With Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: There’s a tweet for everything. “3 chiefs of staff in less than 3 years of being President,” Donald Trump posted in 2012. “Part of the reason why @BarackObama can’t manage to pass his agenda.”

But Barack Obama never had a problem finding talented people eager to take the job, and a 36-year-old certainly never snubbed the previous president the way that Nick Ayers did on Sunday. Now, with two months left in his second year, President Trump is back at square one as he searches for a third chief of staff.

Advisers to Trump were “stunned” that Vice President Pence’s chief turned down the chance to replace John Kelly, claiming he wanted to spend more time with his family in Georgia, Maggie Haberman reports on the front page of the New York Times: “One former senior administration official called it a humiliation for Mr. Trump and his adult children, an emotion that the president tries to avoid at all costs. … Two people close to Mr. Trump said that a news release announcing Mr. Ayers’s appointment had been drafted, and that the president had wanted to announce it as soon as possible.”

-- Who now? “Trump’s new list of potential chiefs includes Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney … and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus,” per The Post’s Felicia Sonmez, Josh Dawsey and Damian Paletta. “Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker and Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer were also said to be under consideration. But a senior administration official, who spoke privately and was not authorized to discuss the talks, said there was reluctance to move Lighthizer into the role [because] he is integral to negotiations with China over trade. Another senior administration official said that Mulvaney and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have both expressed internally that they aren’t seeking the job but could change their minds if Trump pleads with them.”

The Associated Press reports that Mulvaney is not interested in becoming chief of staff, citing a person close to him: “Mulvaney has been saying for almost two months now that he would be more interested in becoming commerce or treasury secretary. … A person familiar with Mnuchin’s thinking said he, too, was happy with his work at Treasury and had not sought the job of chief of staff. … Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, David Bossie, is also among the names being floated by some close to the White House. … Pence’s deputy chief of staff, Jarrod Agen, is expected to assume Ayers’ role for the vice president.”

“Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who as a onetime United States attorney could help Mr. Trump in an impeachment fight, was also being mentioned,” per the Times.

“In recent days, another name for chief of staff has cropped up among Trump’s advisers: Wayne Berman, senior managing director and head of global government affairs at the Blackstone Group,” per Politico. “Berman, who served as a top political aide at the Commerce Department under President George H.W. Bush, is close to Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone, who remains one of Trump’s closest confidants in the business world”.

-- For anyone, under any president, this is a hard job with a Herculean learning curve. But there are four unique reasons that this position is especially foreboding for ambitious apparatchiks, even Trump loyalists.

1) Javanka cannot be managed.

Kelly clashed constantly with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s daughter and son-in-law. They technically reported to him, but they had a direct channel to the president and maneuvered behind the scenes to replace him as chief.

“The couple told others privately that Kelly shared damaging stories about them and had not always served the president well,” Josh, Seung Min Kim and Phil Rucker reported on Saturday. “For his part, Kelly joked that the couple was ‘playing government,’ and he said they should never have been brought into the White House — and that the pair thought they did not have to follow the traditional rules.”

It’s very hard, if not impossible, to manage your boss’s kids. The power dynamic will always be challenging, no matter how clearly roles and responsibilities are delineated. This is why many public companies and agencies have nepotism rules.

Ayers had carefully cultivated an alliance with Javanka, who went to bat for him with Trump, even as other senior administration officials lobbied against him directly to the president. But then there’s this wrinkle: Two sources tell CNN that one reason Ayers did not take the job was because of resistance from Melania Trump. The first lady has been more assertive recently, and she recently got the deputy national security adviser fired after a conflict that seemed to stem from a dispute over seating arrangements on a flight to Africa.

Just as in any West Wing, there are other competing power centers to worry about, as well. Then there’s the 2020 reelection campaign, which will have offices in New York and Northern Virginia. There are also seemingly dozens of outside friends and advisers whom Trump phones regularly for advice.

The president has a long history, going back to his time managing Atlantic City casinos, of pitting staff against each other because he thinks it means he gets better advice and prevents anyone else from becoming too powerful. Remember the epic clashes between then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in 2016?

2) Trump will not be managed.

A chief of staff must manage both down and up, but the 72-year-old in the Oval Office seems pretty set in his habits. Trump also wants it both ways. He wants his White House to run “like a fine-tuned machine,” as he’s said it does, but – ever the showman — he also likes the reality TV vibe, where people are constantly left wondering where they stand and if they’ll get written off in the next episode.

To put it mildly, Trump doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson described some of his frustrations with advising an “undisciplined” president during an event in Houston last Thursday night. “What was challenging for me coming from the disciplined, highly process-oriented ExxonMobil corporation,” Tillerson said, was “to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says, ‘This is what I believe.’ … So often the president would say, ‘Here’s what I want to do, and here’s how I want to do it’ and I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. President, I understand what you want to do, but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law.’ ”

The president responded hours later by saying that he fired Tillerson because he “didn’t have the mental capacity needed”: “He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell.”

As far as the president is concerned, nothing is ever his fault. The guy in the adjacent office is a natural scapegoat, maybe even more so than whoever is at Foggy Bottom.

3) With so many storm clouds on the horizon, the odds are good that the next chief will need to retain his own lawyers.

House Democrats get their gavels, and subpoena power, in just three weeks. Whoever gets this job will almost certainly need to hire a personal attorney at some point with the White House under so much scrutiny from so many quarters, even if they do nothing wrong.  CNN reported last week, for example, that Kelly responded to questions from special counsel Bob Mueller’s team in recent months after initially resisting an interview.

No one but Trump fully knows how great his legal exposure might be on L'Affaire Russe. The president recently defended his efforts to make business deals with Russians tied to the Kremlin during the campaign — which he falsely, vigorously and repeatedly denied at the time — as “very legal & very cool.”

“The White House is adopting what one official termed a ‘shrugged shoulders’ strategy for the Mueller findings, calculating that most GOP base voters will believe whatever the president tells them to believe,” Bob Costa and Rucker reported in Sunday’s paper. “But some allies fret that the president’s coalition could crack apart under the growing pressure. Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump strategist who helped him navigate the most arduous phase of his 2016 campaign, predicted 2019 would be a year of ‘siege warfare’ and cast the president’s inner circle as naively optimistic and unsophisticated. … Rather than building a war room to manage the intersecting crises as past administrations have done, the Trump White House is understaffed, stuck in a bunker mentality and largely resigned to a plan to wing it. Political and communications operatives are mostly taking their cues from the president and letting him drive the message with his spontaneous broadsides.”

Then there’s the specter of impeachment proceedings. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who will chair the House Judiciary Committee in the next Congress, used the I-word on the Sunday shows. Discussing the campaign finance violations laid out in the Friday court filings about longtime Trump consigliere Michael Cohen, Nadler told CNN’s Jake Tapper: “They would be impeachable offenses. Whether they're important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question. But certainly, they're impeachable offenses, because, even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office.”

Don’t forget the economy. Some experts believe we’re headed for a slowdown, maybe even a recession. The stock market has recently wiped out its 2018 gains, and investors are no longer buying on the dip the way they had been. A handshake agreement has led to a fragile détente in the trade war with China, but it could escalate again quickly. The Federal Reserve raising interest rates has drawn Trump’s ire, and the stimulus from last year’s tax cuts is running out.

Ayers reportedly plans to lead the pro-Trump super PAC for 2020, which walls him off from some of the aforementioned drama. “Another factor,” per Haberman: “His ascension to the top West Wing job would have meant newfound scrutiny of his personal finances — last year he reported a net worth of $12.2 million to $54.8 million, a sizable sum for a political operative in his 30s who has amassed his own fortune. He accumulated his wealth partly through a web of political and consulting companies in which he has held ownership stakes.”

4) The risk of public humiliation is high.

Few who have gone into the administration at a senior level have emerged stronger from the experience. That’s not how it usually works. Typically a top White House job ensures a lifetime of lucrative opportunities. Some ex-Trumpers have struggled to get good jobs on the outside.

Ayers wanted to hold the chief job for only a few months and then transition out, but the president wanted him to be available through 2020. One reason he reportedly wanted to be a short-timer is to avoid months of speculative stories about whether he was on the verge of being pushed out — indignities that both of Trump’s chiefs suffered through.

Trump unceremoniously ousted his first chief of staff Reince Priebus, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, on a rainy Friday night in July 2017. After Air Force One touched down at Andrews Air Force Base, Priebus was sitting in a Suburban with senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and social media director Dan Scavino. When Trump tweeted that Kelly would replace him, Miller and Scavino hopped out of the vehicle. Priebus was left alone, and his Suburban peeled away from the motorcade — which continued onto the White House without him.

Priebus later debriefed Chris Whipple, the author of “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency,” on the conflict and disarray in the White House. “Take everything you’ve heard and multiply it by 50,” Priebus told him for a piece that ran in Vanity Fair.

“People mistake me for a laid-back guy from the Midwest,” he continued. “I’m much more aggressive, and much more of a knife fighter. Playing the inside game is what I do.”

But the knife fighter from Kenosha couldn’t avoid being stabbed in the back by his colleagues.

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GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Nearly half of women murdered over the past decade were killed by an intimate partner, according to a Washington Post analysis. More than one-third of all men who killed an intimate partner were known to be a threat before the murder. (Katie Zezima, Deanna Paul, Steven Rich, Julie Tate and Jennifer Jenkins)

  2. An antitrust lawsuit alleging price-fixing in the generic-drug industry has expanded into an investigation of at least 16 companies and 300 drugs. A federal prosecutor leading the probe described the industry as “most likely the largest cartel in the history of the United States.” (Christopher Rowland)

  3. Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn was indicted after allegations of financial wrongdoing. Japanese prosecutors said that, over four years, Ghosn underreported his income by 50 percent. (Wall Street Journal)

  4. A major winter storm caused power outages and flight cancellations in the Southeast. States of emergency were declared in Virginia and North Carolina as nearly half a million people were left without power and the region's schools announced closures. (Luz Lazo)

  5. Authorities are investigating a string of arson attacks targeting the worship centers of Jehovah’s Witnesses. No motive has been uncovered for the attacks, which have already destroyed two of the pacifist religion’s worship centers. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)

  6. Research shows 2018 has been the worst on record for gun violence in schools. According to the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, 94 school shootings occurred this year — a 60-percent increase from the previous high of 59 set in 2006. (the Guardian)

  7. The first U.S. teachers strike against a charter school operator came to a close in Chicago. More than 500 teachers will return to work today after reaching an agreement with Acero schools on pay raises and the school calendar. (Associated Press)

  8. NPR’s reliance on temporary workers has prompted complaints of exploitation. NPR’s union said between 20 and 22 percent of the public broadcaster’s union-covered newsroom are temp workers, making it an outlier among broadcast media organizations. (Paul Farhi)

  9. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a holiday-themed reminder not to eat raw cookie dough. The agency warned that flour is a “raw agricultural product” and can contain bacteria linked to E. coli. (Newsweek)

THE PRESIDENT'S PRIORITIES:

-- The Trump administration opposed a move to endorse a dire report on climate change at a United Nations conference in Poland. David Nakamura and Darryl Fears report: “Arguments erupted Saturday night before a United Nations working group focused on science and technology, where the United States teamed with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to challenge language that would have welcomed the findings of the landmark report, which said that the world has barely 10 years to cut carbon emissions by nearly half to avoid catastrophic warming. ‘There was going to be an agreement to welcome the . . . report,’ said Jake Schmidt, the managing director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program, who is in Poland. ‘The U.S. wanted to ‘note’ it, which is saying in essence that we know it’s out there but we have no comment.’”

-- Bowing to pressure from antiabortion groups, the Trump administration halted a government-run study using fetal tissue to try to find a cure for HIV. Amy Goldstein and Lenny Bernstein report: “A senior scientist at a National Institutes of Health laboratory in Montana told colleagues that the Health and Human Services Department ‘has directed me to discontinue procuring fetal tissue’ from a firm that is the only available source, according to an email he sent to a collaborator in late September. ‘This effectively stops all of our research to discover a cure for HIV,’ the researcher wrote. The research disruptions might extend to a handful of other labs using fetal tissue, all of which are part of NIH … The shutdown of the HIV research at the federal lab in Montana … was never disclosed publicly by government officials, who have forbidden affected researchers from discussing what happened.

-- Trump’s trade war, as well as developments in the Russia investigation, is creating market volatility. From the New York Times’s Matt Phillips: “The trade war has already taken a toll on large chunks of the global economy. China, the world’s second-largest economy after the United States, is growing at its slowest rate in nearly a decade. The export-driven economies of Japan and Germany — the third and fourth biggest economies in the world, respectively — both contracted in the third quarter. The United States has so far been an outlier. … But even in the United States, there are emerging pockets of weakness, particularly in parts of the economy that are sensitive to rising borrowing costs.”

-- The possibility of a partial government shutdown next week still looms. The New York Times’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Emily Cochrane report: “The deepest impasse — and the one with the greatest potential to prompt a year-end breakdown — is over Mr. Trump’s demand for $5 billion for a wall on the United States’ southern border. … Mr. Trump is set to host [Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi] at the White House on Tuesday for a meeting that will test the new dynamic between a president weakened by midterm election losses and empowered Democrats working to define their party for the era of divided government. … Beyond the wall fight and the bare-minimum endeavor of keeping the government fully open, a perennial year-end appetite for legislating has taken hold on Capitol Hill.”

-- Trump has reversed his support for a cut in defense spending. Politico’s Wesley Morgan reports: “Trump has told Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to submit a $750 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2020 … The $750 billion figure emerged from a meeting Tuesday at the White House among Trump, Mattis and the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees … That would dwarf the $733 billion budget proposal Mattis and other top military leaders have been fighting to preserve and would represent a stunning about-face for a president who recently called the fiscal 2019 top line of $716 billion for defense spending ‘crazy.’”

-- A growing number of incoming lawmakers, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), are casting a spotlight on how Capitol Hill treats its interns and staffers. Elise Viebeck reports: “When [Ocasio-Cortez] said last week that she would not only pay her interns, but also provide more than the minimum wage, the news had an immediate impact. … Congress performs terribly on metrics related to staff diversity, workplace protections and employee pay and benefits. Advocates warn that the system is built to accept only the most privileged young people — often white, moneyed and with connections — who later fill the pipeline for Washington’s political and business establishment. The system has gone unchallenged for years. But scrutiny by Ocasio-Cortez and her peers after the recent midterm elections is stirring hopes that Capitol Hill might be ready for change.”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Records show at least 14 Trump associates had contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign and presidential transition. Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Carol D. Leonnig report: “Again and again and again, over the course of [Trump’s] 18-month campaign for the presidency, Russian citizens made contact with his closest family members and friends, as well as figures on the periphery of his orbit. Some offered to help his campaign and his real estate business. Some offered dirt on his Democratic opponent. Repeatedly, Russian nationals suggested Trump should hold a peacemaking sit-down with Vladi­mir Putin — and offered to broker such a summit. … [T]he mounting number of communications that have been revealed occurred against the backdrop of ‘sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election,’ as [Bob] Mueller’s prosecutors wrote in a court filing last week.”

-- Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen will be sentenced on Wednesday, as federal prosecutors in Manhattan appear to shift their focus toward the Trump Organization’s possible participation in campaign-finance violations. The New York Times’s Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Maggie Haberman report: “Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s self-described fixer, has provided assistance in that inquiry, which is separate from the investigation by the special counsel … In addition to implicating Mr. Trump in the payments to the two women, Mr. Cohen has told prosecutors that the company’s chief financial officer was involved in discussions about them, a claim that is now a focus of the inquiry, according to [people briefed on the matter] …

“Mr. Cohen has told prosecutors that he believes Mr. Trump personally approved the company’s decision to reimburse him for one of the payments. … [T]here is no indication that anyone at the company will face charges in connection with the inquiry. But in recent weeks, the prosecutors contacted the company to renew a request they had made this year for documents and other materials ... The precise nature of the materials sought was unclear, but the renewed request is further indication that prosecutors continue to focus on the president’s company even as the case against Mr. Cohen comes to a close.”

-- Legal experts remain divided on whether a sitting president can be indicted, a question that will carry great weight for Trump moving forward. The AP’s Michael Balsamo reports: “The Supreme Court has never ruled on whether the president can be indicted or whether the president can be subpoenaed for testimony. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice and guidance to executive branch agencies, has maintained that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Two Justice Department reports, one in 1973 and one in 2000, came to the same conclusion. Those reports essentially concluded that the president’s responsibilities are so important that an indictment would pose too many risks for the government to function properly. Trump’s lawyers have said that [Mueller] plans to adhere to that guidance, though Mueller’s office has never independently confirmed that.”

-- Conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi sued Mueller for alleged constitutional violations and leaking grand jury secrets. Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports: “Corsi’s new suit against Mueller also accuses the special prosecutor of trying to badger Corsi into giving false testimony that he served as a conduit between Wikileaks found Julian Assange and Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to then-candidate [Trump]. … Corsi is demanding $100 million in actual damages and $250 million in punitive damages for injury to his reputation.”

-- Former White House counsel John Dean said the details revealed in Mueller’s court filings give Congress “little choice” but to start impeachment proceedings. “I don’t know that this will forever disappear into some dark hole of unprosecutable presidents,” Dean said. “I think it will resurface in the Congress. I think what this totality of [Friday’s] filings show that the House is going to have little choice, the way this is going, other than to start impeachment proceedings.” (Michael Brice-Saddler)

-- Republican lawmakers defended Trump on the Sunday shows amid his escalating legal troubles. Felicia Sonmez and Ariana Eunjung Cha report: “In an interview on NBC News’s ‘Meet the Press,’ Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) played down the alleged campaign finance violations detailed by prosecutors, arguing that such missteps should not be ‘over-criminalized.’ … He added that if campaign finance violations are aggressively prosecuted, ‘we’re going to become a banana republic, where every president gets prosecuted and every president gets thrown in jail when they’re done with office.’ … Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Sunday on CBS News’s ‘Face the Nation’ that ‘there’s no reason to not stand by anybody in this moment,’ drawing a distinction between individuals who have been accused of crimes and pleaded guilty and others, presumably Trump.”

-- But Rubio added that, if Trump chooses to pardon Manafort, it could “trigger a debate” about overhauling pardon powers. “I don't believe that any pardons should be used with relation to these particular cases, frankly,” Rubio said on ABC News. “Not only does it not pass the smell test, I just think it undermines the reason why we have presidential pardons in the first place, and I think, in fact, that if something like that were to happen, it could trigger a debate about whether the pardon powers should be amended given these circumstances, so I hope that they don't do that. It would be a terrible mistake if they did.”

-- And Rand voiced concerns about Trump’s attorney general nominee, William Barr. Sonmez reports: “‘I’m concerned that he’s been a big supporter of the Patriot Act, which lowered the standard for spying on Americans. And he even went so far as to say, you know, the Patriot Act was pretty good, but we should go much further.’ … Paul said that while he hasn’t made a decision on Barr, ‘I can tell you, the first things that I’ve learned about him being for more surveillance of Americans is very, very troubling.’”

-- Former FBI director Jim Comey dodged many questions from House lawmakers about the bureau’s 2016 investigations, often citing overlap with Mueller’s probe. Karoun Demirjian and Matt Zapotosky report: “Republicans from the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees peppered Comey with questions about the FBI’s investigation into former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, including whether Comey would have dismissed former officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page from the probe had he known they were exchanging texts disparaging [Trump]. Comey said he probably would have. However, the former director repeatedly declined to answer questions seeking detailed answers about elements of the FBI’s Russia investigation, which Comey either could not recall — such as who prepared the document launching the bureau’s counterintelligence investigation of individuals affiliated with Trump — or thought came too close to [Mueller’s investigation].”

-- An FBI official who accompanied Comey for his testimony at one point confirmed Mueller is investigating Trump’s possible obstruction of justice. The Atlantic’s Andrew Kragie reports: “The moment came as Representative Trey Gowdy, the retiring South Carolina Republican who grew famous for leading a Benghazi investigation, was asking Comey whether he considered a Justice Department memo sufficient grounds for Trump to fire him. The FBI official, Cecilia Bessee, interrupted Gowdy: ‘Mr. Chairman, to the extent that question goes — again, goes to the special counsel’s investigation into obstruction, the witness will not be able to answer.’”

-- Speaking to an audience in New York last night, Comey implored American voters to end Trump’s presidency by electing a Democrat in 2020. CNN’s Gregory Krieg reports: “‘All of us should use every breath we have to make sure the lies stop on January 20, 2021,’ Comey told an audience at the 92nd Street Y on New York City's Upper East Side. He all but begged Democrats to set aside their ideological differences and nominate the person best suited to defeating Trump in an election. ‘I understand the Democrats have important debates now over who their candidate should be,’ Comey told MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, ‘but they have to win. They have to win.’ … Asked if Trump might be an unindicted co-conspirator in some of the crimes recently described by [Mueller], Comey said he didn't know, ‘but if he's not there, he's certainly close.’”

-- Robby Mook, who managed Hillary Clinton’s campaign, has an I-told-you-so op-ed for Monday's Post that outlines just how much was publicly known about Trump’s ties to Russia before the election: “Obviously, much more evidence about Russia’s interference has come out since 2016. But I’m not sure we’ve learned the bigger lesson: Why did it take two years and dozens of indictments for so many to believe that Russia was not only behind the DNC hack but may also have been in cahoots with the Trump campaign, when there was so much evidence at the time? It’s as if something needs to be secret or hidden to truly matter. If it’s sealed in a courtroom, it must be a bombshell, but if it’s out in the open, it’s just not as serious. Trump will not be the last of his kind. The next time so much evidence about a candidate is sitting out in plain view, let’s hope it gets a good look before Americans cast their votes.”

MIDTERMS FALLOUT:

-- Wisconsin’s Democratic governor-elect suggested he may pursue legal challenges against Republicans’ lame-duck legislation. Felicia Sonmez reports: “‘I’m not making any promises one way or the other, but we’re looking at all issues, all options on the table,’ [Gov.-elect Tony Evers] said ... ‘I need to stand up for the people of Wisconsin. There’s 2.6 million people that voted in this last election, and they expect me to do that. So we’re going to pursue this.’ Evers said that he has urged Gov. Scott Walker (R) to veto the bills but that Walker was ‘noncommittal.’ Walker has previously signaled support for the measures.”

-- The House Democratic caucus will be divided between progressives trying to push their party to the left and moderates looking for common ground with Republicans, a combination that could complicate their efforts to pass legislation. Bloomberg News’s Sahil Kapur reports: “How Speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi manages the tension, which is already on display, will frame the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination race, as the House will serve as the party’s main power center to advance its agenda and draw contrasts with [Trump]. Messy battles between the party’s factions risk undercutting Democrats hopes of rallying to defeat Trump in the next election, potentially costing them the chance to define the political debate and highlight favorable issues.”

-- Now that all the midterm elections have officially concluded, Dave Weigel writes that Republicans have a clear path to regaining the House majority in 2020. From Weigel: “[The number of] House Democrats in Trump districts: 30, up from 13 before the election, though it will tick up to 31 if a special election is called in North Carolina's 9th District and Republicans don't win. … You don't have to squint to see a path back to a Republican majority in 2020; winning a little more than half of these seats would do that. But the flipped districts fall into two distinct categories. In 10 districts, Trump ran weaker than Mitt Romney had in 2012, while in the other 20, he ran stronger.”

2020 WATCH:

-- Early voting in California and Texas could fundamentally alter the Democratic primaries in 2020. NBC News’s Alex Seitz-Wald reports: “A little over a year from now, millions of Californians will be mailed their ballots on the same day that Iowans head to their famous first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. They could start mailing them back before New Hampshire holds its first-in-the-nation primary in 2020. Meanwhile, Texans will likely have a chance to vote early, too — even before Nevada and South Carolina, which typically round out the earliest portion of the primary calendar. The explosion of early voting and reshuffling of the primary calendar in 2020 could transform the Democratic presidential nominating contest, potentially diminishing the power of the traditional, tiny and homogeneous early states in favor of much larger and more diverse battlegrounds. That would be a boon to the best-known candidates with warchests sizable enough to compete in big states early. And it would empower black and Hispanic voters in large, multiracial states like California, which was a virtual afterthought at the back of the primary calendar in 2016.”

-- Nebraska Democrats decided to return to a primary system for 2020 rather than hold another caucus. The Omaha World-Herald’s Roseann Moring and Micah Mertes report: “The state’s Democrats had been choosing their presidential nominee by caucus since 2008 in a system similar to Iowa’s. … But Nebraska Democratic Party’s State Central Committee voted at its meeting in Ord on Saturday to discontinue the system and go back to regular primary voting. The change was overwhelmingly approved on a voice vote following about 90 minutes of debate. Critics of the caucuses cited the several-hour investment that voters have to make and said it could decrease turnout in the May primary, when nominees for other offices are chosen.”

-- Potential Democratic candidates are worried about how Beto O’Rourke could shake up the 2020 race if he chooses to run. The New York Times’s Matt Flegenheimer and Jonathan Martin report: “[O’Rourke] has emerged as the wild card of the presidential campaign-in-waiting for a Democratic Party that lacks a clear 2020 front-runner. … Advisers to other prospective Democratic candidates for 2020 acknowledge that Mr. O’Rourke is worthy of their concern. His record-setting success with small donors would test the grass-roots strength of progressives like Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. His sometimes saccharine call to summon the nation’s better angels would compete with the likely pitch of Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. And his appeal to some former Obama advisers — and, potentially, his electoral coalition of young people, women and often infrequent voters — could complicate a possible run for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who would aim to win back many of his former boss’s constituencies.”

-- Elizabeth Warren’s aides have started looking for a campaign headquarters in the Boston area. Politico’s Natasha Korecki reports: “Warren has the core of her 2020 team in place if she runs for president. … All that’s left is for her to give the green light. When and if she does, she’ll be rolling out arguably the most advanced and sweeping infrastructure in the Democratic field, a plug-and-play campaign that could give her a massive head start on nearly every contender in the burgeoning primary roster, with only Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) coming close.”

-- Technology is transforming how potential 2020 candidates present themselves to voters. Michael Scherer reports: “The 2020 campaign … will take place in a media landscape that has shifted in just the past two years and been radically transformed since the 2008 primary, which began before the release of the first iPhone. Iowa hay bale speeches and cable news primary debates will still play a role. But Democratic strategists say the quest to capture the attention of Democrats online, through social streams and viral sharing that exude a sense of immediacy and authenticity, could dominate the early months in a crowded field, as energized voters subscribe and swipe in search of a candidate match.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- A transcript of Jamal Khashoggi’s killing revealed the Post contributing columnist’s final words: “I can’t breathe.” CNN’s Nic Robertson reports: “[One] source, who has read a translated transcript of an audio recording of Khashoggi's painful last moments, said it was clear that the killing on October 2 was no botched rendition attempt, but the execution of a premeditated plan to murder the journalist. During the course of the gruesome scene, the source describes Khashoggi struggling against a group of people determined to kill him. ‘I can't breathe,’ Khashoggi says. ‘I can't breathe.’ ‘I can't breathe.’ The transcript notes the sounds of Khashoggi's body being dismembered by a saw, as the alleged perpetrators are advised to listen to music to block out the sound. And, according to the source, the transcript suggests that a series of phone calls are made, briefing them on progress.”

-- British Prime Minister Theresa May was criticized as a traitor days before a Parliament vote on her Brexit deal. William Booth reports: “[A] march was called by the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), a once-ascendant movement now in decline, dominated by ‘Euroskeptics’ and right-wing populists. They were at the forefront of the winning Brexit campaign two years ago … Now the Ukippers and their allies at the rally say they are being double-crossed by ‘the establishment,’ aided by a ‘seditious BBC,’ and a deep state of pro-Europe civil servants and global capitalists led by May. In the crowd, one man held aloft a gallows with a hangman’s noose. Others shouted that May should be ‘taken to the Tower,’ the medieval palace-prison where Henry VIII had his wives killed.”

-- The Brexit deal is widely expected to be defeated, which will probably set off a flurry of last-minute negotiations to avoid some of the most dire consequences of the country's withdrawal from the European Union. Michael Birnbaum reports: “Europeans have gone slackjawed at London’s political chaos, with normally demure diplomats comparing the process there to a slow-motion car wreck. They say they can offer little other than cosmetic tweaks that might help May save face with her own Conservative Party. And they have begun to accelerate their emergency planning to prepare safety nets that could avoid some of the humanitarian and economic chaos that might happen if Britain crashes out of the European Union on its deadline of March 29, with no other plan in place.”

-- France has opened an investigation into possible Russian involvement with the country’s Yellow Vest protests. Bloomberg News’s Carol Matlack and Robert Williams report: “According to the Alliance for Securing Democracy, about 600 Twitter accounts known to promote Kremlin views have begun focusing on France, boosting their use of the hashtag #giletsjaunes, the French name for the Yellow Vest movement. French security services are looking at the situation, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday in a radio interview with RTL.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump dismissed a possible campaign-finance violation as a “simple private transaction:”

And he downplayed the chief of staff drama:

D.C. Twitter was dominated by buzz about Kelly, Ayers and the chief of staff search. From a CNN reporter:

Jeb Bush's former communications director cast doubt on the official storyline surrounding Ayers not getting the job:

Ayers confirmed he'll leave the White House at the end of the month:

From a Los Angeles Times editor:

A former spokesman for Hillary Clinton mocked Trump's search for a chief of staff:

A Democratic congresswoman called on Kelly to apologize:

An MSNBC producer listed the many departures so far from the Trump administration:

Trump once again blamed the "Fake News Media" for negative coverage of his administration:

A former spokesman for Obama's Justice Department reflected on reports that prosecutors are weighing charging Trump for campaign-finance violations if he loses reelection:

A Bloomberg News reporter noted GOP lawmakers who have previously voted for impeachment:

A former Trump campaign adviser promoted a conspiracy theory about how federal agents obtained a FISA warrant on him:

A former FBI agent responded with context on the requirements for a FISA warrant:

Papadopoulos replied:

A Democratic congresswoman-elect reacted to a Weekly Standard reporter's criticism:

But the reporter then apologized, allowing for a rare moment of Twitter forgiveness:

Michelle Obama retweeted a story about a young girl dressing up like the former first lady for her school’s Cultural Heroes Day:

An NPR host commented on his employer's reliance on temps:

And a former Obama administration official highlighted an important panel on MSNBC:

GOOD READS:

-- “Meet Melania Trump’s enforcer. It’s not her husband,” by Sarah Ellison: “Staffers in [Trump’s] White House are measured by longevity. There’s the November 9th Club, the nickname for those who joined after Trump won the election. There are those who joined the campaign earlier, but only after he secured the nomination. And there are a few who came on board when his campaign was largely viewed as a joke by the GOP establishment — and everyone else. Few in Trump’s White House have a history with him that dates as far back as Stephanie Grisham. For nearly two years, she served as communications director for first lady Melania Trump. A few weeks ago, she received a promotion to deputy chief of staff for communications and has become one of the more powerful figures in the ever-evolving Trump White House. Back in the summer of 2015, she was a lowly press wrangler on Trump’s campaign.”

-- New York Times, “What Straight-A Students Get Wrong,” by Adam Grant: “The evidence is clear: Academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence. Across industries, research shows that the correlation between grades and job performance is modest in the first year after college and trivial within a handful of years. … Academic grades rarely assess qualities like creativity, leadership and teamwork skills, or social, emotional and political intelligence. Yes, straight-A students master cramming information and regurgitating it on exams. But career success is rarely about finding the right solution to a problem — it’s more about finding the right problem to solve.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Suffering pickaxes and dog poop, Trump’s Hollywood star has become a symbolic spectacle,” from Rob Kuznia: “Since Trump announced his campaign for the Oval Office in 2015, his Walk of Fame star has been a constant source of conflict and spectacle. The pink pentagram has been destroyed twice, obliterated by a pickax two weeks before the 2016 election and again this past July. It has been a regular target of lesser vandalism: stomping, spitting and dog-pooping. It has been scrawled with pejoratives and spray-painted with swastikas. On Sept. 20, a few weeks after the shattered star was replaced, a street artist covered it with bars resembling a jail cell. This has become ground zero for the West Coast’s grass-roots war over the Trump presidency, a sidewalk attraction for pro- and anti-Trumpers alike. … Installed in 2007, Trump’s star has been guarded by fake Russian soldiers, crowned by a golden toilet and enclosed by a mini-wall lined with mock barbed wire.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Miami’s ‘big bad she-wolf’ finishes a 29-year run in Congress,” from the Miami Herald: “As Miami’s longest-tenured congresswoman [Ileana Ros-Lehtinen] finishes out her final weeks in office, there’s still plenty of work to do. Her bill that would limit U.S. loans to the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega until he carries out democratic reforms passed the U.S. Senate, though it still needs final passage in the House of Representatives and [Trump’s] signature. Another bill named in her honor would authorize defense and security spending assistance for Israel, and it has an uncertain fate in the final weeks of this year’s Congress. Though Ros-Lehtinen is leaving office, her anti-communist worldview, inspired by a childhood in Cuba, lives on through dozens of former staffers and associates who occupy positions of power in government, notably Sen. Marco Rubio, a former intern. The legacy of her outsized influence on foreign policy and Latin American affairs will continue long after she leaves elected office.”

DAYBOOK:

Trump will have lunch with Pence. He has no other events on his public schedule.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“I think you are beyond the stage that led to the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, whether or not you think that that was worthy of impeachment.” – Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Mueller’s latest court filings. (ABC News)

 

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

-- Washington will see a lot of sunshine Monday to partly make up for the cold weather. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Sunday’s southern storm gradually pulls away from the North Carolina coast and sunshine returns in its wake. Despite the sun, chilly breezes (around 10 mph) from the north hold high temperatures to the low 40s.”

-- The Redskins lost to the Giants 40-16, further hurting the team’s slim playoff chances. (Les Carpenter)

-- Supporters of Initiative 77 are scrambling to collect signatures in an attempt to overturn the D.C. Council’s repeal of the minimum wage hike for tipped workers. Fenit Nirappil reports: “But a combination of procedural rules, legal challenges and bad timing left referendum supporters with a week to collect about 25,000 signatures required to put the issue back on the ballot. If they can collect enough signatures, the city would hold a special election early next year. Officials with the ‘Save Our Vote’ coalition have deployed more than 100 signature collectors outside supermarkets, government buildings, bars and even dog parks to pull off what seems like an insurmountable task. They are paying circulators $3.75 a signature with the possibility of more, quadruple the standard rate. Workers have been working around the clock in a Northwest D.C. house since last Thursday, verifying that signatures belong to registered D.C. voters.”

-- George Washington University officials are pushing to end a project started in 1997 to honor the legacy of Jackie Robinson. Susan Svrluga reports: “The decision sparked an outcry from students, donors and teachers who testify to the impact of the project. The Jackie and Rachel Robinson Society, a student group associated with the project, launched a petition that has been signed by 499 people and that urges administrators to allow the project to continue.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

SNL imagined what would happen if Trump were black:

SNL's Michael Che defended Kevin Hart after the comedian stepped down from hosting the Oscars over old tweets containing homophobic language:

Trump tossed the coin at the Army-Navy game:

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez revealed her own Jewish ancestry on the last night of Hanukkah:

Two men were caught on camera robbing a Salvation Army collection kettle in Minnesota:

Miami beat New England with a wild final play:

And an NBA player's unfortunate interaction with a fan went viral: