with Joanie Greve

With Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: If tomorrow’s special election in Mississippi is a referendum on President Trump, Republicans will win. That’s why he will hold not one but two rallies tonight for appointed GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Trump’s first stop will be in Tupelo, where Hyde-Smith declared earlier this month that she’d sit with a supporter in the front row of a “public hanging.” That dredged up dark memories of the state’s history as the site of more lynchings than any other between the Civil War and the civil rights movement. Her botched response was among a string of unforced errors that have focused the national spotlight on what otherwise would have been a sleepy runoff in a solidly red state — and forced the president to bat cleanup.

On Sunday, under mounting pressure from fans, Major League Baseball requested the return of its $5,000 donation to Hyde-Smith. That follows a stream of blue-chip companies asking for a refund. It started last week with Walmart, which said her remarks “clearly do not reflect the values of our company and associates.” AT&T, Leidos, Union Pacific, Pfizer and Boston Scientific have piled on.

But none of those businesses get to vote. Even collectively, they’re no match for the political potency of a presidential endorsement. Hyde-Smith remains the heavy favorite and Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman and Bill Clinton’s agriculture secretary, is a big underdog in a state that hasn’t voted to send a Democrat to the Senate since 1982 — or an African American since Hiram Revels during Reconstruction.

Elections have become more nationalized and more polarized in the Trump era. Both trends work to the GOP’s advantage in this final federal election of 2018. Trump carried Mississippi by 18 points in 2016. For context, he won both Indiana and Missouri by 19 points. These are two of the four states where Republican challengers knocked off Democratic incumbents in the midterms.

There has been frustratingly little reliable public polling in this contest. Both sides agree that Hyde-Smith is ahead but that her lead has narrowed in recent weeks. Trump’s approval rating is 56 percent among registered voters in Mississippi, with 41 percent strongly approving, according to an NBC-Marist poll conducted last month. (More than 9 in 10 Republican voters approved of the president.)

Chris McDaniel offers a case study of how valuable Trump’s endorsement is in the Magnolia State. The state senator nearly toppled former Sen. Thad Cochran in 2014. He received more votes than the incumbent in the Republican primary but finished just barely under 50 percent, forcing a runoff. In the head-to-head matchup, Cochran narrowly prevailed. So when Cochran resigned for health reasons earlier this year and the governor appointed Hyde-Smith, McDaniel immediately announced he was running for the seat again and thought he had a clear path to victory. But Senate Republican leaders persuaded Trump to endorse Hyde-Smith, who they saw as a safer bet in the general election. McDaniel stuck it out, but he won just 16.5 percent in the first round of balloting this month. Hyde-Smith got 41.5 percent, and Espy got 40.6 percent.

McDaniel said Trump accounts entirely for the drop-off from 2014 to 2018. He thinks Trump's rally for Hyde-Smith last month in Southaven “caused a 30-point swing” away from him in an area that had been one of his strongholds. He had urged his supporters to attend the president’s event. “Show the President that Trump Country is McDaniel Country,” he wrote in a blast email. Hundreds of people showed up wearing MAGA hats and red “Trump Voters for Chris McDaniel” T-shirts. But it didn’t stem the bleeding. “We recognize (the Trump endorsement) just gutted a large percentage of our base,” McDaniel recently told the Clarion Ledger.

Unlike four years ago, when he refused to concede after Cochran was certified the winner, McDaniel immediately endorsed Hyde-Smith after the primary. At least partly, that’s because he’s considering a run for governor next year and he doesn’t want to get crosswise with the White House. “I don't want my base being unhappy or mad at President Trump. We need to help him get his agenda done,” he told the local paper. “It's obviously no secret that (Hyde-Smith) and I have significant policy disagreements, but President Trump has endorsed her, and I'm going to support President Trump.”

-- Hyde-Smith has gone all-in on Trump. She’s been traversing the state on a campaign bus, dubbed “The MAGA Wagon,” that features a massive picture of her and Trump together. Hyde-Smith doesn’t just boast in her stump speech that she’s voted with Trump “100 percent of the time.” She actually has, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis.

All the stories about the single debate in the runoff emphasized Hyde-Smith’s non-apology apology for her “public hanging” gaffe. “For anyone that was offended by my comments, I certainly apologize,” she said, insisting that her remarks were “twisted” for political purposes. “There was no ill will or intent whatsoever in my statement.”

“I don’t know what’s in your heart, but we all know what came out of your mouth,” Espy replied. “It’s given our state another black eye that we don’t need. It’s just rejuvenated old stereotypes that we don’t need anymore.”

But what was most striking about watching the full hour-long debate was just how much Hyde-Smith talked about Trump. “On Monday night … the president of the United States is coming to Mississippi to campaign on my behalf,” she said at the beginning of her opening statement. “We will start out in Tupelo at 5 o’clock and then at 8 o'clock we’ll be on the beautiful Gulf Coast. I encourage you right now to go online at donaldjtrump.com and get those free tickets!”

She debated poorly, jumbling her words and confusing names, but she had message discipline. She gave the same answer, word for word, multiple times. And she always referred to the president as “Donald J. Trump,” even if it meant repeating his full name several times. A moderator asked if she supports campaign finance reform, for example. “We cannot let a liberal come in and roll back all the good things that we have been doing with President Donald J. Trump,” she answered. “I thought the issue was with campaign finance reform,” Espy responded. “The question was about campaign finance reform!”

And so it went for an hour: a noun, a verb and Donald J. Trump. “I am so glad I have the endorsement of President Donald J. Trump,” she said at the end of her closing statement. “This is the most critical election in my lifetime, and it’s not just because I’m on the ballot. … I’m the candidate that Donald J. Trump has said, ‘Cindy, we need you back.’”

Like Trump says America First, Espy’s mantra was Mississippi First. “I won’t vote for anyone 100 percent of the time,” he said. “I work with everyone, irrespective of race or party or gender … and I’ll be independent. … Mississippi over party. Mississippi over person. I don’t care how powerful that person might be.”

-- Hyde-Smith was unwilling to put any daylight between herself and the president.

On tariffs: “I’ve met with the president, and I proudly support him in negotiating these trades,” she said. Espy said he knows a lot of soybean farmers who are in trouble because of the “wrongheaded policy” being pursued by Trump. “You have to have a senator who … is not tied 100 percent to a president who has made a very poor decision,” he said.

On immigration: “I have been in the Rio Grande River with a bulletproof vest and machine guns all around,” she said. “We should definitely build that wall.” Espy spoke against Trump’s pet project: “The wall is very impractical. The wall will cost $70 billion if fully built … We have drones, we have surveillance devices, and there are any number of other ways we can detect illegals coming across the southern border rather than building a wall I believe will never be built.”

On how to raise stagnant wages in the state: “I’m so excited in supporting President Trump’s tax cuts,” Hyde-Smith replied. “Our economy is better than it has been in decades.” Espy noted that she ignored the question: “Wages have fallen in Mississippi by 2.2 percent from 2017 to 2018. So, yes, we have a tax bill that was aimed at the top income bracket, but the benefits have not trickled down to those in the middle level or even lower.”

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) encountered a series of controversies leading up to victory. Here’s a recap of the contentious campaign. (The Washington Post)

-- Hyde-Smith, 59, has upset local reporters by declining to answer their questions and not making herself available in recent weeks. She’s been the same way with national reporters who approach her in the corridors of the Capitol. During the debate, a local reporter asked Espy how accessible he’ll be if he gets elected. “Anytime you want me at a press conference, any time you want me to answer a question, any time you ask me to come to a podium, I am not going to stand back when you ask me six times for an explanation or a clarification, I’m going to be there the first time,” he replied. “I thought that was awful what she did at that press conference the other day. That’s why I’m independent. Nobody tells me where to stand, what to say, how to speak, how to vote.”

Asked for a rebuttal, Hyde-Smith replied with this non sequitur: “I have always been accessible to my constituents. You know, my opponent voted to gut the military. … My opponent also opposes just about anything Trump. If he is elected, he’ll vote with Chuck Schumer just about 100 percent of the time. When he was in Congress nearly a century ago, he voted the Democratic line straight down more than 90 percent.” (Espy, 64, left Congress in 1993 — which was 25 years ago.)

-- It was easy to see why Hyde-Smith agreed to only one debate and insisted that it be sponsored by the Farm Bureau. Several board members of the group, including the president, have donated to her this year. Her campaign reportedly requested that no audience or outside press be allowed inside the room. Hyde-Smith’s campaign also requested that she be allowed to carry a binder on stage during the debate, but the Espy campaign refused, according to the Jackson Free Press. Moderators said a notepad would be available at the lectern, but Hyde-Smith reportedly insisted that she get access to the notepad an hour before the debate began so she could write down her talking points.

-- The president wouldn’t be coming if Hyde-Smith was comfortably ahead and running an effective campaign. But national Republicans are leaving nothing to chance, especially because the ghost of Roy Moore still haunts their nightmares. The party has flooded the state with operatives. “We have emptied out the building of the senatorial committee,” National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Cory Gardner told donors on a recent conference call. On the other side, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) have campaigned with Espy during the homestretch.

-- The hard truth for Democrats, however, is that it is harder for them to win statewide in Mississippi than neighboring Alabama, which is a little more affluent, better educated and has more suburbs. Doug Jones’s victory, almost exactly a year ago, was possible because Moore was accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct. Unlike with Moore last year, the national party apparatus – whether the RNC, the NRSC or the White House — has never equivocated in fully supporting Hyde-Smith. Even though it’s also a very red state, Alabama has significantly more white liberals — who live in posh places like Mountain Brook and Fairhope — than Mississippi does. One illustration of this: Alabama has five Whole Foods locations. Mississippi has just one.

-- The big questions looking toward Tuesday are how many people turn out for a post-Thanksgiving election, and what do they look like? About 69,000 absentee ballots were requested before the Nov. 6 election, and somewhere around 43,000 have been requested for the runoff, according to the secretary of state’s office.

-- In the first round, about a third of voters were African American and Espy won 80 percent of them. But he only got about 20 percent of white voters, according to VoteCast, a wide-ranging survey of the electorate conducted by the Associated Press. “If white voters outnumber black voters 2-to-1 on Tuesday, Espy would have to win 30 percent or more of white votes,” the AP’s Jeff Amy reports. “But if black voters rise to 40 percent of the electorate and Espy wins 9 out of 10, he needs less than a quarter of white votes to squeak out a victory.”

-- Exit polls have shown for years that Mississippi is one of, if not the most, racially polarized states in America in terms of the gulf between who blacks and whites support. During the debate, Espy boasted that he received 40 percent of the white vote and 95 percent of the black vote when he won his fourth term in Congress in 1992. Trying to appeal to disillusioned Republicans, he has also emphasized that this special election is only for the final two years of Cochran’s six-year term and that he’ll be on the ballot again in 2020 if people don’t like him.

--Modern Mississippi Democrats face an arithmetic problem,” Dave Weigel reports from New Albany, Miss. “In this racially polarized state, Republicans regularly win around 90 percent of the white vote, while Democrats win 90 percent or more of the black vote. In a typical election, white voters outnumber black voters by a two-to-one margin. Efforts to close that gap have been hamstrung by the state's voting laws, which eliminate the franchise for people convicted of violent and some nonviolent crimes. Black voters make up 36 percent of the state's electorate and 61 percent of the permanently disenfranchised population, according to Mississippi Today.

“Democrats can credibly argue that they've recovered from their pre-Trump lows,” Weigel explains in The Trailer, his excellent newsletter. “Four years ago, when [Cochran] sought his final term … the party ran a former congressman from northeast Mississippi and won just 37.4 percent of the vote. One year later, an unknown truck driver unexpectedly won their nomination for governor, effectively ceding the election. This year, Democrats have succeeded in driving up turnout, something they credit both to Espy and to the constellation of turnout groups, from Black Voters Matter to Mississippi Votes to the NAACP, working harder and earlier than before; the NAACP, for example, knocked on 100,000 doors after identifying black voters who had skipped nonpresidential elections.

“On Nov. 6, Espy won 55,918 votes in Jackson's Hinds County; in 2014, Democratic Senate nominee Travis Childers had won just 28,792 votes there. In the 17 counties that cover the Mississippi Delta, Espy ran 50 to 100 percent stronger than Childers. In a lower-turnout midterm, Espy's numbers would have been enough for victory. But Republican turnout spiked, too.

-- Several stories that came out over the long weekend might help activate African Americans who don’t typically vote in runoffs. The Jackson Free Press reported Friday, for instance, that “Hyde-Smith attended and graduated from a segregation academy that was set up so that white parents could avoid having to send their children to schools with black students.”

“A group photo in the 1975 edition of The Rebel — the Lawrence County Academy Yearbook — illustrates the point. High-school cheerleaders [including Hyde-Smith] smile at the camera as they lie on the ground in front of their pom-poms,” Ashton Pittman wrote. “In the center, the mascot, dressed in what appears to be an outfit designed to mimic that of a Confederate general, offers a salute as she holds up a large Confederate flag. … While Hyde-Smith regularly touts her subsequent education at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and the University of Southern Mississippi, her high school has been conspicuously absent from the senator’s official statements, speeches and public biographies.

“Lawrence County Academy opened in the small town of Monticello, Miss., about 60 miles south of Jackson, in 1970. That same year, another segregation school, Brookhaven Academy, opened in nearby Lincoln County. Years later, Hyde-Smith would send her daughter, Anna-Michael, to that academy.” [The Hyde-Smith campaign did not dispute the particulars of the story but accused the media of attacking the candidate’s family.]

[Last] week, a photo Hyde-Smith posted on Facebook in 2014 surfaced, showing her wearing a Confederate uniform as she toured Beauvoir in Biloxi — the historic home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis where you can buy books like ‘The South Was Right.’ ‘Mississippi history at its finest,’ Hyde-Smith captioned the photo. Beauvoir is owned and managed by members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who … seek to recast the South’s role in the Civil War in a positive light.”

-- “Hyde-Smith has embraced Confederate history more than once in her political career,” Matt Viser reported on Thursday: “Starting her second year as a Mississippi state senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith arrived at the State Capitol in Jackson in 2001 to file one of her earliest pieces of legislation. Senate Bill 2604, as she proposed it, would have renamed a stretch of highway to the title it had in the 1930s: Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway. While the president of the Confederacy did have ties to the state — representing it in the Senate before resigning when Mississippi left the Union — he had no known ties to her district. The bill died in committee. … In 2016, she awarded a Confederate heritage group called Dixie Alliance the prize for best community float in a parade that she oversaw as commissioner of agriculture.”

-- “Hyde-Smith pushed resolution praising Confederate soldier's effort to 'defend his homeland,’CNN added Saturday. “As a state senator in 2007, Hyde-Smith cosponsored a resolution that honored then-92-year-old Effie Lucille Nicholson Pharr, calling her ‘the last known living 'Real Daughter' of the Confederacy living in Mississippi.’ Pharr's father had been a Confederate soldier in Robert E. Lee's army in the Civil War. The resolution refers to the Civil War as ‘The War Between the States.’ It says her father ‘fought to defend his homeland and contributed to the rebuilding of the country.’ It says that with ‘great pride,’ Mississippi lawmakers ‘join the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ to honor Pharr. The concurrent resolution was approved by Mississippi's House and Senate.”

-- All these Confederate stories may not move the needle much, though, with the McDaniel voters who Hyde-Smith is trying to win over. Over the past 12 months, there have been more Google searches about Confederate history in Mississippi than any other in the nation, per Phil Bump. The Magnolia State has also only removed two of its 149 Confederate monuments, one of the lowest rates in the country, per Chris Ingraham.

--This year was supposed to mark a moment of progress for Mississippi,” Jonathan Martin observed in Sunday’s New York Times. “The state just opened a new history and civil rights museum under the same roof. Both offer an unvarnished account of Mississippi’s searing racial history, detailing the state’s record number of lynchings, portraying its segregation-era leaders as the white supremacists they were and altogether dispatching with ‘the “Lost Cause” of the failed Confederacy,’ as one display terms it.

“But there’s something peculiar about the museum, as Lauren Stennis noted. Ms. Stennis is an artist and the granddaughter of former Senator John Stennis of Mississippi, a onetime segregationist. She has spent the last few years promoting a redesigned state flag that she devised to replace the current one, which is the last in the country to include the Confederate battle flag. … Instead of flying Mississippi’s divisive flag or keeping it furled — decisions which would have offended the same constituencies that are pulling the South’s politics further apart — the state avoided the choice altogether. They just decided not to build a flagpole outside the museum.”

-- Espy’s election night event will be at the museum. He spoke Saturday about how he and his twin sister were among the 17 black students who integrated the all-white Yazoo City High School in 1969, graduating in 1971. The Democrat recalled that he was called “the n-word” many times during that period. “I guess you could juxtapose my experience with her experience,” he told the Associated Press.

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U.S. authorities fired tear gas at members of a Central American migrant caravan who had rushed the fencing along the U.S. border with Mexico on Nov. 25. (The Washington Post)

-- U.S. officials temporarily closed off a point of entry at the southern border and fired tear gas at members of a migrant caravan. Although the number of people at the border was relatively small, the unrest — with migrants attempting to climb fences and run through car lanes to reach the United States, and scenes of mothers and children choking on tear gas — represented a serious escalation of the crisis,” Sarah Kinosian and Joshua Partlow report. “What had begun Sunday morning as a migrant protest of the slow pace of the U.S. asylum claims process devolved into a chaotic scramble in which hundreds made their way to the border hoping to cross onto U.S. soil. To block that from happening, and as some threw rocks and bottles, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers took the rare step of firing tear gas into Mexico as well as closing all legal vehicle and foot traffic to the San Ysidro border crossing, which U.S. officials say normally has about 100,000 visitors per day. …

Although the majority of the group approached and gathered at the fence peacefully, Mexico’s Interior Ministry said that hundreds tried to cross the border in a ‘violent manner.’ Mexican authorities said they would deport anyone who tried to cross illegally. Before 9 p.m. Eastern time, CBP said the port of entry had reopened. The statement added that during the day, there were ‘multiple instances of persons throwing projectiles at CBP personnel’ and ‘multiple confirmed apprehensions’ of those who tried to enter the U.S. illegally, as well as ‘many additional attempts to cross the border illegally.’”

-- A “60 Minutes” investigation found that the Trump administration’s policy of migrant family separations “began far earlier and detained many more children than the administration has admitted.” CBS News’s Scott Pelley reports: “[We saw] the Homeland Security order to arrest and detain all adults who crossed illegally to seek asylum. The copy released to the public was censored by the administration. But we've obtained what the White House didn't want the public to see. The document reveals that child separation began nine months earlier than the administration acknowledged. There was a pilot program in the busy ‘El Paso sector’ from ‘July to November 2017’. We don't know how many children were taken in those five months. … The White House says only 25 remain to be reunited with their families, but given the bungled recordkeeping, and no public accounting of the mysterious El Paso pilot program, there may never be an accurate count of how many children were taken from their parents.”


  1. Right-wing violence has been on the rise since Barack Obama’s presidency, according to a new Post analysis. Right-wing extremists have committed dozens of shootings and bombings, while left-wing violence has been on a decades-long decline. (Wesley Lowery, Kimberly Kindy and Andrew Ba Tran)

  2. California authorities announced they have fully contained the Camp Fire after 17 days of battling it. The blaze was the deadliest in California history, killing 85 people and destroying 14,000 residences. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)

  3. California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman is facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. Daraka Larimore-Hall, the state party’s vice chairman, said that he sent a letter to the party’s secretary calling for Bauman’s removal. (Felicia Sonmez)

  4. An Army Ranger was mortally wounded during an operation in southwestern Afghanistan. Sgt. Leandro Jasso died after a firefight against al-Qaeda fighters in Nimruz province’s Khash Rod district. (Dan Lamothe)

  5. A Chinese researcher claimed to have helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies. He Jiankui of Shenzhen said he altered embryos for seven couples to give their future children a resistance to HIV/AIDS, with one pregnancy resulting so far. Such work is banned in the United States over ethical and medical concerns. (AP)

  6. Before filing bankruptcy in March, the ManorCare nursing-home chain exposed its roughly 25,000 residents to an increasing number of health risks. The chain — which is owned by the Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private-equity firms — was accused of ignoring bed sores, administering incorrect medication dosages and neglecting residents’ basic hygiene needs. (Peter Whoriskey and Dan Keating)

  7. Ohio will start accepting bitcoin for tax bills, the first U.S. state to do so. Starting this week, the state’s businesses can use the cryptocurrency to pay their taxes. Ohio plans to later expand the initiative to individual filers. (Wall Street Journal)

  8. Kristine E. Guillaume will become the first black woman to lead the Harvard Crimson. Guillaume promised to confront the paper’s struggles to attract more diverse writers and editors. (New York Times)

The Trump administration released on Nov. 23 a long-awaited report outlining that climate change impacts "are intensifying across the country." (The Washington Post)


-- Late in the afternoon on Black Friday, the administration released a dire report about the damage climate change will do to the United States if immediate and dramatic action is not taken. Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney report: “The report’s authors, who represent numerous federal agencies, say they are more certain than ever that climate change poses a severe threat to Americans' health and pocketbooks, as well as to the country’s infrastructure and natural resources. … The congressionally mandated document — the first of its kind issued during the Trump administration — details how climate-fueled disasters and other types of worrisome changes are becoming more commonplace throughout the country and how much worse they could become in the absence of efforts to combat global warming.” (Read the full report here.)

-- Trump's Solicitor General, Noel Francisco, asked the Supreme Court to immediately consider the president’s ban on transgender troops in the U.S. military. The administration asked the justices to consolidate the challenges to the ban — which so far have been successful in lower courts — and then rule on the issue in its current term, Robert Barnes reports.

-- “Trump Administration Invites Health Care Industry to Help Rewrite Ban on Kickbacks,” by the New York Times’s Robert Pear: “The Trump administration has labored zealously to cut federal regulations, but its latest move has still astonished some experts on health care: It has asked for recommendations to relax rules that prohibit kickbacks and other payments intended to influence care for people on Medicare or Medicaid.”

-- White House communications director Bill Shine received an $8.4 million severance package on leaving his post as co-president of Fox News Channel in May 2017, according to a financial disclosure form that he submitted back on Oct. 9 — after getting a 68-day extension — but which the administration waited to release until the Friday after Thanksgiving. “Shine, who officially began working in the White House on July 5, will also receive a bonus and options of about $3.5 million from 21st Century Fox both this year and next year,” the Hollywood Reporter’s Jeremy Barr reports. “That means that Shine will be paid simultaneously by both the White House and the parent company of Fox News.”

-- Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg confessed in a blog post on Thanksgiving eve that, contrary to her previous public denials, she was in fact aware that her staff had hired the Republican firm Definers, which spread opposition research on George Soros and other critics of the social network. (The New York Times’s Nellie Bowles and Zach Wichter)

-- Coming attractions: A New York state judge allowed a lawsuit claiming Trump’s foundation violated charity laws to proceed. New York’s attorney general has argued Trump improperly used his foundation to advance his 2016 campaign, an argument that Justice Saliann Scarpulla said she found fair. (Jonathan O'Connell and David A. Fahrenthold)

President Trump told Cabinet members they must cut budgets by 5 percent, saying, "One penny, every year, after four or five years, country's in good shape." (The Washington Post)


--Trump is demanding top advisers craft a plan to reduce the country’s ballooning budget deficits, but the president has flummoxed his own aides by repeatedly seeking new spending while ruling out measures needed to address the country’s unbalanced budget,” Josh Dawsey and Damian Paletta report. “In total, government debt has risen roughly $2 trillion since Trump took office, and the federal government now owes $21.7 trillion, according to the Treasury Department. The president’s agenda has contributed to that increase and is projected to continue to do so, both through the GOP tax cut and with bipartisan spending increases.” Here are four great nuggets from the story, which is based on conversations with 10 current and former officials in the White House and Congress:

Three former senior administration officials said the deficit issue was rarely brought up in Trump’s presence because he had no interest in discussing it. When former National Economic Council director Gary Cohn’s staffers prepared a presentation for Trump about deficits, Cohn told them no. It wouldn’t be necessary, he said, because the president did not care about deficits … Trump also repeatedly told Cohn to print more money … ‘He’d just say, run the presses, run the presses,’ one former senior administration official said, describing the president’s Oval Office orders. ‘Sometimes it seemed like he was joking, and sometimes it didn’t.’

Trump is often not versed in the particulars of the federal budget. Chief of Staff John F. Kelly has told others about watching television with Trump and asking the president how much the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff earns. Trump guessed $5 million … startling the chief of staff. Kelly responded that he made less than $200,000. The president suggested he get a large raise and noted the number of stars on his uniform. 

Even as Trump has told aides he’s finally interested in taking steps to reduce deficits, he has floated several ideas that would further expand them. Trump repeatedly pushed staffers to spend more on the infrastructure bill this summer, envisioning large projects for many key states. … Many staffers thought the problem was that it was too expensive. But Trump thought the government was not spending enough … and he is looking to revive the pricey plan.

When staffers sought to include an attack on Democrats’ Medicare-for-all proposals in Trump’s campaign speeches this fall, he initially blanched … Medicare is popular, he said, and voters want it. Eventually, he agreed to the attack if he could say Democrats were going to take the entitlement away.”

A federal judge on Nov. 25 denied a motion by former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos to postpone his sentence. (Reuters)


-- A judge ruled that former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos must report to prison today. Rosalind S. Helderman and Matt Zapotosky report: “Papadopoulos, who was sentenced to spend 14 days in prison, had argued that it was possible that the constitutional challenge in a separate case would result in his conviction being set aside and that he should therefore be allowed to remain free on bail. But U.S. District Judge Randolph D. Moss noted that Papadopoulos had not appealed his conviction, having waived his right to do so when he pleaded guilty. Moss also wrote that Papadopoulos had not shown that the appeals court in the separate case probably would conclude that the special counsel’s appointment was unlawful.”

-- The White House counsel’s office is understaffed as it prepares for a steady stream of subpoenas after the Democrats take control of the House. Politico’s Nancy Cook and Darren Samuelsohn report: “The office has been without a permanent leader since ex-White House senior attorney Don McGahn left the administration in mid-October. His replacement, Pat Cipollone, is caught up in an extended background check that’s prevented him from starting. And in the coming weeks, deputy counsel Annie Donaldson, who served as McGahn’s most trusted aide and as the office’s chief of staff, is expected to leave the administration … Amid the leadership tumult, the counsel’s office has shrunk to about 25 lawyers, according to a second Republican close to the administration. That’s lower than its recent high point of roughly 35 attorneys and well short of the 40 people that some expect it will need to deal with a reinvigorated Democratic party.”

-- House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy suggested the panel could videotape Jim Comey’s closed-door testimony to ease the former FBI director’s concerns about selective leaks. Matt Zapotosky reports: “The suggestion came as Gowdy (R-S.C.) was answering questions on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’ about the House Judiciary Committee’s recent subpoena of Comey and former attorney general Loretta E. Lynch for private testimony. … Comey has said he planned to resist the subpoena — though he was willing to appear at a public hearing — in part to prevent misleading leaks. … ‘The remedy for leaks is not to have a public hearing where you are supposed to ask about 17 months worth of work in five minutes,’ Gowdy said. ‘I think the remedy is to videotape the deposition.’”

-- Frequent Trump defender Alan Dershowitz predicted Bob Mueller’s report would be “devastating” for the president. “I think the report is going to be devastating to the president and I know that the president's team is already working on a response to the report,” Dershowitz said on ABC News’s “This Week.” He added, “When I say devastating, I mean it's going to paint a picture that's going to be politically very devastating. I still don't think it's going to make a criminal case.” (ABC News)

Russia blocked the Kerch Straight near Crimea on Nov. 25, after claiming that three Ukrainian naval vessels entered Russian territorial waters. (Ivan Zhegunov via Storyful)


-- Russia and Ukraine accused each other of provoking a confrontation in the Black Sea that has already set off severe repercussions. Amie Ferris-Rotman and David Stern report: “On Sunday morning, Russia prevented three Ukrainian ships from entering the Kerch Strait, a narrow strip of water linking the Azov and Black seas. According to the Ukrainian navy, vessels belonging to Russia’s border service opened fire on the Ukrainian fleet, injuring six sailors, before seizing two of the ships. Moscow had prevented the ships from entering the strait by placing a large cargo vessel beneath a Russian-controlled bridge. Russia then closed the strait, which both nations use. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko endorsed the military cabinet’s proposal, rushed through in Kiev well past midnight, to install martial law across the country for 60 days. On Monday, the vote will be put before parliament and is expected to sail through.”

-- Some Republicans who have seen intelligence reports on the killing of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi stepped up their criticism of Trump’s response to his death. Karoun Demirjian reports: “‘I disagree with the president’s assessment,’ Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said Sunday on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press.’ ‘It’s inconsistent with the intelligence I’ve seen. . . . The intelligence I’ve seen suggests that this was ordered by the crown prince.’ … But even some who have sided with Trump in the past have begun to tire of his steadfast defense of Mohammed in the face of clear evidence of human rights abuses and U.S. intelligence’s high-confidence assessment implicating the prince in Khashoggi’s October killing. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), speaking on CNN’s ‘State of the Union,’ acknowledged that Saudi Arabia was a ‘great strategic partner’ but added that the United States’ commitment to human rights and the rule of law requires Congress ‘absolutely to consider further action.’”

-- Turkish police raided a villa in connection to the ongoing search for Khashoggi’s remains. Kareem Fahim reports: “Investigators had focused on the property after new intelligence showed that one of the Saudi agents involved in Khashoggi’s murder had called the property owner a day before the killing, a Turkish official briefed on the investigation said Sunday. …  Photographs of the raid showed police officers standing in front of a grand two-story villa surrounded by woods. Drones and sniffer dogs were also being used in the search, the state news agency said.”

-- China is threatening the U.S. status as the dominant naval power in East Asia. Shibani Mahtani reports: “Washington [has] to contend with China’s fast-growing military reach. That includes investments to its navy and missile systems to directly counter American military might. Few places display Beijing’s ambitions more clearly than in the South China Sea. China has built a number of artificial structures and begun to militarize them. Western military analysts say China is able to possibly position missiles that could potentially destroy American aircraft carriers and other warships.”

-- E.U. leaders have approved the United Kingdom’s Brexit deal. BBC reports: “After 20 months of negotiations, the 27 leaders gave the deal their blessing after less than an hour's discussion. They said the deal — which needs to be approved by the UK Parliament — paved the way for an ‘orderly withdrawal’. Theresa May said the deal ‘delivered for the British people’ and set the UK ‘on course for a prosperous future’. Speaking in Brussels, she urged both Leave and Remain voters to unite behind the agreement, insisting the British public ‘do not want to spend any more time arguing about Brexit’. … The UK Parliament is expected to vote on the deal on 12 December, but its approval is far from guaranteed.”

-- British doctoral student Matthew Hedges was granted a pardon after being sentenced to a lifetime jail sentence in the United Arab Emirates on spying charges. Karla Adam reports: “Hedges, 31, a doctoral student at Durham University, was convicted of espionage on Nov. 21 but said he was in the UAE researching his PhD. At a news conference on Monday, UAE officials played short video clips of what they said was a confession by Hedges, in which he said he was a ‘captain’ in the MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said welcomed the news but said Britain didn’t agree with the charges.”


-- Nancy Pelosi's allies expressed confidence she has the votes to become House speaker. Karoun Demirjian reports: “‘I’m very confident that she’s going to have the votes that she needs,’ Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), a close Pelosi ally who is expected to take over the House Intelligence Committee next year, said on CNN’s ‘State of the Union.’ ‘No one is better qualified.’ … Pelosi has been working to change the minds of [reluctant] members and shore up the support she has among the incoming class. Over the weekend, Sharice Davids — who won in a Kansas district that went handily to Trump in 2016 — announced she would back Pelosi and look to shake up the party’s leadership elsewhere. … [Pelosi’s] challenge is to shore up the support she needs before Wednesday, when the party votes behind closed doors on whom to nominate as speaker, for a vote that will happen on the floor in January.”

-- Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), who also indicated he would oppose Pelosi’s speakership bid, softened his stance. Politico’s Rachael Bade, Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan report: “[Lynch], one of 16 lawmakers or members-elect who had signed a letter promising to vote against Pelosi on the floor, said on Sunday he would back her over a Republican during the critical Jan. 3 vote. Pelosi allies have been insisting that a vote against her on the floor, where she needs a majority of the House to win the gavel, would effectively be supporting a Republican for speaker — though technically members can vote for a Democrat other than the nominee. Lynch appeared to concur with that line of thinking rather than push back on the suggestion that other Pelosi critics have deemed a ‘false choice’ and tried to combat privately for weeks.”

-- Nine Democratic members of the Problem Solvers Caucus are demanding Pelosi support their proposed rules changes in exchange for their votes. The Hill’s Emily Birnbaum reports: “[The group is] urging Pelosi to publicly support three of their ‘Break the Gridlock’ rules. Pelosi is set to meet with the group of Problem Solvers later this week. … They say the three proposals would make it easier to pass popular bipartisan bills that have frequently been sidelined in recent years.”

-- Several Obama White House alumni are among the freshman class of House Democrats, but it’s not clear what leadership role – if any – they will assume in the new Congress. The New York Times’s Catie Edmondson and Sheryl Gay Stolberg report: “Nearly a dozen members of the House’s incoming class are far from being gawky freshmen, stumbling wide-eyed through the strange corridors of Capitol Hill, but are instead experienced policymakers who have worked in previous presidential administrations — seven of them for [Obama]. … But in a freshman class where confrontation, not cooperation, could be most prized, it is not clear whether the Washington veterans will assume leadership roles or take a back seat to younger, brasher freshmen like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.”

2020 WATCH:

-- Several Democrats — including Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) — hinted at their intentions to run for president in 2020. Felicia Sonmez and Matt Zapotosky report: “In an interview with N.J. Advance Media published Sunday, [Booker] said he’s being urged by supporters to pursue a 2020 presidential run. ‘I will consider running for president,’ Booker said. ‘That’s something that I will do. There’s people in New Jersey who are talking to me about it, across the country that are talking to me about it, so I will consider that.’ [Klobuchar] also said she is mulling a bid, although she declined to say definitively whether she plans to run. In an interview on ABC’s ‘This Week,’ she touted her bipartisan appeal and her reputation as someone who ‘likes to get things done.’ … [Brown] said he was ‘seriously thinking about’ running for president and that he and his wife have been ‘overwhelmed’ by the number of people urging him to consider a run.”

-- Former vice president Walter Mondale said he has encouraged Klobuchar to run. The Star Tribune’s Maya Rao reports: “Klobuchar has had at least one conversation about a national campaign, with a man who’s been a political mentor and who once led a presidential ticket himself. [Mondale] said in an interview that, about five months ago, he urged Klobuchar to run for president. ‘She got that engine that Humphrey had,’ Mondale said, in reference to another Minnesota politician who ran nationally, Hubert Humphrey, who also served as vice president. ‘They never get tired — they just go and go and go.’”

-- Outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said he was “very seriously” considering a presidential run against Trump. ABC News’s Kris Schneider reports: “Asked whether a challenge to Trump from within the Republican Party could gain support, Kasich said ‘all options are on the table for me,’ including not ruling out a third-party run. ‘Let’s just say that Donald Trump is nominated and Elizabeth Warren is nominated, and you have this ocean of people who sit in the middle. Is there a legitimate opportunity for a third party, bipartisan kind of ticket to be able to — to score a victory or to have a profound impact on the future of American politics?’ Kasich asked.”

-- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), another 2020 hopeful, has attracted major donors’ scorn for helping to lead the charge in calling for Al Franken’s resignation. Politico’s Natasha Korecki and Laura Nahmias report: “More than a dozen prominent West Coast, New York and national donors and bundlers — many of them women — said they would never again donate to or fundraise for Gillibrand or would only do so if she ended up as the Democratic presidential nominee. Gillibrand has defended her approach by insisting she placed deeply held personal values over party loyalty. But the still-burning resentment among the donor class now confronts Gillibrand as she explores a presidential bid, cutting her off from influential and deep-pocketed contributors and their networks at a time when an expansive 2020 field will compete for their dollars.”

-- GOP operatives in Alabama are questioning whether Jeff Sessions is the right person to try to unseat Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in 2020. Politico’s Daniel Strauss and James Arkin report: “Sessions’ name surfaced as a potential candidate immediately after he was dumped as attorney general this month. But he could be dogged by his strained relationship with [Trump], who remains wildly popular in Alabama and savaged Sessions throughout his tenure at the Justice Department. Though Sessions would be the clear front-runner if he runs, his frayed ties with Trump could create an opening for other Republicans to make a play for the seat — and cause a messy primary similar to the one that cost the party the seat last year, several Alabama Republicans tracking the situation said.”


The Homeland Security secretary defended the actions of her staff at the border:

An AP reporter shared this searing vignette from the southern border:

Columnist Connie Schultz, who is married to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), replied:

From a Democratic congressman:

BuzzFeed News’s Mexico bureau chief highlighted this statistic:

Trump dismissed a "60 Minutes” story by falsely saying his administration maintained the same policy on migrant family separations as the Obama administration:

From a Politico reporter:

Trump threatened this morning to close the border “permanently”:

Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos‏ reacted to a judge's ruling that her husband must report to prison:

The president of the conservative group Judicial Watch promoted the baseless claim that Papadopoulos was set up by the Obama administration:

An NBC News reporter noted a House Republican's reversal on public hearings:

A Democratic congresswoman-elect is headed to Mississippi to get out the vote for the state's Senate race:

Trump was the center of many Twitter jokes after he referred to himself as “President T”:

From a Post reporter:

From the DC bureau chief of Vice News:

From a University of Alabama law professor:

A former George W. Bush speechwriter sarcastically thanked Trump for recent market trends:


-- New York Times, “How China’s Rulers Control Society: Opportunity, Nationalism, Fear,” by Amy Qin and Javier C. Hernández: “For years, many Western analysts believed the Chinese people, having endured decades of hardship under Mao, would tolerate one-party rule in exchange for rising incomes and more social freedom until the day — or so the argument went — that a newly prosperous nation would demand political freedoms, too. Instead, the opposite has happened. Income levels have jumped, yet China’s authoritarian leaders have consolidated power.”

-- “A victim’s father, the killer’s grandfather and a shared mission to protect youths from violence,” by Tony Perry: “On that January night in 1995, a single gunshot left 20-year-old Tariq Khamisa dead and 14-year-old Tony Hicks facing potential life in prison thanks to a state law that had just lowered the age for prosecuting juveniles as adults. Out of their anguish, Tariq’s father and Tony’s grandfather forged an enduring partnership. The organization that resulted, dedicated to ‘stopping kids from killing kids,’ has won widespread recognition and these days is on the verge of expanding nationally.”


“New Hampshire political legend falls prey to Trump effect,” from Politico: “Secretary of State Bill Gardner has had a decades-long run as the legendary, hard-nosed guardian of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. But he may not make it through the Trump era. Gardner, a fixture in presidential politics after more than 40 years in office, is on the verge of a bitter ouster from his job after supporting stricter voter eligibility requirements and participating in [Trump’s] ill-fated voter fraud commission. Though he has traditionally garnered support from both Republicans and Democrats — the Legislature selects the state’s secretary of state every two years — New Hampshire House Democrats overwhelmingly threw their support to a rival Democrat, Colin Van Ostern, in a preliminary caucus vote recently. … Lawmakers are expected to vote Dec. 5 on Gardner’s fate, a month after Democrats won control of both houses of the state Legislature.”



“Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz deletes tweet suggesting 'chemical weapons' used at US-Mexico border,” from Fox News: “Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, tweeted Sunday that the use of tear gas against Central American migrants who attempted to enter the U.S. illegally may have been a violation of international agreements governing the use of chemical weapons – before he backtracked. … Schatz initially tweeted: ‘Tear gas across the border against unarmed families is a new low.’ … Schatz [later] asked: ‘Why tear gas? Is this consistent with the Conventions on Chemical Weapons?’ However, the tweet was posted for just a few minutes before it was deleted and replaced by this message: ‘Anyone uncomfortable with spraying tear gas on children is welcome to join the coalition of the moral and the sane. We can argue about other stuff when we’ve got our country back.’”



Trump will have lunch with Vice President Pence before traveling to Mississippi for two campaign rallies and a roundtable on the First Step Act.


Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski disputed reports that the Secret Service once had to physically separate him from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly: “Well, the Secret Service didn’t break anything up. John and I had a very candid discussion, as he probably has many times with the president.” (Felicia Sonmez)



-- Washington will experience more rain through the afternoon. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Showers are possible starting in the morning with perhaps the steadiest period of rain between late morning and early afternoon. The rain should scoot away by late afternoon, with most spots just picking up 0.1 to 0.2 inches. Highs range from 50 to 55, slightly cooler than Sunday thanks to clouds and rain.”

-- WMATA is shutting down the Yellow Line for the next two weeks. Faiz Siddiqui reports: “Beginning Monday, there will be no Yellow Line service as the transit agency works to replace structural and rail components on the Yellow Line bridge linking L’Enfant Plaza and Pentagon stations. Be prepared for crowding and delays as service in Northern Virginia is cut in half, with Blue Line trains running every 16 minutes from both Franconia-Springfield and Huntington stations.”

-- A group tied to billionaire backers of the charter school lobby donated tens of thousands of dollars to a pair of candidates running for the Alexandria City School Board. Debbie Truong reports: “The source of their financial boost: Leaders in Education Fund, the political giving arm of Leadership for Educational Equity, an organization that trains Teach for America alumni to run for public office and is tied to billionaire donors allied with the charter school lobby. Education experts say the donations may portend an effort to bring more charters to Virginia, a state with restrictive rules governing the publicly funded but independently operated schools. [Veronica] Nolan and [Christopher] Suarez, both of whom won school board seats, condemned assertions that the donations were tied to a charter school push.”


"60 Minutes” captured the lingering effects of migrant family separations:

The Fact Checker awarded Trump three Pinocchios for his claims that he has boosted the economic prospects of Hispanic and African Americans:

President Trump claims to have improved the median income, poverty and homeownership rates of African Americans and Hispanics. But the numbers don't line up. (The Washington Post)

Violent protests erupted this weekend on the Champs Elysees in Paris:

Violent protests on the Champs Elysees in Paris continued into the evening on Nov. 24, after a day on which thousands clashed with police officers. (Reuters)

And Michelle Obama revealed how her daughter Malia preferred to study at the White House:

Former first lady Michelle Obama reflected on life at the White House and how her daughter Malia "liked to study to the sound of the chants of the protesters." (Reuters)