Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) speaks yesterday in Las Vegas. The rally kicked off a swing through eight Super Tuesday states in five days. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

THE BIG IDEA:

— To stop Ted Cruz, the Republican establishment is working around the clock to caricature the Texas senator as just another career politician who follows the political winds and not core principles.

The strategy, being pursued by several of Cruz’s rivals, is aimed squarely at eroding his perceived authenticity, a core strength that has made him the front-runner in Iowa.

In this regard, Cruz’s continuing back-and-forth with Marco Rubio over his position on a 2013 Senate bill is about much more than immigration. It’s about whether the Texas senator is just as much a finger-in-the-wind politician as the rest of the pack.

Beyond just immigration, Rubio’s campaign has blasted out a barrage of press releases and clips this week aimed at portraying Cruz as a flip-flopping politician who will say whatever makes the most political sense at the moment he says it, from crop insurance to defense spending.

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Cruz has also been hit by the hawks and doves in his party for what they characterize as shifting rhetoric on the U.S. role in the Middle East.

“I think that Ted Cruz is a man who is lost,” said Lindsey Graham, his hawkish South Carolina colleague and rival in the presidential race. “He is trying to be an isolationist when that’s hot; he’s trying to be a Lindsey Graham-type when that’s hot.”

Rand Paul released a web video that accused Cruz of being welcoming to Syrian refugees before that became an unpopular position after the Paris attacks.

Chris Christie accused Cruz of opposing the NSA’s bulk collection of metadata for political, not philosophical, reasons. “He went for the easy political vote at a time when it looked like it was a popular thing to do,” the New Jersey governor said on “Morning Joe.” “With all those dead Parisians, it doesn’t look so popular!”

The pro-Christie Union Leader, New Hampshire’s largest newspaper, has run a string of negative editorials pushing the same line of attack. “Obsequious pandering to Trump belies Cruz’s well-honed reputation as a maverick standing up to party leadership in defense of conservative principles,” the editorial board said in yesterday’s paper. “Cruz had a chance to stand up for conservative principles on stage in Vegas, and he folded like a gambler with a busted flush.”

Post columnist Michael Gerson, a speechwriter in George W. Bush’s White House, calls Cruz a conviction candidate with the challenges of a chameleon”“As a presidential candidate, his superpower is to sense exactly where the right is at any given moment and get there himself, with a flourish that leads to a standing O. The problem for Cruz is that the conservative soul has been divided on foreign policy over the past decade, leaving him in an uncomfortable straddle.”

There’s a history of outsider mavericks faltering when voters judge that they’re not that different from the insiders they’re challenging. Recall John McCain damaging his reputation for candor in 2000 when he equivocated on whether South Carolina should remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol. Gary Hart undermined his bid against Walter Mondale in 1984 when he flip-flopped on whether the U.S. should move its embassy in Israel, a craven effort to win Jewish votes ahead of the New York primary.

The Cruz campaign calls this a false narrative that the base won’t buy, especially because conservative thought leaders like Rush Limbaugh are backing them up. “Try they might, but no one believes that Cruz is anything but a constitutional, fiscal and social conservative,” said Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler, “and he has the record, unlike his detractors, to back it up.” On the campaign trail, Cruz routinely describes himself as “a consistent conservative.”

David Fahrenthold explores five of the issues on which Cruz has allegedly flip-flopped in a nuanced story that just posted: (1) Should the U.S. military intervene in Syria? (2) Should the United States admit Syrian refugees? (3) Should undocumented immigrants be given a path to legal status? (4) Should the United States offer more temporary visas to highly skilled foreigners? (5) Should money cut from a $3 billion crop-insurance program be restored, giving an expensive boost to farmers? Read the whole thing here.

Harry Reid blasted Rubio and defended Cruz in an interview with The Post: “I just think what Rubio has done on immigration is one of the worst, worst machinations in politics that I’ve ever seen,” the Senate minority leader said yesterday. “It shows a lack of character in my opinion.” Reid said both Rubio and Cruz are “non-entities in the Senate,” but he gave the Texan a back-handed compliment: “You never have to guess where he is. He’s not winning personality contests here. Cruz is just who he is. He just is a very, very smart man marching forward with some ideas I don’t like.” (Kelsey Snell’s write-up)

A new Cruz ad going on TV this morning has Cruz touting his record on immigration: “Securing our borders and stopping illegal immigration is a matter of national security,” the senator says directly to the camera. “That’s why I fought so hard to defeat President Obama and the Republican establishment’s Gang of Eight amnesty plan. Their misguided plan would have given Obama the authority to admit Syrian refugees, including ISIS terrorists.” Watch here.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

— “American-led airstrikes killed at least 180 Islamic State fighters as local Kurdish forces­ scrambled to repel a bold, multi-pronged assault by the militants,” Missy Ryan and Loveday Morris report from Iraq.

Ahead of tomorrow night’s Democratic debate, a fresh Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Clinton with a 2-1 edge over Sanders in the national race: 59 percent of Democratic-leaning registered voters support her, compared to 28 percent for him. He’s down from 34 percent in November. Pollster Scott Clement points out Clinton’s standing is similar to eight years ago, when she was 28 points ahead of Barack Obama (though the dynamics in 2016 are decidedly different), and that the race is much closer in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Clinton is being helped by the renewed focus on national security: 64 percent say she would handle terrorism better than he would. Sanders still leads on honesty, with 44 percent saying he is more honest and trustworthy than she is.

Another fresh poll this morning shows very little change in the GOP race after the Las Vegas debate. A Morning Consult survey that was in the field the past two nights puts Trump at 36 percent nationally, to 12 percent for Ben Carson, 11 percent for Cruz, 9 percent for Rubio and 7 percent for Jeb. That’s basically the same as their poll conducted during the three days before the debate. The sample included 2,201 registered Republican and Republican-leaning voters. One-third was conducted through live telephone interviews, one-third by IVR and one-third online. (Here are the toplines and the crosstabs.)


Bernie Sanders (Reuters/Mark Kauzlarich)

— A Sanders staffer was fired after the DNC accused the campaign of improperly accessing Clinton’s confidential voter file: “Jeff Weaver, the Vermont senator’s campaign manager, acknowledged that a low-level staffer had viewed the information but blamed a software vendor hired by the DNC for a glitch that allowed access,” Rosalind Helderman, Anne Gearan and John Wagner report. “Weaver said one Sanders staffer was fired over the incident. The discovery sparked alarm at the DNC, which promptly shut off the Sanders campaign’s access to the strategically crucial list of likely Democratic voters. The DNC maintains the master list and rents it to national and state campaigns, which then add their own, proprietary information gathered by field workers and volunteers. Firewalls are supposed to prevent campaigns from viewing data gathered by their rivals.” Four key lines:

  • NGP VAN, the vendor that handles the master file, said the incident occurred Wednesday while a patch was being applied to the software.
  • The DNC has told the Sanders campaign that it will not be allowed access to the data again until it provides an explanation as well as assurances that all Clinton data has been destroyed.
  • Having his campaign cut off from the national party’s voter data is a strategic setback for Sanders — and could be a devastating blow if it lasts.
  • The episode also raises questions about the DNC’s ability to provide strategic resources to campaigns and state parties.

Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II wave to well-wishers in 1986. (AFP/Getty Images)

— Pope Francis cleared the way for Mother Teresa to become a saint by crediting the late nun with a second miracle (a Brazilian man who “unexpectedly recovered” from brain tumors in 2008 after praying for Teresa’s help).

GET SMART FAST:

  1. A Virginia school district near Charlottesville has canceled classes for today amid furor over a geography teacher assigning students to copy Arabic calligraphy that translates to: “There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” (Emma Brown)
  2. Florida Atlantic University fired a professor who told students that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax. (Susan Svrluga)
  3. The Postal Service said it’s illegal to mail advertisements for marijuana, even in states where it is legal to smoke. (AP)
  4. New Orleans will remove four Confederate-inspired statues from its city landscape. (Elahe Izadi)
  5. The U.N. passed a resolution aimed at stopping ISIS from collecting revenue from oil or antiquities sales. (AP)
  6. Denmark’s parliament is poised to pass a law allowing authorities to confiscate jewelry from refugees entering the country in order to help defray resettlement costs. (Rick Noack)

POWER PLAYERS IN THE NEWS:

  1. Hillary said in a radio interview, “I am very skeptical about the need or desire for us to pursue offshore drilling off the coast of South Carolina, and frankly off the coast of other Southeast states.” (The Post and Courier)
  2. Sanders received endorsements from the Communication Workers of America union and the progressive Democracy for America. (John Wagner)
  3. Citing security concerns, Ben Carson cancelled his holiday trip to Israel and Africa. (Jose A. DelReal)
  4. New York state lawmakers introduced the “Anything But Trump Act” to remove Trump’s name from an undeveloped state park in Westchester. (New York Daily News)
  5. Former Trump adviser Roger Stone, who left The Donald’s campaign in the summer, created a super PAC to attack Trump’s rivals, specifically citing RubioChristie and Kasich. Trump’s campaign manager rebuked the effort as “a big-league scam deal.” (Wall Street Journal; Jenna Johnson)
  6. Mike Huckabee cut salaries of senior campaign staff because of cash struggles, saying spokeswoman Alice Stewart left  because she was “exhausted.” That drew a public rebuke from the marathon runner: “Far from exhausted,” she texted Politico. Said campaign manager Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “Obviously, if we go to Iowa and lose — well frankly we probably won’t keep going.”
  7. Dennis Hastert is recovering in a hospital after suffering a stroke last month. (AP)
  8. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde will stand trial over accusations of “negligence” related to a deal the French government made with a businessman while Lagarde was France’s finance minister. (Bloomberg)
  9. Supermodel Bar Refaeli was arrested on tax evasion charges after she allegedly lied about where she lived in order to avoid reporting income. (AFP)

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

— “San Bernardino shooter’s friend charged with supporting terrorism for plotting other attacks,” by Adam Goldman Sari Horwitz and Mark Berman: “Enrique Marquez Jr., who bought the assault rifles used in the deadly attack, was charged Thursday with conspiring to carry out two other attacks. According to a criminal complaint, Marquez and Syed Rizwan Farook … had plotted to massacre students at a nearby community college and kill scores of motorists and police officers on a packed California highway. The complaint states that hours after the shooting, Marquez called 911 to report that Farook, his former neighbor, had used his gun in the attack. Marquez, 24, was charged with conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, making a false statement in connection with the acquisition of firearms used in the attack and defrauding immigration officials…. He faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted.”


An oil well near Tioga, North Dakota (AFP/Karen Bleier)

— Inside the lobbying campaign to end the ban on crude oil exports,” by Catherine Ho: “For oil and energy lobbyists who for years have worked to convince Congress to end a decades long ban on crude oil exports, the tide shifted in their favor this past summer with the help of an unlikely ally: the White House. In July, the Obama administration and other world powers announced an end to sanctions against Iran as part of a deal to curb the country’s nuclear capabilities, which led Tehran to later say it will soon double its crude oil exports. This gave the oil industry some crucial political leverage…. Domestic oil production has nearly doubled since 2008, largely because of the shale oil boom in North Dakota and Texas that led to an overabundance of light crude oil. Most refiners in the United States are configured to process heavy or medium crude oil, leaving the producers of light crude oil with too much product and not enough refineries to buy it.”


Nancy Pelosi explains her position on the omnibus yesterday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

— “Congress looks to clear year-end budget deal,” by Kelsey Snell: “Congress on Friday is poised to clear the year-end tax and spending deal as lawmakers seek to wrap up the remaining congressional business with members itching to head home for the holidays. Despite some grumbling in both parties over the contents of the deal – a $1.1 trillion spending bill and a $622 billion package of tax cuts – it is expected to be approved by both chambers. But the House vote on the appropriations package, which will occur Friday morning, could be close. On Thursday the House passed the tax portion of the agreement on a 318 to 109 vote. … House Republicans provided most of the needed votes, 241, to pass the tax package, which House Democratic leaders oppose because they say it is too expensive and does not do enough for low-income workers. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) opposed the tax agreement but said she will vote for the spending bill.” Pelosi also sent a letter late Thursday to House Democrats urging them to back the spending agreement.


Paul Ryan speaks yesterday during an end-of-the-year news conference. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

— “Paul Ryan notches a big victory, but the true test may come next year,” by Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane: “Conservatives credit Paul Ryan with moving to open the appropriations process in the immediate aftermath of the budget deal negotiated by John Boehner in his final days, an accord that lifted spending caps that many Republicans wanted to maintain. Pressed about the difference under Ryan, rank-and-file lawmakers could not point to specific changes made by the new speaker. His reforms to an internal group that doles out committee assignments were cosmetic, at best, and his early decision to have a wide-open amendment process on a massive highway funding bill has been followed by mostly closed consideration of legislation that needs to pass quickly. On the Boehner vs. Ryan question, House Republicans tend to split into two camps; those who say they trust Ryan more than Boehner, and those who are giving him the early benefit of the doubt. The latter group has decided to rally around the new leader, saying that the real verdict on his leadership will come next year.”


Donald Trump poses for a selfie with a supporter after speaking at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport on Wednesday. (Photo by David Jolkovski/For The Washington Post)

— “What it’s like in the crowd at a Donald Trump rally,” by Stephanie McCrummen in Mesa, Ariz.: “A white-haired man in suede wingtips would punch a protester. A young man would shout ‘mother f—ing tacos!’ at two Latino protesters. …  For the most part, people were not exactly coming to hear Trump. Most already knew what he had to say about banning Muslims from entering the United States, or ‘bombing the s— ‘ out of the Islamic State, or building a wall to keep out Mexicans he has described as rapists and drug traffickers. They had read his books, had seen him on the news. Instead, they were here to be part of something larger than themselves: part of the Trump Crowd, at this point a phenomenon in and of itself that has become more raucous and sporadically violent as this primary season of fear and anger has progressed.”

— Why the Secret Service doesn’t see its agents as responsible for keeping the peace at Trump’s out-of-control events: “Much of the peacekeeping burden during rallies falls on private security guards and off-duty police hired by the campaign and event venue operators,” David Nakamura and Carol Leonnig write. “Local police are often on duty outside events to monitor traffic and security issues in public places, but they are not responsible for removing protesters on private property. And while the Secret Service began providing protection to Trump in November … agents are trained to intervene only if there is a direct threat to the candidate.  As a result, some experts said, if shoving or fighting breaks out, it is not always clear who is responsible for protecting the safety of the public, including protesters.” Secret Service officials said that engaging in crowd control could divert agents from monitoring the candidate. “The U.S. Secret Service cannot get sucked into the chaos,” said Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service agent.

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

— ZIGNAL VISUAL: Here’s how the Cruz vs. Rubio spat looks through analytics. Since Wednesday, there have been 178,000 total mentions of Cruz, compared to about 86,000 of Rubio, according to our analytics partners at Zignal Labs. This word cloud shows how mentions of immigration, particularly the Gang of 8 bill, are dominating the chatter about Cruz since Tuesday night:


In the 15,000 news articles that have mentioned Cruz in print and online since the debate, more than 11,000 mention the immigration kerfuffle with Rubio. There were only 13,000 news articles about Rubio on Wednesday and Thursday, with more than 85 percent of them mentioning the spat with Cruz, according to Zignal.

Across all mediums (print, social and broadcast), immigration is the top issue in items that mention Cruz and Rubio, while ISIS is the dominant issue for all of the other GOP candidates who were on the main stage in Vegas.

— Pictures of the day:

“Martin Shkreli, the 32-year-old former hedge fund manager notorious for jacking up the price of an obscure but critical drug, was arrested on securities fraud charges,” Renae Merle and Michael E. Miller report. “The charges are unrelated to Shkreli’s leadership of Turing Pharmaceuticals, which bought a drug, Daraprim, for $55 million this summer, then increased the price by more than 4,000 percent. … Federal prosecutors alleged that for five years, Shkreli lied to investors in two hedge funds and bio-pharmaceutical company Retrophin, all of which he founded. After losing money on stock bets he made through one hedge fund, Shkreli allegedly started another and used his new investors’ money to pay off those who had lost money on the first fund. Then, as pressure was building, Shkreli started Retrophin, which was publicly traded, and used cash and stock from that company to settle with other disgruntled investors, prosecutors contended.” Here are the two best photos from the perp walk:


(AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

And this is a real tweet from the FBI:

Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.V.) showed off the Capitol Christmas tree to her grandkids:

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) spotted this sitting on a staffer’s desk while doing call time at the DSCC:

And Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) shared the “most epic Senate selfie,” taken with Booker and students from Tuscarora High School in Leesburg:

Here’s a sneak peek at the New Hampshire GOP primary ballot:

— Tweets of the day:

“We must act on gun violence,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). He said this newspaper clipping, with vignettes about the victims of Sandy Hook, has sat on his desk for three years:

“Sup?” Washingtonian captions this adorable image of panda cub Bei Bei, who will debut publicly on Jan. 16:

NOAA projects 2015 will be the warmest year ever recorded. In November, it was 1.9 degrees higher than its “preferred base” from 1951-1980:

Star Wars mania continues to grip lawmakers:

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) throws back to the release one year ago of Alan Gross from Cuba:

Virginia Rep. Rob Wittman (R), who says he’s running for governor in 2017, received a giant fish replica for Christmas:

— Instagrams of the day:

Banjo, the dog of Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), has decided that he’s not going on any more walks until spring:

Katie Couric posted a shot of her second-favorite ornament:

Filmmaker Michael Moore said he stood outside Trump’s building until the cops came:

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott (R) remembered the victims of the church shooting in Charleston on the six-month anniversary:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:


Obama delivers remarks after a national security team meeting at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean yesterday. The president said that there is no “specific” terror threat to the United States but urged Americans to remain alert over the holiday period. (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

— New York Times, “Under fire from G.O.P., Obama defends response to terror attacks,” by Peter Baker and Gardiner Harris: “President Obama, seeking to counter pressure for a military escalation in response to terrorist attacks, told a group of news columnists this week that sending significant ground forces back to the Middle East could conceivably result in the deaths of 100 American soldiers every month. In a private session at the White House, Mr. Obama explained that his refusal to redeploy large numbers of troops to the region was rooted in the grim assumption that the casualties and costs would rival the worst of the Iraq war. Such a renewed commitment, he said, could require up to $10 billion a month and leave as many as 500 troops wounded every month in addition to those killed…. Mr. Obama said that if he did send troops to Syria, as some Republicans have urged, he feared a slippery slope that would eventually require similar deployments to other terrorist strongholds like Libya and Yemen, effectively putting him in charge of governing much of the region.”


Ruben Hinojosa, the sitting congressman (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

— Texas Tribune, “Ruben Hinojosa wants Ruben Hinojosa’s House seat,” by Jim Malewitz: “Here’s a primary ballot quirk that could leave some Texas voters scratching their heads: One Democratic candidate to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa in Congressional District 15 is Ruben Ramirez Hinojosa, a 33-year-old University of Houston law student and U.S. Army combat veteran from McAllen. Different guy, nearly identical name. Democrats say the coincidence could confuse voters, leading some to vote for the relative youngster — who unsuccessfully ran under a different name for Hinojosa’s seat in 2012 — thinking they’re casting a ballot for the man who represented their South Texas district for two decades … The concerns have bubbled up to Washington, where Rep. Hinojosa and his staff openly talked about asking the party to change the candidate’s name on the ballot, listing him instead as Ruben Ramon Ramirez — the name he used in the 2012 Democratic primary when he drew about five percent of the vote.”


Hillary Clinton after a town hall in Iowa City, on Wednesday. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

— Wall Street Journal, “Clinton views on charter schools, teacher evaluations upset some Democrats,” by Laura Meckler: “Democrats backing the effort to overhaul American education have become increasingly concerned that Hillary Clinton isn’t committed to their cause, and some donors are holding back support for her campaign. Their worries stem from skeptical comments she has made about charter schools and teacher evaluations, as well as her close relationship with teachers’ unions, who are critical of both. ‘There are a lot of deep-pocketed donors who are concerned, and they’re going to hang onto their checkbooks until there is more clarity,’ said Whitney Tilson … who has given more than $150,000 to Democrats in recent years. He hasn’t donated any money to Mrs. Clinton or the super PAC supporting her this year ‘primarily because of this issue.'”


Richard Shelby (Reuters/Yuri Gripas/Files)

— Politico, “Shelby to oppose spending bill he loaded with goodies,” by John Bresnahan: “Sen. Richard Shelby loaded up the $1.1 trillion spending bill with pet provisions, including one measure worth hundreds of millions to a rocket manufacturer with operations in his home state. The cagey lawmaker also fought hard for language protecting red snapper fisheries on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, even issuing a press release bragging about his efforts. … But in an only-in-Congress twist, Shelby, a very senior member on the appropriations committee, still plans to vote against the sprawling omnibus package. He’s citing the lack of language to restrict Syrian refugees as the reason. The move, however, could make the Republican senator the unofficial chairman of the ‘hope yes, vote no’ caucus on Capitol Hill. It also demonstrates the potency of immigration as an electoral issue in Alabama and the power of Shelby’s fellow home-state senator, Republican Jeff Sessions, over the controversial topic in the Southern state.”


Sheldon Adelson in D.C. in March to see Elie Wiesel and Ted Cruz talk about Iran. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

— The Atlantic, “Why did Sheldon Adelson buy Nevada’s largest newspaper?” by Molly Ball, who was a top political reporter for the Review-Journal before coming to Washington: “The prospect of Adelson — the world’s 18th-richest person, who has given tens of millions of dollars to Republican candidates and causes — owning a major piece of the media has provoked understandable anxiety.… Adelson, who gives few interviews, has a history of hostile relations with the local and national press. In one notable case, he sued a beloved R-J columnist, John L. Smith, driving him into bankruptcy at a time when Smith’s young daughter was being treated for brain cancer. Smith kept fighting, and the suit was eventually dismissed.…

In Israel, he founded a free daily named Israel Hayom that has become popular and influential with a combination of a populist-tabloid sensibility and a hard-right political line. It’s been called the Fox News of Israel; locals have nicknamed it ‘Bibiton’ for its ardent support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. If that’s what Adelson wants for Las Vegas, there will be little to stop him — and little other place for locals to turn for their news.”

Nevada’s Harry Reid weighed in on the acquisition during his sit-down with The Post yesterday: “I think that he will change that newspaper, and I hope so — I say that without any question. That is a dog of a newspaper.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

Bernie Sanders said he is already writing his inauguration speech. From the Huffington Post: “’Have I started writing my inauguration speech, as opposed to the speech I have to give tomorrow?’ Sanders asked. ‘Look, the answer is yes. It is a very sobering thing to be thinking about oneself as president of the United States and the enormous responsibilities that go with that.’”

HOT ON THE RIGHT

Chris Christie says he, Cruz and Rubio will be the final three GOP candidates standing. From the Washington Examiner: “‘I think what folks saw on the stage on Tuesday night was that I am prepared to be the commander-in-chief of the United States military,’ Christie said.”

DAYBOOK:

— What’s happening today on the campaign trail: Trump holds a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at 7 p.m. central. Rubio hosts a town hall at 12:15 in Dubuque. Carson has several rallies in Iowa throughout the day. Fiorina has multiple Iowa towns halls, as well as a Christmas reception. Mike Huckabee hosts a “Huckabee Huddle” in Emmetsburg. Lindsey Graham has two rallies in New Hampshire with John McCain.

— On the Hill: The House is expected to vote on the final version of the omnibus spending bill. The Senate is in session as well.

— At the White House: President Obama will hold a press conference at 1:50 p.m. Eastern in the Brady press room before flying to San Bernardino to meet with the families of the shooting victims. The first family will then travel to Hawaii for Christmas vacation. Vice President Biden is already vacationing in Delaware.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “He’s a very lively man, talented without doubt,” Vladimir Putin said when asked about Trump at a three-hour press conference. Trump responded at an Ohio rally: “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”

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

— It will be somewhat windy and cloudy today, the Capital Weather Gang forecasts. “Increasing peeks of sunshine after a fairly cloudy morning, but it will feel more than nippy as northwest winds gust toward 15-20 mph. Our bodies won’t be used to the wind chill nor high temperatures–nearer average–in the mid-40s to perhaps around 50. Grab the coat!”

Looking ahead: There will NOT be a white Christmas this year in D.C. Temperatures beginning Sunday are expected to run above average for the next two weeks.

— Vince Gray, now that the feds won’t charge him, says he’s considering a political comeback, starting with a run for the D.C. council next year. He unloaded on Muriel Bowser yesterday. (Bob McCartney)

— Terry McAuliffe announced that he’s going to try to expand Medicaid again in Virginia, including in his new budget. (Jenna Portnoy and Laura Vozzella)

U.S. Park Police ticketed a 24-year-old man for flying a drone near the Washington Monument. It is the 10th incident involving an illegal drone in the Washington area this year. (Peter Hermann)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Jeb Bush released a new video wishing Trump a “happy anniversary” seven years after he praised Hillary and President Obama as “great:”

A producer on “Conan” asks Harrison Ford some tough questions:

In case you need a “Star Wars” refresher, “the world’s fastest talking woman” sums up the plot of every previous version in exactly five minutes:

The White House highlights Joe Biden’s 36 hours in Ukraine:

The Florida Supreme Court removed from the bench a judge who beat up a public defender. Watch the video here.