

-- The hacking group known as Fancy Bear targeted at least 200 journalists, publishers and bloggers in its cyberattacks. The AP’s Raphael Satter, Jeff Donn and Nataliya Vasilyeva report: “The AP identified journalists as the third-largest group on a hacking hit list obtained from cybersecurity firm Secureworks, after diplomatic personnel and U.S. Democrats. … The list of journalists provides new evidence for the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Fancy Bear acted on behalf of the Russian government when it intervened in the U.S. presidential election.”

-- A new CNN poll found that a plurality of Americans approve of Robert Mueller’s handling of the Russia investigation, and believe Trump’s public remarks on Mueller's investigation are not truthful.

  • Nearly half of voters, or 47 percent, said they approve of the special counsel’s probe, while just 34 percent said they disapprove.
  • That disapproval has held steady — with 56 percent of Americans saying they think Trump's public statements regarding the probe have been mostly or completely false. 

-- “The presidency survived the Watergate, Iran-contra and Clinton scandals. Trump will exact a higher toll,” by Carlos Lozada: “No matter how distinct presidential scandals appear in their origins, however, there is also a weary sameness to how presidents react to them, how Washington mobilizes for them, how history looms over them. Each crisis feels unprecedented at the time, yet some of the most detailed journalistic accounts of presidential disgrace in recent decades — ‘The Final Days,’ Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s narrative of Nixon’s end; ‘A Very Thin Line,’ Theodore Draper’s comprehensive look at Iran-contra; and ‘The Breach,’ Peter Baker’s dissection of Clinton’s impeachment trial — reveal how uniformly White House crises can unfold, explicitly drawing from one another, reliving dramas and pivots, and affecting how future scandals are judged. …

“What distinguishes the Trump scandal is how its central character appears to combine the worst qualities of his troubled predecessors. How, rather than evolving into scandal, this presidency was born into it. And above all, how perceptions of the president’s integrity and honor — which proved critical in the outcomes of past political and constitutional crises — are barely an issue for a man without moral high ground left to lose.”

-- Carter Page reportedly accused the respected academics who twice failed him when he was attempting to complete his PhD of “anti-Russian bias.” The professors described Page’s original thesis as characterized by “considerable repetition, verbosity and vagueness of expression.” Page compared the experience of failing twice to the suffering of Mikhail Khodorkovsy, a Russian oligarch who was sent to a Siberian prison by Vladimir Putin. (The Guardian)

House Judiciary Committee ranking member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said President Trump is trying to "discredit the free press and the Department of Justice." (House Judiciary Committee)

-- When Democrats selected constitutional law expert Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to be vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee this week, they demonstrated the party is readying for a possible impeachment battle with Trump should it recapture the majority in 2018. Paul Kane reports: “Leaders have cautioned the rank and file not to push for impeachment, because the public might view it as an overreach. The House’s few remaining moderate Democrats from swing districts have regularly warned the party’s liberal flank against making the 2018 midterm elections about Trump or the [Russia] investigations ... 

Yet Nadler anchored his candidacy for his new position [on] the 13 years he has spent as chairman or ranking Democrat on the panel’s Constitution subcommittee and, more recently, its courts subcommittee. He also politely reminded Democrats in recent days of his efforts … to impede Trump’s efforts to develop portions of New York’s Upper West Side, which Nadler has represented … for more than 40 years.” “There is nobody better prepared, if the president messes around with the Constitution, to handle it than Jerry Nadler,” Chuck Schumer said following the vote. 


-- The House Ethics Committee’s investigation of Rep. Blake Farenthold has expanded to determine whether the Texas Republican lied while testifying to the panel or used House resources to aid his congressional campaigns. (Elise Viebeck)

-- Newly released data shows that a controversial Treasury fund was used only once in the past 20 years to settle a sex discrimination or harassment case in a Senate office. Elise Viebeck and Michelle Ye Hee Lee report: “Claims of age discrimination drove the largest number of settlements involving senators’ offices from 1997 until this year, playing a role in eight of 13 agreements, the data showed. … Settlements involving claims of age discrimination cost $286,786; one agreement alone cost $102,903. The single settlement addressing allegations of sex discrimination or harassment cost $14,260.”

-- Don Hazen, the executive editor of AlterNet, was placed on “indefinite leave” after six women, five of them former employees, accused Hazen of sexual misconduct. BuzzFeed News’s Cora Lewis reports: “[F]ive women journalists have told BuzzFeed News that Hazen sexually harassed them while they worked for AlterNet[:] touching them inappropriately, discussing their sex lives, making unwanted advances, sending explicit emails, and showing them explicit photographs[.] … Hazen, in an interview, told BuzzFeed News, ‘In the atmosphere of lots of discussion about editorial topics like sex and drugs, I lost track of some boundaries I needed to keep.’ … ‘I deny most of the allegations as have been presented to me by BuzzFeed, and I believe that others have been mischaracterized.’”

-- The New York Times’s investigation documenting decades of sexual harassment at two Ford Motor plants in Chicago prompted an apology from the company’s leadership. Jim Hackett, Ford’s president and chief executive, wrote in an open letter, “I am sorry for any instance where a colleague was subjected to harassment or discriminatory conduct. On behalf of myself and the employees of Ford Motor Company, who condemn such behavior and regret any harassment as much as I do, I apologize. More importantly, I promise that we will learn from this and we will do better.” Hackett also plans to travel to Chicago in the new year to talk with employees there. (New York Times)

-- Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) bade farewell to Capitol Hill in a lengthy floor speech, denouncing both Trump and the GOP as he called for “honesty in public discourse.” Elise Viebeck reports: “[Franken] lamented what he described as the degradation of truth in the national political debate and the hyper-partisan environment this has produced. ‘As I leave the Senate, I have to admit that it feels like we’re losing the war for truth,’ Franken said[.] … ‘Maybe it’s already lost. If that’s what happens, then we have lost the ability to have the kinds of arguments that help build consensus.’”


A former Obama adviser slammed the passage of the tax plan:

Another Obama adviser responded:

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) then replied to Rhodes:

As did a top aide to McConnell:

The former CIA director spoke out against the Trump administration's admonishment of U.N. members who rebuked the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital:

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) pledged to keep the fight going on DACA:

Two House Republicans called for an investigation into the Obama administration's handling of Hezbollah:

Two House Democrats expressed their support for Mueller:

Meanwhile, from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.):

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called for an end to “hyperbolic vitriol” in Congress:

From the CNN host:

A former spokesperson for Obama's Justice Department made this point about Stephen Bannon's Vanity Fair interview:

And Washington City Paper celebrated its new ownership:


-- Palm Beach Post, “Trump’s Mar-a-Lago tax deal veiled from IRS review,” by Christine Stapleton and Lawrence Mower: “Donald Trump’s deal with the town of Palm Beach to turn Mar-a-Lago into a private club hinged on an act of charity crafted to skirt IRS scrutiny and deliver for Trump a seven-figure tax break, a Palm Beach Post investigation has found. To make sure Trump could get the $5.7 million deduction, America’s future president and his lawyers intentionally left out those details from the written agreement with town officials. The deal, which took shape in public meetings over several months in 1993, provides the best look at Trump’s largest form of charity: an obscure and controversial land-use deduction known as a preservation easement.”

-- Politico Magazine, “Trump, Putin and the New Cold War,” by Susan B. Glasser: “Year-end magazine cover stories feature [Vladimir] Putin’s scowling face and lengthy expositions trying to figure out what the tough guy in the Kremlin wants – not to mention his puzzling relationship with the American president. ‘Putin is preparing for World War III—Is Trump?’ warned a December Newsweek dispatch from a veteran correspondent in Moscow. At least on paper, the answer is yes. In fact, the official U.S. National Security Strategy, released this week by Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, contains exactly the kind of hawkish warnings about Russia that many Western allies like [Angela] Merkel feared they would never hear from a Trump administration. … The war—at least of words—seemed to be back on. But Trump himself still does not seem to be fighting it.”

-- The New York Times, “Town Fears G.O.P. Tax Plan Will Erode Its Egalitarian Pillars,” by Tara Siegel Bernard: “Columbia’s founding father created the [Maryland] town in 1967 with hopes that all types of workers could afford to live there, ‘from the company janitor to the company president.’ It is through this lens that residents here are viewing the tax plan that Congress finalized this week. … ‘I am not worried that we won’t be able to pay our mortgage or anything like that,’ said [Maureen] Harris, who serves as the executive director of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia. ‘But to me, it’s just immoral. We are on this trajectory of every person for themselves. And the bill leaves a whole heck of a lot of people behind.’”

-- The Wall Street Journal, “‘It’s Not the Same’: Christmas for Families Who Lost Their Homes to Disasters:” “Families in Texas and California, Florida’s Keys and Puerto Rico lost their homes to disasters this year and find themselves making do this holiday season in makeshift substitutes. … Here is a look at how four families struck by disaster are approaching the holidays.”


“Trump Finally Gets His Wall . . . At An Irish Golf Course,” from HuffPost: “The Trump Organization won approval on Thursday to build a wall it has sought for more than a year ― not along the U.S.-Mexico border, but on a golf course in the west of Ireland. The Trump International Golf Links and Hotel Doonbeg … was given the go ahead to construct two sea walls along the border of the property to protect the land from coastal erosion. The 2,000-foot and 850-foot barriers are dramatically scaled down from original plans to build a 1.7-mile structure, which was rejected by local county officials a year ago. Environmentalists and other opponents of the walls have warned they could damage protected wildlife areas. County officials will accept appeals to the project over the next four weeks, and local media report several environmental groups, including Friends of the Irish Environment, plan to oppose the walls.”



“Year One List: 81 major Trump achievements, 11 Obama legacy items repealed,” from the Washington Examiner: “With the passage of the GOP tax bill this week, the Trump administration has scored 81 major achievements in its first year, making good on campaign promises to provide significant tax cuts, boost U.S. energy production, and restore respect to the United States, according to the White House. And along the way, President Trump even outdid his own expectations and slashed at least 11 major legacy items of former President Barack Obama, including cracking down on the open border, slowing recognition of communist Cuba and effectively killing Obamacare by ending the mandate that everyone have health insurance or face a tax. According to the White House, the 81 accomplishments are in 12 major categories and include well over 100 other minor achievements.”



Trump leaves for Mar-a-Lago today. 


Mitch McConnell acknowledged the Republican battle to repeal Obamacare temporarily ended with the election of Doug Jones: “We’ll have to take a look at what that looks like with a 51-to-49 Senate. But I think we’ll probably move on to other issues.” (David Weigel)



-- It will be sunny in D.C., with the temperature possibly reaching 60 degrees. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Sunshine should dominate through much of the day. Even with any clouds later, we likely remain dry (sprinkles are more possible nearer sunset, at most). High temperatures get a boost from southerly breezes near 10 mph, to reach for the mid-50s to near 60. If clouds move in during the morning, we will shave off a few degrees.”

-- Residents of D.C. and Fairfax County will be able to prepay their property taxes, but Montgomery County residents can’t do the same. Rachel Siegel reports: “As the tax overhaul inched closer to passage Tuesday, council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) urged the county to help residents prepay their 2018 property taxes by the end of this year, an option that could allow them to deduct those taxes in full, before a new cap takes effect. But in less than 48 hours, that plan caved in under the weight of a rushed timeline and administrative hassles, as well as the still-murky question of whether prepayment as a way of avoiding the cap is possible at all.”

-- The other recounts in Virginia’s House of Delegates races concluded, with Republicans maintaining a 50-49 edge over Democrats in the legislature. Control of the chamber will officially come down to the drawing on Wednesday between David Yancey and Shelly Simonds in the 94th District. (Fenit Nirappil)

-- Two American citizens pleaded guilty to taking part in the May attack on protesters outside the Turkish embassy. (Clarence Williams)


The vice president addressed troops in Afghanistan:

Vice President Pence spoke to American service members at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, on Dec. 21. (The Washington Post)

Firefighters in Phoenix responded to a deadly house explosion:

One person was killed and another critically injured after a gas explosion destroyed one home and damaged another in Phoenix on Dec. 21. (Phoenix Fire Department/Twitter)

A biology professor from Johns Hopkins explained how Rudolph might have developed a red nose:

A Johns Hopkins University biology professor explains how it is plausible that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer got his most famous feature. (Johns Hopkins University)

And a Thai dog who had his legs cut off for chewing a pair of shoes received two prosthetic limbs:

Cola, a Thai dog which had its legs hacked off for chewing a pair of shoes is running free again after being fitted with the type of blades used by Paralympic runners. (Reuters)