With Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wading into primaries in swing districts caused months of angry grumbling from the left, including a public rebuke from Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and an onslaught of negative coverage from left-leaning outlets like The Intercept. But the leaders of the party committee cared more about winning the House majority than ruffling feathers, and it’s becoming clearer as the dust settles that their strategy succeeded.

Two contests in California illustrate how the approach paid dividends. Earlier this year, several Democrats were fighting to take on Rep. Jeff Denham (R) in a Sacramento-area district. But there was no credible challenger against Rep. David Valadao (R) in a Central Valley district farther to the south. Hillary Clinton had carried both places in 2016 but, because Valadao had still prevailed by double digits, serious candidates with the ability to raise big money weren’t stepping up.

The DCCC convinced one of the Democrats running against Denham, T.J. Cox, to run against Valadao instead, promising national party support if he did, and prodded Emilio Huerta, the Democrat who was running and had lost badly last time, to drop out. The state’s jungle primary system also means that the top two finishers in June, regardless of party, face off in November. Private polling showed Democrats there was a real chance that they’d be frozen out against Denham if Cox stayed in because a second GOP candidate was pulling in the double digits. Democratic venture capitalist Josh Harder wound up winning the second slot and defeated Denham earlier this month.

Cox, an engineer who founded a nut-processing company and is now president of a community investment fund, trailed Valadao by over 4,000 votes on election night, but with the latest batch of mail-in ballots counted, he’s now ahead by 436 votes. A Fresno Bee analysis of the thousands of ballots that are still outstanding suggests Cox will likely prevail, though the race has not been called. Fresno County is expected to announce fresh numbers later today that could prove decisive.

-- California helps tell the story of how Democrats won the House. For Nancy Pelosi, poised to win her party’s support today to become speaker, her home state is also the gift that keeps on giving. Democrats have already flipped six GOP-held seats in California, including all four in the longtime GOP stronghold of Orange County. The Valadao seat would be the seventh — and their 40th pickup.

-- The GOP had to defend 25 House districts where President Trump lost to Clinton in 2016. If Valadao goes down, Republicans will only hold three of those 25 seats next year. The three incumbents who survived the blue wave are Will Hurd in Texas, Brian Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania and John Katko in New York. Katko beat Dana Balter in a Syracuse-area district that Clinton carried by six points. She was one of only two Democratic nominees for the House this fall who defeated a candidate formally backed by the DCCC in the primary. The other was social worker Kara Eastman, who defeated former congressman Brad Ashford in an Omaha district Trump had won by running on Medicare-for-all. Eastman lost to Rep. Don Bacon (R) in the general election by 3 percent.

-- The most famous example of the DCCC’s intervention came in February in the Democratic primary to take on Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.). The committee generated a firestorm by publishing opposition research on Laura Moser, a liberal candidate who had momentum because of support from national progressive groups. Operatives concluded that Moser couldn’t win the general election in the suburban Houston district. Among other things, she had written a piece for Washingtonian magazine in 2014 that said she’d “sooner have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia” than move to her grandparents’ home in rural Texas. Their intervention allowed Lizzie Fletcher to prevail in the primary runoff. She beat Culberson this month by five points.

-- California shows that Democrats weren’t always so heavy handed in clearing the field. After agreeing to switch races, for example, the DCCC added Cox to their “Red to Blue” program on March 22, which provided an infrastructure for significant national fundraising. Cox outraised Valadao in the second quarter, pulling in about $700,000 despite the incumbent benefiting from a high-dollar fundraiser hosted by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who represents a nearby Bakersfield-area district, and Trump himself. Cox raised another $930,000 in the third quarter.

The DCCC also agreed to split the costs 50-50 to run a series of TV ads. Cox, in concert with the DCCC, went on the air Aug. 7, five weeks before Valadao began running his own ads on broadcast television. They went on Spanish-language TV in late September. All told, the DCCC spent about $700,000 on the joint ads.

All the spots linked Valadao to Trump in a district that the president had lost by 16 points and where the majority of the population is Latino. The spots pointed to a FiveThirtyEight analysis that showed the congressman voted with the president 99 percent of the time:

Valadao tried to focus his campaign on his efforts to bring home the bacon with his seat on the Appropriations Committee and to scale back environmental protections so farmers would have more access to water. He also hammered Cox for being from outside the district and owning a home in Maryland. On the campaign trail, he accused the DCCC of elevating a “Washington insider” over a local resident.

But Trump’s unpopularity overshadowed all of that. A Republican strategist who was involved in the race, speaking on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment, argued that Cox was a subpar candidate and Valadao ran a textbook campaign, but that races have become so nationalized in this environment that it was impossible for him to survive with the president so unpopular locally. To illustrate this point, GOP operatives note that Cox ran for Congress in the Central Valley back in 2006 against GOP Rep. George Radanovich. It was another good year for Democrats, but he still lost by 20-plus points. “There’s plenty of seats they can take credit for, but this isn’t one,” the Republican strategist said of the DCCC. “This was all environment.”

Cox said he performed well because of his focus on issues like better health care and good jobs. “Here in the Central Valley, we are often underestimated and counted out,” Cox said in a statement after the latest election results came out. “But while the national spotlight focused elsewhere, our hard-working communities came together to fight for … more opportunities.”

-- Dan Sena, the executive director of the DCCC, emphasized in an interview that half the Democratic pickups came in districts Trump won in 2016. He said surviving primaries and building bridges between the establishment and grass-roots activists was essential to expanding the battlefield. During a wide-ranging conversation in his office last week about the lessons of 2018, he noted that there were about 40 viable House races in 2016, but the committee invested in 89 districts this year.

He noted that a lot of veteran Democratic operatives told him that several of the Clinton districts they wound up picking off were not winnable because the incumbent was too popular. Valadao was among them. “There were multiple paths to the majority,” said Sena. “When Donald Trump shakes the snow globe, we weren’t sure what was ultimately going to happen. … We didn’t have a lot of mulligan candidates. A lot of our first-time candidates didn’t make freshman mistakes.”

The committee made a big bet on California, setting up an office in Orange County for operatives back in April 2017. “We made a strategic decision to elevate the West,” he said.

Local field staffers were hired early, and they were urged to cultivate relationships with the resistance groups that were popping up organically around the country so that Democratic House candidates could capitalize on their energy. Sena privately dubbed this “arming the rebels.”

The 43-year-old argued that Republicans made a “strategic error” by running too few positive ads about their incumbents. He said Democrats did the same thing when they lost the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014.

The DCCC also discovered during its research that a lot of voters disliked Trump so much that they didn’t want to see pictures of him. Sena said people in their focus groups would dismiss mailers with images of the president’s face and of kids who had been separated from their parents being held in cages at the southern border. In some cases, the voters they wanted to motivate would literally push the mailers away or turn them over because they were so upset by the pictures. So they took Trump’s face off most literature and tried to use more uplifting images. They also took this approach in closing Spanish-language ads that targeted Hispanics in California. “Know your power,” a narrator said. “Use your voice.”

As an architect of the Democratic House majority, Sena is now in demand. He said he’s talking with a handful of potential presidential candidates about 2020, but he’s also interested in helping to defend the House majority. Later today, though, he’s flying with his 7-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son to Disney World. “And I’m taking my wife somewhere with a beach and rum,” he said. “Then I’m going to figure it out.”

The Daily 202's BIG IDEA> Get James' insight into Washington every weekday on your smart speaker or favorite podcast player.
Subscribe on Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and other podcast players.
 
Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning briefing for decision-makers.
Sign up to receive the newsletter.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) won the racially charged runoff election in Mississippi, besting Democrat Mike Espy by eight points to become the state’s first elected female U.S. senator. “Espy, who would have become the state’s first African American senator since Reconstruction, ran the state’s most competitive Democratic campaign for U.S. Senate in decades but fell short in his efforts to bring historic numbers of black voters to the polls,” Matt Viser and David Weigel report.

  • “We have bonded, we have persevered, we have gotten through things,” Hyde-Smith told a room of supporters in Jackson after receiving a congratulatory call from Trump.
  • “When this many people show up, when this many people stand up, when this many people speak up, it is not a loss. It is a moment,” Espy told supporters at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. “So we are not going to stop moving our state forward.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. A roadside bomb killed three U.S. service members in the Afghan province of Ghazni. The deaths bring  to 13 the total number of U.S. troops killed this year in Afghanistan. (Pamela Constable and Dan Lamothe)

  2. Google CEO Sundar Pichai will testify before Congress on Dec. 5. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are expected to grill Pichai on allegations the search engine has an anti-conservative bias. (Tony Romm)
  3. A former Facebook employee released a memo in which he argues the company is “failing its black employees and its black users.” Digital strategist and former Post editor Mark Luckie worked for Facebook for about a year, but he decided to quit after he became disillusioned by the company’s treatment of black users and lack of diversity. (Eli Rosenberg)

  4. The Supreme Court will hear arguments today on whether an Indiana civil forfeiture law violates the Constitution’s prohibition on excessive fines. Laws such as Indiana’s allow authorities to seize property believed to have been involved in a crime. (Robert Barnes)

  5. A preliminary report found that a malfunctioning sensor contributed to the Lion Air plane crash that killed 189 people. The report details how the plane’s “angle of attack” sensor, which measures where the nose is pointing, gave incorrect readings — leading the aircraft to be directed downward. (Stanley Widianto, Ashley Halsey III and Aaron Gregg)

  6. The Chinese researcher who claimed to have helped produce the world’s first genetically altered babies said there was another “potential pregnancy” involved in his study. He Jiankui also defended his work, which has raised ethical concerns. “We should, for millions of families with inherited disease, show compassion,” he told an audience in Hong Kong. (Gerry Shih and Carolyn Johnson)

  7. Investigators have not yet discovered a motive for the Thousand Oaks shooting. But authorities have been able to develop a clearer picture of what happened at the Borderline Bar and Grill — including that the shooter “threw multiple smoke grenades while inside the bar, which contributed significantly to the chaos and confusion inside.” (Mark Berman)

  8. Some employers are casting themselves as “recovery friendly,” allowing job applicants who have struggled with addiction a chance at a new role. The companies are willing to look past periods of unemployment or possible encounters with the police, treating substance abuse and relapse as medical issues similar to surgery. (Lenny Bernstein)

  9. Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of “SpongeBob SquarePants,” died at 57. The former marine biology teacher had Lou Gehrig’s disease. (Matt Schudel)

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Paul Manafort’s lawyer repeatedly briefed Trump’s attorneys on the former campaign chairman’s discussions with special counsel Bob Mueller’s team. The New York Times’s Michael S. Schmidt, Sharon LaFraniere and Maggie Haberman report: “The arrangement was highly unusual and inflamed tensions with the special counsel’s office when prosecutors discovered it after Mr. Manafort began cooperating two months ago ... Some legal experts speculated that it was a bid by Mr. Manafort for a presidential pardon even as he worked with [Mueller] in hopes of a lighter sentence. Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of the president’s personal lawyers, acknowledged the arrangement on Tuesday and defended it as a source of valuable insights into the special counsel’s inquiry and where it was headed. Such information could help shape a legal defense strategy, and it also appeared to give Mr. Trump and his legal advisers ammunition in their public relations campaign against Mr. Mueller’s office.

“While [Manafort’s lawyer Kevin] Downing’s discussions with the president’s team violated no laws, they helped contribute to a deteriorating relationship between lawyers for Mr. Manafort and Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors, who accused Mr. Manafort of holding out on them despite his pledge to assist them in any matter they deemed relevant ... That conflict spilled into public view on Monday when the prosecutors took the rare step of declaring that Mr. Manafort had breached his plea agreement by lying to them about a variety of subjects. … Though it was unclear how frequently he spoke to Mr. Trump’s lawyers or how much he revealed, his updates helped reassure Mr. Trump’s legal team that Mr. Manafort had not implicated the president in any possible wrongdoing.”

-- Manafort reportedly visited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange around the time he joined Trump’s campaign, according to the Guardian’s Luke Harding and Dan Collyns: “Sources have said Manafort went to see Assange in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016 — during the period when he was made a key figure in Trump’s push for the White House. In a statement, Manafort denied meeting Assange. He said: ‘I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him. I have never been contacted by anyone connected to WikiLeaks, either directly or indirectly. I have never reached out to Assange or WikiLeaks on any matter.’ … Manafort’s 2016 visit to Assange lasted about 40 minutes, one source said … Visitors normally register with embassy security guards and show their passports. Sources in Ecuador, however, say Manafort was not logged.” Assange also denied Manafort visited.

-- Mueller’s prosecutors filed a draft court document alleging conservative author Jerome Corsi provided Trump ally Roger Stone with early knowledge about WikiLeaks’s planned email dumps. Carol D. Leonnig, Rosalind S. Helderman and Manuel Roig-Franzia report: “Corsi emailed Stone about WikiLeaks’s plans nearly 10 weeks before the group published [Clinton campaign chairman John] Podesta’s hacked emails in October, according to the document, which was prepared by [Mueller’s] team as part of plea negotiations with Corsi that have collapsed. ‘Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging,’ Corsi wrote in the email quoted in the draft document, referring to [Assange] … The email continued: ‘Time to let more than [Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta] to be exposed as in bed w enemy if they are not ready to drop [Clinton]. That appears to be the game hackers are now about.’

The draft filing … provides a remarkable look at the case Mueller is building related to WikiLeaks and the most detailed allegations yet that a key associate in Trump’s orbit was provided advance knowledge of the group’s plans. Stone, who has long denied coordinating with WikiLeaks, reiterated that denial Tuesday. ‘None of the emails cited prove I had advance notice of the source or content of either allegedly hacked or allegedly stolen emails published by WikiLeaks,’ he wrote in a text message to The Post. ‘When did political gossip become a criminal activity? More importantly these emails provide no evidence that I received any materials from WikiLeaks or Assange or Corsi or anyone else and passed them on to Donald Trump or the Trump campaign or anyone else.’”

-- Legal analysts said Mueller’s loss of two potential cooperating witnesses — Manafort and Corsi — would likely harm but not destroy his investigation. Matt Zapotosky reports: “Manafort probably will never take the stand as [Mueller’s] star witness. And Mueller’s prosecutors might have to plow deeper into the world of WikiLeaks and its contacts to determine what, if any, coordination occurred between the Trump campaign and Russia over the release of emails. That probably will leave Mueller disappointed but undeterred.”

THE DOMESTIC AGENDA:

-- In an interview with The Post, Trump blamed the Fed for recent economic setbacks and said he is “not even a little bit happy” with Chairman Jay Powell, whom the president nominated last year. Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Damian Paletta report: “When asked about declines on Wall Street and GM’s announcement that it was laying off 15 percent of its workforce, Trump responded by criticizing higher interest rates and other Fed policies, though he insisted that he is not worried about a recession. … Though Trump said several times in response to a question about emerging cracks in the economy that he wasn’t ‘blaming anybody,’ he clearly assigned blame to Powell for leading the Fed through several interest rate increases this year. ... In Twitter posts Tuesday, issued shortly after his interview with The Post, Trump blamed GM chief executive Mary Barra for the company’s plant closures and layoffs and threatened to strip away any government subsidies for the auto giant.”

-- Trump also dismissed the conclusions from his administration’s climate change report, expressing little concern about its dire conclusions. Josh Dawsey, Philip Rucker, Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney report: “‘One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers,’ Trump said [during the Post interview] … ‘As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it,’ he added. … In his comments, Trump also seemed to invoke a theme that is common in the world of climate-change skepticism — the idea that not so long ago, scientists feared global cooling, rather than the warming that is underway today. ‘If you go back and if you look at articles, they talk about global freezing,’ Trump said. ‘They talk about at some point, the planet is going to freeze to death, then it’s going to die of heat exhaustion.’” (Here is a full transcript from Trump’s interview with The Post.)

-- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave a speech criticizing the federal student aid program as a “looming crisis in higher education.” Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reports: “Higher-education experts have long criticized the Education Department’s lending program as unwieldy because of varying loan limits and repayment plans that have mushroomed over the past few administrations. … Many Americans saddled with even small amounts of education debt are struggling or taking longer to repay the debt, raising questions about the sustainability of the program. … Yet [DeVos] laid much of the blame for the mounting debt on the Obama administration’s decision to lend directly to students and eliminate a $60 billion program that backed private student loans with federal subsidies.”

-- Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C) said he has not decided how he will vote on Thomas Farr’s nomination for the federal bench, jeopardizing Farr's confirmation. Seung Min Kim and John Wagner report: “Senate Democrats have been particularly critical of Farr, an attorney in Raleigh who backed a law that the courts called ‘the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.’ All 49 Democrats oppose the nomination. Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams, two black candidates who fell short in high-profile gubernatorial races this month, criticized the nomination in a new statement Tuesday, underscoring the national fight over Farr’s nomination to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Trump threatened to cancel his planned meeting with Vladimir Putin later this week over Russia’s clash with Ukraine in the Black Sea. Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Anne Gearan report: “[Asked] whether he thinks Putin was within his rights to seize the Ukrainian ships, Trump said he was considering canceling his bilateral meeting with Putin scheduled for later this week. ‘I am getting a report on that tonight and that will determine what happens at the meeting,’ Trump said. … The session is planned on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires. Asked whether Russia’s aggression is a cause for concern the American people, Trump said it is. ‘I don’t like that aggression,’ Trump said. ‘I don’t want that aggression at all.’”

-- Trump once against questioned the CIA’s assessment that the Saudi crown prince ordered the assassination of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Shane Harris reports: “‘If you look at my statement, it’s maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,’ Trump said in an interview with The Washington Post, referring to his comments last week about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role. ‘But he denies it. And people around him deny it,’ Trump said, noting that Mohammed had spoken to him about the case in three separate phone calls. ‘And the CIA did not say affirmatively he did it, either, by the way. I’m not saying that they’re saying he didn’t do it, but they didn’t say it affirmatively.’”

-- National security adviser John Bolton said he didn’t listen to the tape of Khashoggi's murder because, “I don’t speak Arabic.” Felicia Sonmez reports: “‘No, I haven’t listened to it, and I guess I should ask you, why do you think I should?’ Bolton said Tuesday, turning a question back on a reporter during an appearance in the White House briefing room. ‘What do you think I’ll learn from it?’ He went on to ask how many in the room spoke Arabic, prompting a contentious back-and-forth. ‘Do you have access to an interpreter?’ the reporter asked. ‘You want me to listen to it?’ Bolton responded. ‘What am I going to learn from — I mean, if they were speaking Korean, I wouldn’t learn any more from it, either.’”

-- Some senators have complained that CIA Director Gina Haspel, who has heard the tape, will not be present for a closed-door briefing today before the entire Senate on U.S.-Saudi relations. The Guardian’s Julian Borger reports: “On a national security issue of such importance, it would be customary for a senior intelligence official to take part, Senate staffers said. On this occasion, the absence of the intelligence community is all the more glaring, as Haspel travelled to Istanbul to hear audio tapes of Khashoggi’s murder provided by Turkish intelligence, and then briefed Donald Trump. … Officials said that the decision for Haspel not to appear in front of the committee came from the White House, but [Bolton] denied it. ‘Certainly not,’ he told reporters, but left it unclear why there would be no intelligence presence.”

-- “Behind the brutal murder of [Khashoggi] lies a power struggle within the Saudi royal family that helped feed the paranoia and recklessness of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” David Ignatius writes. “The opening scenes of this family feud took place in January 2015 in a VIP hospital suite in Riyadh, as King Abdullah lay on his deathbed. According to a Saudi who was at the hospital at the time, Abdullah’s sons and courtiers briefly delayed informing his successor, King Salman, that the monarch had passed — perhaps hoping to control the court’s stash of money and sustain powerful positions for Abdullah’s wing of the family. The cutthroat scheming within the House of Saud over the following years matches anything in the fantasy series ‘Game of Thrones.’”

-- A neighborhood advisory panel in Washington will vote today on renaming the street outside the Saudi Embassy for Khashoggi. From Paul Schwartzman: “Under the proposal, the east side of New Hampshire Avenue NW between F Street and Juarez Circle would become ‘Jamal Khashoggi Way.’”

THE IMMIGRATION WARS:

-- Trump appeared to soften his stance on forcing a partial government shutdown after Dec. 7 over funding for his border wall. Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Felicia Sonmez report: “Trump said he is considering a backup plan if Congress rejects his demand for $5 billion in funding for his border wall, potentially including the continued use of troops and razor wire to prevent migrants from entering the country. … Trump had previously declared that he was willing to force a partial government shutdown if lawmakers did not agree to the $5 billion figure. … But Trump said he thought he had the political upper hand, suggesting that footage of crowds of migrants rushing the border would sway public opinion against Democrats. ‘We desperately need a wall,’ Trump said. ‘I think that’s been shown better than ever in the last short period of two weeks — that we need a wall. I see the Democrats are going to want to do something, because they understand, too. Those pictures are very bad for the Democrats.’”

-- But in another interview, Trump said he was firm in his demand for $5 billion in border wall funding and would "totally be willing" to shut the government down over the matter. From Politico’s Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer report: “Raising the stakes even higher for the GOP, Trump said the $5 billion would only cover the physical border. ‘The number is larger for border security,’ he said. … Sitting at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, with a stack of papers, magazines and a soda at the ready, Trump said he now believes that a pitched battle over the border is a ‘total winner’ politically for his party, and a loser for Democrats. ‘I don't do anything ... just for political gain,’ Trump said. ‘But I will tell you, politically speaking, that issue is a total winner.”

-- Government officials continued to defend the use of tear gas at the southern border amid accusations of excessive force. Nick Miroff reports: “Yet critics of the Trump administration, as well as Mexican officials, have questioned the use of tear gas in the presence of children and the decision to fire canisters over the border fence. ‘I can’t imagine firing tear gas into a foreign country,’ Gil Kerlikowske, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection from 2014 until the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, [said] … Border Patrol agents in 2013 used tear gas to disperse a smaller rock-throwing crowd in Tijuana, but Kerlikowske, who oversaw a broad overhaul of the agency’s use-of-force policies, said he could not recall any such incident during his tenure as commissioner.”

-- Migrants waiting at the southern border are trying to impose order on the convoluted U.S. asylum process. Kevin Sieff and Sarah Kinosian report: “More than 5,000 names are inscribed in a worn notebook, one for each migrant waiting here for asylum — a list that has grown exponentially since the caravan arrived. … Each morning, Mexican officials learn from their U.S. counterparts how many asylum seekers will be allowed to cross the border that day. The officials pass that information on to the migrants, who have chosen leaders among them to manage the notebook. Those leaders call the names of the people at the top of the list, and add the names of new arrivals, doling out handwritten numbers on tiny pieces of paper.”

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:

-- A group of unidentified donors contributed nearly $17 million to a little-known conservative nonprofit that directed money to support Trump’s inauguration and his Supreme Court nominations. Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports: “Wellspring Committee, a politically active organization that funds conservative causes and groups, received $16.7 million in 2017 from four unnamed donors who gave between $250,000 and $8.9 million each, according to the group’s 2017 tax return, obtained by the advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington. During the same period of time, the Northern Virginia-based group gave $14.8 million to another politically active nonprofit organization: the conservative Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), which spent millions of dollars backing the nominations of [Neil] Gorsuch and [Brett] Kavanaugh.”

-- Kavanaugh has returned to coaching his younger daughter’s basketball team. Ann E. Marimow reports: “The Supreme Court’s newest justice was back in action over the Thanksgiving holiday leading his younger daughter’s team to the championship game of a tournament in the Washington suburbs. In one of the more contentious moments of his bruising confirmation battle, Kavanaugh lamented that sexual assault allegations against him might mean he would have to give up coaching. ‘I love coaching more than anything I’ve ever done in my whole life,’ Kavanaugh said … ‘But thanks to what some of you on this side of the committee have unleashed,’ he said, referring to the panel’s Democrats, ‘I may never be able to coach again.’”

-- Christine Blasey Ford expressed confidence in her decision to come forward with a sexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to fulfill my civic duty,” she wrote in a statement on GoFundMe. “Having done so, I am in awe of the many women and men who have written me to share similar life experiences, and now have bravely shared their experience with friends and family, many for the first time. I send you my heartfelt love and support. I wish I could thank each and every one of you individually. Thank you.” Ford was able to raise nearly $650,000 on the website — which, she said, allowed her family to spend money on security measures. (Lindsey Bever)

-- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was cleared of wrongdoing in one probe connected to how he redrew boundaries of a national monument in Utah. Juliet Eilperin and Lisa Rein report: “In a Nov. 21 letter to Zinke’s deputy, David Bernhardt, Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall wrote that her office ‘found no evidence’ that the secretary or his aides changed the boundaries of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in an effort to help former Utah state representative Mike Noel … The inspector general’s office still has at least two ongoing probes of the secretary, including one focused on his real estate dealings in Whitefish, Mont., and another regarding his decision to deny a permit to two Connecticut tribes who were hoping to jointly run a casino after MGM Resorts International lobbied against it.”

-- Ivanka Trump claimed there was “no equivalency” between her use of a private email account and the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s private server. ABC News’s John Santucci and Luc Bruggeman report: “Speaking with ABC News' Deborah Roberts in Wilder, Idaho, where she's promoting STEM initiatives alongside Apple CEO Tim Cook, Ivanka Trump maintained that all of the emails on her private account were properly archived and contained no classified information. She is adamant they bear no resemblance to Hillary Clinton's email scandal, which her father eagerly and frequently condemned as part of his campaign for president. ‘All of my emails are stored and preserved. There were no deletions. There is no attempt to hide,’ she said, adding, ‘There's no equivalency to what my father's spoken about.’”

-- The White House attempted to enforce restrictions on how Ivanka Trump’s Idaho trip would be covered. The Idaho Statesman’s Cynthia Sewell reports: “On Monday morning, the White House informed the Statesman it could send one reporter and one photographer to observe [Cook and Trump] tour a Wilder elementary school the next morning. And there were conditions: The Statesman could not ask questions of or talk to Trump and Cook. It could only observe. The only other media attending the event would be a national crew from ABC. By Monday afternoon, the Wilder School District sent notification letters about the visit to parents, along with ABC media release forms. Word got out, and local media began to ask about covering the event.”

-- Former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt was provided the questions in advance for some of his Fox News interviews during his tumultuous tenure, the Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani reports: “In one instance, according to emails revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request[,] … Pruitt’s team even approved part of the show’s script. … In May 2017, Pruitt’s staff wanted to set up an interview to discuss how the then-administrator was interested in helping communities his team claimed were ‘poorly served by the last administration.’ And so then-EPA press secretary Amy Graham proposed an interview to Fox & Friends producer Andrew Murray, who quickly agreed to bring Pruitt on the next day to discuss the topic.” A Fox spokesperson said in a statement, “This is not standard practice whatsoever and the matter is being addressed internally with those involved.”

MORE MIDTERMS FALLOUT:

-- Mitch McConnell is urging Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) to appoint former Senate candidate Martha McSally if Sen. Jon Kyl (R) vacates his seat at the end of the year. But some Arizona Republicans are publicly expressing reservations about the move. Sean Sullivan reports: “[Some] have questioned [the McSally] campaign’s strategic decisions and wondered why she was not able to win in a state that [Trump] carried in 2016 and where Ducey coasted to reelection this year. … On the call with Ducey, McConnell said McSally would make a great senator and noted there was a lot of support for her in the party. Ducey listened but made no commitments … Facing a more challenging Senate map in 2020 than they did this year, Republican leaders are eager to lock down a strong Arizona contender who can represent the state and effectively use the power of incumbency to run a winning campaign in 2020. Many say McSally is the best choice.”

-- Nancy Pelosi appears to be solidifying support as House Democrats prepare to meet behind closed doors today to nominate a speaker. Mike DeBonis and Elise Viebeck report: “On the eve of [the] crucial vote, [Pelosi] spoke to roughly 60 incoming members at a closed-door session, praising the newcomers, most of them women, appealing for unity, and delivering an implicit pitch for a return to the top position. “We want to remove all doubt to how we go forward in a way that puts our best foot forward on Day One, in order to show that we can govern,” she said … Pelosi has no challenger and the backing of 149 Democrats, according to The Washington Post’s count, but 22 new and incumbent Democrats oppose her candidacy. …

Twenty of the Democratic freshmen signed a letter released Tuesday endorsing Pelosi, hailing her work to pass the Affordable Care Act during her previous stint as speaker and saying that ‘voters put us back into the majority largely because of our promises to protect and expand people’s access to that care.’ But the new class also poses some peril to Pelosi’s campaign to return as speaker: About a dozen incoming members who ran in Republican-leaning areas have said they will oppose her in a January floor vote. Their potential opposition, along with that of about a dozen incumbents, could keep Pelosi from claiming the gavel. The leaders of the dissidents say that Wednesday’s vote will make clear that Pelosi does not have the absolute majority of House members needed to win the speakership vote set for Jan. 3.”

-- The Congressional Black Caucus is poised to take control of two leadership slots and several committee chairmanships when Democrats formally regain the House majority. Paul Kane reports: “The new clout comes from a significant gain in African American members, nine total. If all nine join the CBC, as expected, they will push the caucus’s voting bloc to 52 members of the roughly 235 House Democrats expected next year. The CBC would account for 22 percent of all Democratic votes. And these incoming members are a historic bunch who will give the CBC more influence in terms of the constituents they represent and greater clout with the Democratic leadership team looking to secure this new majority for many years.”

-- Freedom Caucus leaders Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Mark Meadows (N.C.) are vying to become the top Republicans on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, which would allow them key platforms in defending Trump against Democratic investigations. Politico’s Rachael Bade, John Bresnahan and Kyle Cheney report: “Both face an uphill battle and have made numerous enemies during their tenure leading the Freedom Caucus. But GOP sources on the Hill and close to the White House say they’re hoping Trump advocates on their behalf to help them win the positions. Trump — who is close to both men — has urged House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to make a deal to give them prime committee assignments.”

-- House Democrats plan to investigate the rise in hate crimes when they regain control. “There appears to be a politically driven effort to diminish programs that empower communities to counter the influence of extremist ideology,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), the expected incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote in letter to acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker, FBI Director Chris Wray and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. “Reporting also suggests that the Administration remains focused on targeting specific racial and ethnic minorities as the suspected main sources of domestic terrorism.” (Karoun Demirjian)

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The president and vice president congratulated Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith on her win:

A Post reporter analyzed the results of the race:

Another Post reporter noted Espy's success in majority-black districts:

From a Cook Political Report editor:

Trump implored Mueller to investigate Hillary Clinton's private email server:

A former CIA director predicted Mueller would be remembered as a hero for his role in the investigation:

He also made a joke about a Florida election official who attracted controversy during the state's recount process:

A former U.S. ambassador to Russia slammed Trump for failing to admonish Russia over its confrontation with Ukraine:

Democrats mobilized against Trump judicial nominee Thomas Farr. From a former chief of staff to Al Gore and Joe Biden:

A Post reporter demonstrated how Brett Kavanaugh's fears of having his reputation ruined have not been realized:

Turning on the charm: Mexico will honor the president's son-in-law this week:

The Senate majority leader pressed members of the chamber to embrace a “bipartisan spirit” during the lame-duck session:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opened a speech by discussing how he helped change DNC rules on superdelegates:

A Senate Republican expressed gratitude for his state:

Two former presidents met in Houston:

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) offered some “political” recommendations:

And a Post reporter received some ironic advice:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- CNN, “A Shadow Over Europe,” by Richard Allen Greene: “Anti-Semitic stereotypes are alive and well in Europe, while the memory of the Holocaust is starting to fade, a sweeping new survey by CNN reveals. More than a quarter of Europeans polled believe Jews have too much influence in business and finance. Nearly one in four said Jews have too much influence in conflict and wars across the world. … Meanwhile, a third of Europeans in the poll said they knew just a little or nothing at all about the Holocaust."

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Most white Americans will be represented by a Republican in the House next year,” from Philip Bump: “In the next Congress, most representatives will be Democrats, most will be white, and most will be men. Interestingly, only 21 percent of the next House will be all three; most of the white men are members of the Republican, not Democratic, Party. But I broke down the United States' demographic groups by those three metrics: how many people will be represented by Democrats, men and white people. … Most white Americans (meaning non-Hispanic whites) will be represented by a Republican. At least two-thirds of black, Hispanic or Asian Americans will be represented by a Democrat. Black and Hispanic Americans are much less likely to be represented by a white person in the House (though majorities still will be).”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“CNN's Jim Acosta spars with Sanders in briefing room after temporary ban,” from Fox News: “CNN’s Jim Acosta made his return to the James S. Brady room on Tuesday for a press briefing with Sarah Sanders — 20 days after the reporter was temporarily banned from the White House. … The press secretary eventually called on Acosta, who asked if [Trump] would recommend that Paul Manafort should cooperate with authorities going forward. The questioning grew tenser — though not nearly as explosive as the post-election incident that resulted in his pass being pulled — as Acosta then asked why Trump doesn’t have faith in his advisers, citing the president's apparent skepticism toward a major government climate change study and the CIA's findings regarding Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's role in [Khashoggi's] killing.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will have lunch with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and later participate in the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony with the first lady.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.” — Trump on his frustrations with the Fed. (Aaron Blake)

 

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

-- Washington’s wind advisory will make for a cold, blustery day. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Similar to yesterday, but even a bit colder and windier. Temperatures start out near 30 early this morning, only reaching the upper 30s to low 40s this afternoon with partly to mostly sunny skies. Winds blow from the west-northwest around 20-25 mph, with occasional gusts near 40-45 mph, as wind chills hold in the 20s to low 30s.”

-- An active-shooting alarm appeared to have been set off in error at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. Peter Hermann and Dan Morse report: “For more than an hour Tuesday, patients, staff and visitors were locked down and barricading themselves in offices during what they were told was a report of an active shooter … But why that alert went out and whether it was a false alarm that sparked a genuine response or a drill preparation gone awry was murky for hours after the event … By early Tuesday evening, it appeared that the notification system that alerts to a shooter was used incorrectly by one of the organizations on the sprawling campus — but the organization was not identified.”

-- The D.C. Council gave preliminary approval to legislation that would move the District’s power grid to entirely renewable energy sources by 2032. Peter Jamison reports: “The council voted unanimously to advance the bill, which must pass a second vote next month. The measure’s proponents say the District is making itself a model for cities and states seeking to reduce carbon emissions in the face of inaction at the federal level.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Trevor Noah mocked GM's careful language in announcing its U.S. plant closures:

Stephen Colbert allowed himself to be interviewed by Jon Stewart:

The first lady honored the three U.S. service members who recently died in Afghanistan while assembling “comfort kits” for troops at the Red Cross:

A CBS News reporter was praised for challenging Trump in person over a false claim he made about his family separation policy:

An amusing clip of former British foreign secretary Boris Johnson mixing up basic facts about history and foreign policy went viral: