With Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) announced Wednesday that he won’t support any of President Trump’s 32 pending judicial nominees during the lame-duck session unless he gets a vote on his legislation that would allow special counsel Bob Mueller to appeal to a three-judge panel if he gets fired. Flake, retiring next month, made the threat after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a bipartisan effort to bring the bill up for consideration on the floor.

Republicans have 51 seats right now, which means they could still confirm these judges to lifetime appointments if Flake defects because Vice President Pence can cast the tie-breaking vote. Flake’s move now puts the spotlight on GOP senators who have said Mueller should be allowed to do his work without interference, such as Maine’s Susan Collins — who said last week that there should be a vote on the bill after Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with an outspoken critic of the probe.

“The president now has this investigation in his sights, and we all know it,” Flake said in a speech on the Senate floor. “Why?! Why do we do this?! To protect a man seemingly who is so incurious about what Russia did during the 2016 elections? Why do we do that? Do we have no more institutional pride here?!

-- Trump, who met with his lawyers Monday to go over written answers to Mueller’s questions, suggested in a tweetstorm this morning that the probe is in his sights:

-- McConnell is up for reelection this cycle in Kentucky, where Trump is more popular than him, which could make him even more reluctant to poke the president during the next Congress than he has been over the past two years. He has argued to his colleagues that the GOP-controlled House won’t pass the bill during the lame duck, and Trump would certainly veto it even if they did. And he continues to insist publicly that Trump would never fire Mueller so the whole issue is moot.

-- Some lawmakers hope they might be able to include language protecting the special counsel in an end-of-year spending bill that must pass. They argue that Trump would be hard pressed to veto such a package. But they probably underestimate how determined Trump is to avoid giving Mueller such a safeguard.

-- Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said yesterday that McConnell has “made a commitment” that he will not let the Senate leave for the year without clearing the deck of all pending judicial nominees, even if that means forcing the Senate to stay in session on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Cotton even told radio host Hugh Hewitt that he thinks the GOP can push through Neomi Rao, who Trump just nominated on Tuesday to replace Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit, before the end of the year. It’s the second most important court in the country because of the nature of the cases that wind up there. As a top official at OMB, Rao is a leading architect of Trump’s effort to consolidate power at the White House, deconstruct the administrative state and reduce the independence of rulemaking agencies to make them more beholden to the president.

“Regardless, when we come back in January, we’re going to have two more senators,” said Cotton. “We’re not going to be 51-49. We’re going to be at 53-47, and we’ll start once again confirming judges as soon as the president sends them up.” 

-- Meanwhile, several prominent attorneys on the right unveiled a new group yesterday called “Checks and Balances” to reaffirm the conservative movements’ support for the rule of law — which they believe is both under assault by the Trump administration and being ignored by many of their fellow travelers who they believe have prioritized power over principle.

The lead organizer of this new coalition is George Conway, the husband of White House counselor and former Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. He’s spoken out repeatedly against what he sees as a stream of unconstitutional moves by his wife’s boss. “We believe in the rule of law, the power of truth, the independence of the criminal justice system, the imperative of individual rights and the necessity of civil discourse,” says the group’s mission statement. “We believe these principles apply regardless of the party or persons in power. We believe in ‘a government of laws, not of men.’”

Several charter members went on the record Wednesday to express alarm about Trump’s ongoing efforts to consolidate power. “There is a deep-seated concern and uneasiness in conservative legal circles with the president’s attacks on our institutions, including the press and the Department of Justice, and a belief that conservative lawyers are not speaking up enough,” John Bellinger, a top legal adviser for the State Department and National Security Council under President George W. Bush, told Deanna Paul.

Other members who signed on include former DHS secretary Tom Ridge, professors Orinn Kerr and Jonathan Adler; former acting attorney general Peter Keisler; and Paul Rosenzweig, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute who worked for Bush 43.

-- The rollout of the new group was intentionally timed to coincide with the eve of the Federalist Society’s convention here in Washington. It’s the hottest event of the year on the conservative legal calendar. Most of the charter members of Checks and Balances are also members in good standing of FedSoc, as it’s known by everyone who goes. Lori Meyer, one of the signatories, is even married to Federalist Society President Eugene Meyer. They all remain committed to the conservative cause, and they say they want to stimulate a discussion among conservatives during the next few days.

The Federalist Society has long wielded immense influence in GOP politics, but it’s at the apex of its power in the Trump era because the neophyte president has given the group’s leaders an outsized role in the judicial selection process. The membership list isn’t public, but it seems reasonable to guess that most, if not all, of the people on Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees are part of the group.

-- The agenda for the conference underscores the coziness between the Trump administration and the Federalist Society. Indeed, most of the people on Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court picks, who he might still nominate if he gets to choose a third justice, have prominent speaking roles. Among them:

  • Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is giving the welcome address this morning.
  • Britt Grant, who Trump installed on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, will then moderate the first panel of the day: “What is regulation for?”
  • The second panel (“Independent Agencies: How Independent is Too Independent?”) is moderated by Diane Sykes of the 7th Circuit, who was on Trump’s list.
  • The third panel is moderated by Amy Coney Barrett, also on the 7th Circuit, who was the runner-up to Kavanaugh to replace Anthony Kennedy this summer.
  • After lunch, Tim Tymkovich of the 10th Circuit will moderate a panel on labor law (“The Unintended and Unpredictable Employment Relationship”).
  • Tomorrow, Joan Larsen of the 6th Circuit moderates a discussion on financial services called “Revisiting the Community Reinvestment Act.”
  • HHS Secretary Alex Azar, who has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Sessions, speaks at lunch.
  • Don Willett of the 5th Circuit moderates a Saturday morning panel on “Technology, Social Media and Professional Ethics.”
  • Then Beth Williams, who runs the powerful Office of Legal Policy at the Justice Department, will moderate a lunchtime debate on whether district courts have the authority to enter universal injunctions.
  • The conference will conclude Saturday afternoon with a panel discussion on John Marshall that will be moderated by William Pryor of the 11th Circuit. Pryor was another of the finalists last year for the slot that Neil Gorusch got and then this year for the opening that went to Kavanaugh.

-- This is an ironic finale because Marshall, as chief justice, penned the 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison that established the principle of judicial review. It’s a cornerstone of the American system. But Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general Trump elevated to replace Sessions last week, called Marbury one of the worst decisions in Supreme Court history in 2014. As Ruth Marcus wrote last week, “This is lunacy. For any lawyer — certainly for one now at the helm of the Justice Department — to disagree with Marbury is like a physicist denouncing the laws of gravity.”

THE PRESIDENT'S MAIN MAN AT JUSTICE:

-- Matt Whitaker’s scattershot resume makes him the Trump administration’s latest unusual appointment to a key post. Shawn Boburg and Robert O'Harrow Jr. report: “Over the past two decades, Whitaker ... has owned a day-care center, a concrete supply business and a trailer manufacturer, state records show. He led a taxpayer-subsidized effort to build affordable housing in Des Moines, but he walked away from the stalled project two years ago after the city threatened him with a lawsuit. In 2004, when he started a five-year stint as U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Iowa, Whitaker cited a personal-injury case and a dispute involving a dry-cleaning business as some of his most consequential legal work. When he left office, he started a modest legal practice and a short-lived lobbying and consulting firm. Whitaker, 49, stands in vivid contrast to his predecessors, whose résumés typically boast judgeships, partnerships at prestigious firms and senior roles in the Justice Department.”

-- Whitaker received early fraud complaints against an invention-marketing company he advised, but continued to defend the company and remained on its board. Tom Hamburger, Carol D. Leonnig and Rosalind S. Helderman report: “Since [his appointment], Whitaker has said through a Justice Department spokeswoman that he was unaware of allegedly fraudulent activities at Miami-based World Patent Marketing. … As a member of the company’s advisory board, Whitaker had been told of complaints about the company’s practices, according to two people familiar with the FTC investigation. He did not appear to take any action in response, they said. In addition, shortly after joining the board in late 2014, Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney in Iowa, personally intervened when a for-profit consumer complaint website posted comments critical of the company.”

-- Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics and a big Trump critic, called the firing of Jeff Sessions and Whitaker’s appointment to replace him parts of a “piecemeal Saturday Night Massacre.” From an op-ed for Slate: “[Trump] first fired FBI Director James Comey last year for his handling of the Russia probe, then he fired the attorney general for failing to protect him from the Russia probe. His intent to undermine an investigation of his campaign has been clear throughout—he barely tried to hide it—but the difference this time is that he has acted with impunity. What comes next could be anything.”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Roger Stone provided text conversations with his then-friend, radio host Randy Credico, showing the pair discussed WikiLeaks days before the website started releasing emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. NBC News’s Anna Schecter reports: “‘Big news Wednesday,’ [Credico] wrote on Oct. 1, 2016, according to the text messages provided by Stone. ‘Now pretend u don’t know me.’ ‘U died 5 years ago,’ Stone replied. ‘Great,’ Credico wrote back. ‘Hillary’s campaign will die this week.’ Credico turned out to be wrong on one count — nothing incriminating about Clinton came out that Wednesday. But two days later, on Oct. 7, WikiLeaks released its first dump of emails stolen from Podesta, altering the trajectory of the 2016 presidential election. …

[The texts] show that Credico appeared to be providing regular updates to Stone on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s plans in the days before the hacked emails were released. In the texts, Credico told Stone he had insights into Assange's plans through a longtime friend, who was also Assange’s lawyer, according to the text messages. … Stone said the messages support the story he's been telling all along. ‘These text messages prove beyond dispute that Randy Credico was the source who told me of the significance of the material that Julian Assange told CNN he had and would publish in June 2016 and that Credico’s source was indeed a woman attorney who worked for WikiLeaks,’ Stone said. ‘If Randy said anything different to the grand jury, he perjured himself under oath.’” Credico insisted the texts do not prove he had any advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’s plans.

-- Mueller is investigating whether Stone engaged in witness intimidation against Credico. The Wall Street Journal’s Shelby Holliday and Aruna Viswanatha report: “In grand jury sessions and interviews, prosecutors have repeatedly asked about emails, text messages and online posts involving Mr. Stone and [Credico] … Filmmaker David Lugo, who knows both men, said in an interview he has testified before [Mueller’s] grand jury about a blog post Mr. Stone helped him draft that was harshly critical of Mr. Credico. Another witness, businessman Bill Samuels, said he was questioned by Mr. Mueller’s team about Mr. Credico’s reaction to allegedly threatening messages sent by Mr. Stone.”

--  Continuing fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal --> “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis,” by the New York Times’s Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Confessore, Cecilia Kang, Matthew Rosenberg and Jack Nicas: “When Facebook users learned last spring that the company had compromised their privacy in its rush to expand, allowing access to the personal information of tens of millions of people to a political data firm linked to President Trump, Facebook sought to deflect blame and mask the extent of the problem. And when that failed — as the company’s stock price plummeted and it faced a consumer backlash — Facebook went on the attack. While [CEO Mark] Zuckerberg has conducted a public apology tour in the last year, [COO Sheryl] Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation. Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Saudi Arabia said it had indicted 11 people in the killing of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi and would seek the death penalty against five of them for allegedly defying orders to bring him home alive. Kareem Fahim and Zakaria Zakaria report: “Saudi Arabia’s crown prince had no knowledge of the operation, Shaalan al-Shaalan, a spokesman for the [public] prosecutor, said during a news conference in Riyadh … The order to kill [Khashoggi] had come from the leader of the Saudi team in Istanbul, Shaalan said, without naming any of the suspects. Prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb’s conclusion — that the murder was authorized by a minor official — contradicted assertions by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has said that the orders to kill Khashoggi had come from ‘the highest levels of the Saudi government,’ without specifying exactly who was responsible. ... Officials in several countries have said it is unlikely Khashoggi could have been killed without the knowledge of [the crown prince]."

-- Stormy Daniels’s lawyer Michael Avenatti was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, allegations that he called “completely bogus.” Elise Viebeck and Eli Rosenberg report: “The Los Angeles Police Department said he was booked on a felony domestic violence charge, with a $50,000 bail. ‘This is an ongoing investigation and we will provide more details as they become available,’ the department wrote on Twitter. The incident happened Tuesday, department spokesman Jeff Lee said. … ‘I have never been physically abusive in my life nor was I last night. Any accusations to the contrary are fabricated and meant to do harm to my reputation. I look forward to being fully exonerated,’ [Avenatti said in a statement]. TMZ, which first reported the arrest, had written that Avenatti was arrested after his ‘estranged wife’ filed a felony domestic violence report, but later amended its story after his ex-wife, Lisa Storie-Avenatti, said through a lawyer that the assertion was not true.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned from Prime Minister Theresa May’s government over his opposition to the withdrawal agreement approved by the Cabinet. Raab’s departure raises the possibility that May won't nab the necessary support to pursue a slower-moving Brexit deal that has drawn criticism from many U.K. citizens. Esther McVey, May's work and pensions secretary, announced her own resignation shortly after Raab quit. (William Booth and Karla Adam)
  2. The vice president said U.S. officials would not require North Korea to provide a list of its nuclear weapons and missile sites before Trump meets again with Kim Jong Un. Pence said the second summit would provide an opportunity to conceive a "verifiable plan" for Kim to disclose the weapons and sites, which the North Koreans have steadfastly avoided. (NBC News)

  3. Northern California’s Camp Fire has had severe effects on air quality in the region. Smoke from the fire, which has already killed at least 56 people, settled in the sky over cities more than 100 miles away from the blaze and caused stores to sell out of respirator masks. (Ben Guarino, Zara Stone and Sawsan Morrar)
  4. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is facing two lawsuits from groups of victims of clergy abuse. One of the lawsuits names the Holy See as a defendant — accusing the Catholic Church of “cheating and defrauding Plaintiffs and Class members out of their childhood, youth, innocence, virginity, families, jobs, finances, assets — in short, their lives.” (Tom Jackman)
  5. Groups with ties to Mark Zuckerberg are backing an initiative to automatically clear the criminal records of those eligible without a lengthy legal process. The effort is also supported by the Seminar Network, the Kochs' political arm, and the progressive Center for American Progress. (Cat Zakrzewski)

  6. A group from the American College of Surgeons released a new set of gun-safety recommendations. Eighteen of the 22 authors are gun owners. They recommend stronger background checks, improved technology to prevent accidental firearms discharge and enhanced gun-safety training. (Frances Stead Sellers)
  7. Parkland shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz was charged with assaulting an officer after he allegedly attacked a sheriff’s deputy assigned to guard him in jail. Authorities said Cruz repeatedly struck Sgt. Raymond Beltran and tried to steal one of his weapons. (Mark Berman)
  8. The police chief in the Chicago suburb where Jemel Roberson, a black armed security guard, was killed by a police officer mourned his death. “What we have learned is Jemel Roberson was a brave man who was doing his best to end an active shooter situation at Manny’s Blue Room,” Midlothian Police Chief Daniel Delaney wrote Tuesday on Facebook. “The Midlothian Police Department is completely saddened by this tragic incident and we give our heartfelt condolences to Jemel, his family and his friends.” (Lindsey Bever and Alex Horton)
  9. The Financial Times has created a bot to warn reporters when their articles quote too many men. The newspaper found that only 21 percent of people quoted in their pieces were women. (The Guardian)

  10. A group of raccoons that got drunk on crab apples caused a rabies scare in West Virginia. Police said the apples caused the raccoons to walk around “staggering and disoriented.” The animals were then held in custody so that they could sober up before being released back into the wild. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)

WEST WING INTRIGUE:

-- Deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel is leaving the White House for “a new role within the Administration” after a very public spat with Melania Trump that began with the first lady’s Africa trip last month. Anne Gearan, Josh Dawsey and Emily Heil have an incredible play-by-by of how Ricardel’s departure came to pass: “As the East Wing prepared the flight manifest for the marquee trip, [Ricardel] became angry that seats on the first lady’s government jet were assigned to a larger-than-usual security entourage and a small press corps with none for Ricardel or another NSC staffer, according to current U.S. officials and others familiar with the trip and its aftermath. Policy experts from the NSC and State Department were advised to fly separately and to meet the first lady’s party on the ground, a practice the State Department had often used, but Ricardel objected strenuously, those people said. She threatened to revoke NSC resources associated with the trip, meaning no policy staff would advise the first lady during her visits to Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Egypt. …

“Bad blood between Ricardel and Melania Trump and her staff continued for weeks after the trip, with the first lady privately arguing that the NSC’s No. 2 official was a corrosive influence in the White House and should be dismissed. But national security adviser John Bolton rebuffed the first lady and protected his deputy, prompting the first lady’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, to issue an extraordinary statement to reporters Tuesday effectively calling for Ricardel’s firing. Soon after the first lady’s office issued its statement Tuesday, surprised senior White House aides walked to Ricardel’s office to see whether she was still there. She was, albeit confused. Bolton, who was awakened in Asia in the middle of the night and told of the dust-up, was soon on the phone, telling Ricardel to remain at her post, three administration officials said.” Amazingly, Melania Trump and Ricardel have never met, several people said.

-- Lawyers for Trump and CNN appeared in federal court to make their arguments about the revocation of Jim Acosta’s White House pass. Paul Farhi reports: “The judge overseeing a lawsuit brought by CNN said he would decide by Thursday afternoon whether to grant CNN’s motion for a restraining order that would temporarily restore Acosta’s access to the White House. … Precisely who made the decision to bar Acosta was unclear at Wednesday’s hearing. Justice Department attorney James Burnham, representing the White House, said he didn’t know who made that call when asked by U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly. Burnham argued, however, that the president could exclude any reporter from the White House’s grounds, just as he has the right to exclude them from interviews in the Oval Office or to ignore their questions during news conferences. … [CNN lawyer Ted Boutrous] said the government had ‘a warped view’ of journalism and due process.”

-- Fox News filed an amicus brief in support of CNN. “Secret Service passes for working White House journalists should never be weaponized,” Fox News President Jay Wallace said in a statement. “While we don’t condone the growing antagonistic tone by both the president and the press at recent media avails, we do support a free press, access and open exchanges for the American people.” (LA Times)

-- Trump continued to berate Acosta as his administration spoke out against efforts abroad to stifle the press and political dissidents. David Nakamura reports: “Acosta and others like him are ‘bad for the country,’ Trump told a conservative news outlet. In a fundraising email, his campaign highlighted Trump’s move last week to strip Acosta’s White House pass and declared that the president ‘will NOT put up with the media’s liberal bias and utter disrespect.’ … In Singapore on Wednesday, Vice President Pence told Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to release two Reuters journalists jailed for covering brutal ethnic violence against the minority Rohingya Muslims. At the State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert called on Chinese leaders to respect ‘fundamental freedoms’ amid a crackdown on political activism in Hong Kong.”

-- A long profile of Donald Trump Jr. just posted by David Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell:From Rebellious to Reliable.

THE DOMESTIC AGENDA:

-- Trump announced his support of a bipartisan Senate bill to overhaul the nation’s prison sentencing laws. Seung Min Kim reports: “At an afternoon event at the White House, Trump officially endorsed the First Step Act, which he said included ‘reasonable sentencing reforms while keeping dangerous and violent criminals off our streets.’ He urged lawmakers to send him a bill, saying: ‘I’ll be waiting with a pen.’ … The new Senate package includes language that lowers mandatory minimum sentences for drug felonies, including reducing the ‘three strikes’ penalty from life behind bars to 25 years. That provision would not be allowed to take place retroactively, a major concession from Democrats. It also would include Senate language that retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduces the disparity in sentencing guidelines between crack and powder cocaine offenses. And it would reduce mandatory minimum sentences that go into effect when a firearm is used during a violent crime or drug offense. … It’s unclear whether there are 60 votes in the Senate in favor of the compromise, although advocates are optimistic that with Trump’s endorsement giving cover to Republicans, they can reach that threshold.”

-- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will soon release a rewrite of rules outlining how colleges and universities must respond to sexual assault allegations, with an emphasis on bolstering the rights of the accused. Laura Meckler reports: “The new rules would reduce liability for universities, tighten the definition of sexual harassment, and allow schools to use a higher standard in evaluating claims of sexual harassment and assault. … Last year, DeVos rescinded the 2011 Obama guidance, denouncing it as overly prescriptive and lacking due process for the accused. She promised to write a regulation to replace it. …

The most significant change would guarantee the accused the right to cross-examine their accusers, though that would have to be conducted by advisers or attorneys for the people involved, rather than by the person accused of misconduct.”

-- Defense Secretary Jim Mattis defended Trump’s “absolutely legal” deployment of U.S. troops to the southern border while visiting some of the service members there. BuzzFeed News’s Vera Bergengruen reports: “‘The eyes of the world right now, certainly of all the Americans, are on you,’ he told a gathering of troops stationed near the Texas town of Donna near the border with Mexico ... ‘This is a mission that’s nontraditional because it’s here in our country. Generally, we do homeland security overseas.’ … He then echoed the Trump administration’s talking points in a way that seemed unusual for the typically calculated and camera-shy Pentagon chief, who has said little publicly about the deployment amid rumors that the president is looking to replace him.”

-- The Pentagon ordered senior military leaders several months ago to cut back on public appearances. Defense One’s Kevin Baron reports: “The new rule: only one senior military leader and one civilian leader are allowed to appear at each ‘outside’ non-government events, per day. Leaders must coordinate their appearances through a central DOD personnel management office and must seek waivers to break the one-per-day rule. The directive has changed how defense leaders participate in nearly every kind of public event, from global policy conferences to intimate academic panel discussions to on-camera press interviews. … [Some critics] called the rule a blatant attempt to keep the military quiet and avoid drawing attention, or conflict, with the president.”

-- The Senate will hold a confirmation hearing today for Ron Vitiello, Trump’s nominee to lead ICE. From Maria Sacchetti: “Vitiello, a 30-year Border Patrol veteran, is ICE’s acting director. Trump tapped him in August to replace Thomas D. Homan, an outspoken leader whose nomination languished for months despite Republican control of the Senate.”

CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP RACES:

-- Critics of Nancy Pelosi appear to be consolidating their power as a potential challenger arose in the California Democrat’s speakership bid. Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis and Elise Viebeck report: “Pelosi on Wednesday faced solid opposition from at least 17 Democrats … Those ranks could swell as more races are called. … The defections, if they stand, would leave Pelosi several votes short of the 218 she would need when the full House votes for speaker Jan. 3. … Pelosi and her allies worked furiously Wednesday, rolling out endorsements from several major unions while she made her case to the Congressional Black Caucus, a crucial bloc. At a closed-door meeting of House Democrats, a newly elected lawmaker from Pelosi’s home state shut down an attempted rules change advanced by one of her critics.

Pelosi, who has led the Democrats for more than 15 years, has put her gender front and center in the campaign, arguing that a woman must be at the table to do business with [Trump] and male congressional leaders. … But some of [the women Pelosi campaigned for] were unwilling Wednesday to say definitively that they would back Pelosi — despite suggestions from some of her allies that it would be an insult to female voters to do anything less. … [Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Tex.), a Pelosi critic,] said there are several women in the caucus who would be well-prepared to take the reins, among them Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (Ohio), who told reporters that she’s being encouraged to stand for speaker if Pelosi doesn’t have the votes. ‘I’ve not talked to any of the new members. I’m not sure that I will. But I think that if in fact we were elected on change, then we should have change,’ Fudge said.”

-- Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) easily defeated a challenge from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to become minority leader. Felicia Sonmez, Elise Viebeck and Mike DeBonis report: “McCarthy prevailed over [Jordan], 159 to 43 … ‘We took a beating inside the suburban areas. We’re going to have to work harder,’ McCarthy said at a news conference following Wednesday’s vote, acknowledging Republican losses. … The No. 2 spot of House minority whip was claimed Wednesday by Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), who serves in the third-ranking role in House GOP leadership. … [Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.)], who first won election in 2016 and is the daughter of former vice president Richard B. Cheney, won the No. 3 spot of House Republican Conference chair.”

-- Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) were both reelected to lead their parties in the Senate. John Wagner and Mike DeBonis report: “Republicans, meeting behind closed doors, selected Sen. John Thune (S.D.) as the majority whip. ... Thune succeeds Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.) in the No. 2 GOP slot. Cornyn was term-limited. … Besides maintaining Schumer as minority leader, Senate Democrats also decided Wednesday to keep the rest of their leadership team in place, according to an individual familiar with the proceedings. That includes Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) as minority whip and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) as assistant minority leader.”

-- Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) was elected chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He’s succeeding Colorado’s Cory Gardner, who is up for reelection in 2020. Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski reports on the other side: “The Democrats do not elect the leader of their party campaign committee. Instead, [Schumer] gets to make an appointment to the post. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto appears to be the most desired candidate for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The Democrat from Nevada was elected in 2016, and the state Democratic party in the Silver State has been among the most successful in recent election cycles.”

FLORIDA, FLORIDA, FLORIDA:

-- A federal judge extended the deadline for voters whose ballots were rejected due to signature inconsistencies to resolve the issues and possibly get their votes counted. Sean Sullivan, Beth Reinhard and Amy Gardner report: “The decision by Judge Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee came hours ahead of the Thursday afternoon deadline for elections officials to complete a machine recount. Early Thursday, officials in Broward County finished their count and prepared to release a new vote total for Florida’s second-largest jurisdiction. It was not clear how the judge’s decision would affect the timing of recount, which was expected to move to a manual canvass Friday in the too-close-to-call Senate race, in which Gov. Rick Scott (R) leads Sen. Bill Nelson (D) by fewer than 13,000 votes.

“The decision affects Floridians who cast mail-in ballots, or voted provisionally, but whose signatures did not match records maintained by state officials. More than 4,000 ballots across 45 counties in Florida were set aside because of inconsistent signatures, he wrote in his opinion. In the other 22 counties, the number is unknown. While the ruling gives Nelson new hope for chipping away at his deficit, it falls short of the more sweeping decision his lawyers sought and is probably not enough to change the outcome of the race on its own.”

-- The Florida lawsuits have shone a spotlight on voting laws that require ballot signatures to match existing records. Amy Gardner reports: “Voter signatures have taken on outsize importance because they are typically required on absentee and mail-in ballots, which more and more Americans are using to vote. … The issue is acute in close races where absentee ballots could sway the outcome — and in states where voting by mail has exploded without a standardized system for checking the validity of a signature, the most common way to verify that a mail-in ballot is legal. All of it has created an uproar among voting-rights advocates, who say that untrained election workers are tossing eligible ballots, often with no chance for the voter to object or fix the ballot.”

-- “For all its dim echoes of the 2000 Bush vs. Gore election recount saga, the daily follies are, in many respects, a dry run for the next presidential contest,” Manuel Roig-Franzia reports. “It is an opportunity for partisan lawyers to burrow into the arcana of the process in hopes of tweaking the rules in their favor and for activists to sharpen their rhetoric for the next fight.”

-- Trump offered two false assertions about voter fraud, including suggesting you need to present an ID to buy cereal — and that voter fraud can easily occur when a voter leaves the polling station to change their hat. “When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It’s really a disgrace what’s going on,” Trump told the Daily Caller. He added, “If you buy a box of cereal — you have a voter ID. They try to shame everybody by calling them racist, or calling them something, anything they can think of, when you say you want voter ID. But voter ID is a very important thing.” (Philip Bump)

MORE RESULTS COMING IN:

-- A Georgia federal judge ruled that absentee ballots with minor discrepancies must be counted in the state’s gubernatorial race, as Democrat Stacey Abrams continues to insist she can force a runoff against Republican Brian Kemp. But it was not immediately clear how many ballots would be affected by the judge’s ruling. Vanessa Williams reports: “Kemp, a Republican whose lead has shrunk a bit each day since the Nov. 6 election, continued to demand that [Abrams] concede, arguing that there are not enough outstanding votes for her to force a runoff. … Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’s campaign manager, accused Kemp, the former secretary of state, of using that office “as a taxpayer-funded arm of his campaign.’ … On Wednesday, the campaign said Abrams needed more than 17,700 additional votes to force a runoff or more than 15,400 to force a recount. The secretary of state could certify the results Friday.”

-- Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) is suing the Salt Lake County Clerk, demanding that her campaign be allowed to verify voter signatures on ballots. Felicia Sonmez reports: “As of Wednesday evening, Love was trailing Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams (D) by 873 votes, or 0.36 percentage point, in the race for Utah’s 4th Congressional District. … In the lawsuit, … Love’s campaign argues that the Salt Lake County clerk has allowed poll monitors to observe the ballot-counting process but has denied them the ability to challenge signatures on ballot envelopes. … McAdams denounced Love’s move, saying, ‘Utah voters deserve better than this.’ He took aim at the fact that her lawsuit targets Salt Lake County, McAdams’s home base.”

-- Democrat Andy Kim was officially declared the winner against Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who revived GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare. Bloomberg News’s Sahil Kapur reports: “In 2017, MacArthur co-authored an amendment to the Republican Obamacare replacement bill with Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows that handed Democrats a potent campaign weapon. The measure allowed states to waive Obamacare rules prohibiting insurers from charging sick people more. Party leaders reluctantly adopted it to win conservative holdouts who tanked an earlier version of their bill — and it passed the House.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump insisted the White House was running “very smoothly” amid many reports of internal turmoil:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted out this Bible passage as the Florida recount process drags on:

A Democratic lawyer involved in the recount replied with another passage:

Paul Ryan greeted his 2012 running mate in Washington:

Mitch McConnell gave a gift to John Cornyn:

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who was voted out of office last week, introduced new legislation:

Arizona's new Democratic senator has moved in on Capitol Hill:

Politico's Capitol bureau chief noted the drop-off in reporters covering House Republicans:

Three newly elected New Jersey Democrats posted a photo together:

The number of New Jersey Republicans in Congress has hit a low not seen in more than 100 years:

From an adviser to Barack Obama:

A Cook Political Report editor noted the political demise of “Beach Republicans”:

A Slate political reporter made an observation about the new Democratic caucus:

A congresswoman-elect has been getting misidentified:

Grace Meng, a Democratic congresswoman who has been in office for nearly six years, replied:

Ocasio-Cortez's Instagram feed feels authentic:

Van Jones, a frequent critic of Trump, praised the president's support of a bill to overhaul the nation's prison system:

This New York Times photo caption grabbed Twitter's attention:

And Esquire issued a correction about the acting attorney general:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Wall Street Journal, “‘It’s a Crisis of Civilization in Mexico.’ 250,000 Dead. 37,400 Missing,” by José de Córdoba and Juan Montes: “One recent day, a line of grieving mothers armed with picks and shovels worked their way across a muddy field looking for Mexico’s dead and missing, their own children among them. ‘It smells bad here,’ said Lizbeth Ortega, a member of Las Rastreadoras de El Fuerte, or the Trackers of El Fuerte, a group of mothers who look for missing people. … Some 37,000 people in Mexico are categorized as ‘missing’ by the government. The vast majority are believed to be dead, victims of the country’s spiraling violence that has claimed more than 250,000 lives since 2006.”

-- Vox, “Michelle Obama left her job so her husband could be president. Now it’s her turn to shine,” by Anna North: “Michelle Obama took a big step away from her career path when her husband became president, leaving her job at the University of Chicago Medical Center to become the first lady — a big job, certainly, but not one she necessarily would have chosen on her own. Now that the Obamas are no longer in the White House, it may be Michelle’s time to step forward again — and what both she and her husband do next could be a model for couples nationwide.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“This 31-year-old had had enough. So she ran. And won,” from Karen Tumulty: “What finally did it for Kathy Hoffman was watching the confirmation hearing of Betsy DeVos nearly two years ago. Hoffman, then a 31-year-old speech therapist in a suburban Phoenix public school district, could not contain her dismay as she saw [Trump’s] nominee for education secretary stumble over basic policy questions and suggest that guns should be allowed in schools at which a grizzly bear might appear. … A few weeks later, Hoffman announced her candidacy to become Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction. Over the next 21 months, she drove so many miles across this vast state that she wore out her 2004 Prius and had to buy a new one. … Initially, not even the teachers unions took her seriously. But astonishingly, Hoffman’s Prius-powered campaign succeeded.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Vermont Democrats cancel events with Michael Avenatti his arrest for domestic violence," from the Hill: “The Vermont Democratic Party has cancelled multiple events set to feature celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti after his arrest for alleged domestic violence. ‘It has been widely reported by ABC News and other outlets that Michael Avenatti has been arrested in Los Angeles, California on charges of suspected felony domestic violence,’ the party's Communication's Director R. Christopher Di Mezzo told The Hill in a statement. ‘The Vermont Democratic Party has cancelled Mr. Avenatti’s forthcoming scheduled appearances in Vermont, and will be refunding all ticket sales.’ He added that the party has not heard from Avenatti's team, but that it was going off of reports ... The Los Angeles Police Department later confirmed the arrest."

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump and the first lady will visit the Marine barracks in Washington. He will later give a speech on supporting veterans and meet with Senate Republican leadership.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“It starts with everything from the type of entertainment that we focus on. ... What’s the most popular topic that seems to be in every cable television network. Television shows are all about, what? Zombies! ... When a culture is surrounded by, inundated by, rewards things that celebrate death, whether it is zombies in television shows, the number of abortions ... there’s a thousand justifications for why we do this.” — Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) on the causes of gun violence among young Americans. (Louisville Courier Journal)

 

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

-- The wintry mix in D.C. this morning will slowly become a cold rain. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “A mix of rain/snow/sleet arrives before the dawn and makes for a potentially tricky commute. The worst conditions, when precipitation falls most heavily and it’s coldest, should last through late morning. The good thing is the ground is not that cold, which allows for melting, but heavier bursts of sleet and snow could cause slick spots. A shift to just rain is anticipated in the late morning downtown but may take until the afternoon in our north and west suburbs, where odds of more significant snow and ice accumulation increase.” Here is a list of school closures and delays due to weather.

-- The Wizards beat the Cavaliers 119-95. (Roman Stubbs)

-- The Capitals lost to the Jets 3-1. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

-- The D.C. Council voted to decriminalize Metro fare evasion. Faiz Siddiqui reports: “Under the legislation, criminal fare evasion penalties of up to $300 would be replaced by a $50 civil infraction that would not appear on a criminal record. Council members sparred over the issue upon the bill’s final reading, as statistics reflected the reality of Metro’s fare evasion crackdown. Data show fare evasion arrests, citations and warnings have risen dramatically — from 4,000 in 2013 to 15,000 in 2017.”

-- Prosecutors said two of the suspects accused of killing 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson outside her D.C. home in July bragged about the murder in an Instagram video. “We’re the reason the murder rate is high,” Quentin “Q” Michals and Qujuan Thomas rapped in the video. Prosecutors played it in court as they began to lay out evidence against the pair and a third suspect, Gregory Taylor. (Keith L. Alexander)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert reveled in the latest midterm results — and their apparent effect on Trump's mood:

Rick Scott avoided questions about alleged voter fraud in the Florida Senate race:

A time-lapse video showed the erosion of Alaska's coastline due to climate change:

Divers discovered a 26-foot-long pyrosome — “a colony of tiny sea animals that link together into a free-floating mass," as Michael Brice-Saddler explains — off the coast of White Island in New Zealand:

And San Francisco's “Bat Kid” was declared cancer-free: