The numbers “2016” are written in the air with a sparkler on a bank of the Yenisei River in Russia. The picture was taken with a long exposure. (Reuters/Ilya Naymushin)

THE BIG IDEA:

— Happy New Year’s Eve from Grayton Beach, Florida. For this final 2015 edition of The Daily 202, let’s look to the year ahead. Here are dates that you might want to put on your calendar:

— Today is the final day of the fourth fundraising quarter.

  • Ted Cruz’s campaign announced yesterday that it raised more than $19 million over the past three months, setting the benchmark that other Republican candidates’ hauls will now be compared to.
  • Ben Carson’s campaign responded a few hours later that it took in $23 million during the period, but their cost of fundraising was out of control last quarter and current cash on hand was not disclosed.
  • In a sign of possibly serious fundraising troubles, Jeb Bush canceled $3 million of TV time that he’d reserved in January yesterday – about $1 million in Iowa and $2 million in South Carolina. The former Florida governor is redeploying most staffers at his Miami HQ to the early states. He’s putting most of his chips on New Hampshire, doubling the number of staffers to 40.
  • Hillary Clinton will likely report that she raised more than $100 million in 2015. “Clinton raised at least $21 million at fundraisers she personally headlined in the fourth quarter of 2015,” CNN reports. “The Democratic front-runner headlined a total of 58 fundraisers in the fourth quarter, a pace identical to the 58 events she headlined in the second and third quarters of 2015.”
  • Campaigns will not need to officially file their numbers with the Federal Election Commission until Jan. 31. Super PACs also have until the end of the month to submit their end-of-year reports, though most of the figures will trickle out in the coming days. After that, super PACs and presidential campaigns begin filing monthly, beginning in February, by the 20th. So we’ll have lots of numbers to digest.

Obama delivers his 2015 State of the Union (AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)

— Jan. 12: Obama’s final State of the Union. The Tuesday night speech will likely be the biggest audience that the president gets this year. With the GOP in control of both chambers, aides telegraph that he’ll break from the traditional format of listing lots of stuff that he wants (and won’t get). Instead, he’ll speak more holistically about his accomplishments and his vision for the country.

— Jan. 14: The next GOP debate, in South Carolina, airs on Fox Business.

— Jan. 17: The next Democratic debate, also in Charleston, airs on NBC. Expect ratings to again be low because it is the Sunday night before the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. It’s being sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute.

As soon as early January: ICE plans to aggressively deport families who surged across the border. The Department of Homeland Security will conduct a series of raids targeting hundreds of families nationwide. It could re-inject the immigration debate into the primaries on the eve of Iowa and drive Hillary to vocally break with the administration.


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (AFP/Getty Images)

— January 25: Will the U.S. assent to Bashar al-Assad staying in power? Syrian peace talks are supposed to begin. Staffan de Mistura, the UN special representative for Syria, has said there will be the first meeting of representatives of the Syrian opposition and government, to begin forming a transition government under the so-called “Vienna agreement.” We’ll believe it when we see it…

— Jan. 28: Republicans debate for the last time before voting begins. The Des Moines debate airs on Fox News. It’s the same trio of moderators who got good reviews for their performance in Cleveland.


Hillary Clinton in Iowa, last week (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

— Jan. 29: What’s the juiciest nugget in the final batch of Hillary Clinton’s emails from the State Department? Another huge batch is dropping later this afternoon. Under court order as part of a FOIA lawsuit filed against the State Department, the government is required to release all of HRC’s emails by the end of January. They were required to do a rolling production, releasing at least some of the emails by the end of each month, which is why we’ve been getting them in batches on the last work day of each month. Officials say the very last batch will be released Jan. 29.


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

— Unknown: When is “Implementation Day” for the Iranian nuclear deal? A specific date was not specified, but it’s supposed to happen when the IAEA certifies that Iran has taken all the steps outlined in the agreement to get rid of its nuclear program. (This week, for instance, the regime shipped uranium to Russia.) Upon the IAEA’s seal of approval, nuclear-related sanctions are lifted and the U.N. watchdog begins its extensive monitoring program. Iranians are still saying that they can finish by the middle or end of January, but nobody else really believes that. Depending on who you talk to, it will be either the spring, the summer, the fall or the end of the year. This will mean at least one news cycle of the candidates re-litigating the wisdom of the agreement.

— Feb. 1: The Iowa caucuses will tell us a lot. Polls aside, how strong are Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump’s challenges to the establishment? Philip Rucker and Robert Costa report this morning that Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Bush see the Hawkeye State as “a playground of opportunity”: “None of the establishment candidates expects to win Iowa, but associates see an opportunity for a victory of momentum — and positive media coverage — for whoever can capture the most mainstream Republican support. That faction, which the campaigns see as up for grabs, is estimated at anywhere from 20 to 35 percent of the electorate.”

— Feb. 4: Could Obama help seal a major peace agreement in South America? Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos comes to the White House ahead of a March 23 deadline for peace talks between the government and the FARC rebels. A White House official says the trip is scheduled to happen at a “defining moment in the process.” Bigger picture, Obama plans to focus heavily on foreign policy during his final year in office. And he’s going to emphasize Latin America, where authoritarian regimes are on the defensive. A White House official says he’s planning another Latin America trip after the election in November.

— Feb. 6: Republicans debate at St. Anselm College on ABC the Saturday night before the New Hampshire primary.

— Feb. 7: The Super Bowl is in Santa Clara, Calif.

— Feb. 9: The New Hampshire primary


Jeb Bush at an AARP event in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Dec. 8. (Reuters/Brian Snyder)

— Feb. 11: Jeb Bush turns 63. Will he have anything to celebrate? Will he even be in the race?

— Feb. 11: Democrats debate in Wisconsin, to air on PBS.

— Feb. 13: Republicans debate in South Carolina on CBS.

— Feb. 15-16: Obama has a chance to show that the U.S. is serious about checking China’s power grab in the South China Sea. The Chinese are rapidly modernizing their navy to project power across Asia and make new (dubious) territorial claims. In fact, their Defense Ministry announced in just the past few hours that workers are building a 50,000-ton aircraft carrier in the port city of Dalian. They only have one carrier now; it was purchased from Ukraine and lacks a full aviation component. 

  • POTUS irritated Beijing by announcing last week that he will host a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in Southern California on these days. Several of the ASEAN countries are upset with China over the South China Sea and are coming closer into the U.S. orbit as a result. Obama announced new U.S. military aid to the Philippines last month and more could be forthcoming at this gathering.
  • Obama will go back to Asia in May and September. The first trip is to Japan for the G-7, and a White House official says there will likely be additional stops. POTUS will go back in September, to China, for the G-20. And then he’ll go to Laos for another ASEAN meeting. There will possibly by an additional stop too.

— Feb. 20: On this Saturday, the Democrats have their caucus in Nevada and Republicans have their primary in South Carolina. The Republican caucuses in Nevada are three days later, on Feb. 23. The South Carolina Democratic primary is the next weekend, on Feb. 27.

— Feb. 26: Republicans debate in Houston on NBC. The co-sponsors are Telemundo and National Review.

— March 1 brings Super Tuesday, aka the SEC Primary. There are primaries in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Vermont. There are caucuses in Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota and Wyoming. It could be a huge day for Hillary. But, on the Republican side, delegates will be awarded proportionally. So no one is going to run away with it on this day. Ted Cruz has worked hard to position himself for a good night in the region.


Mitt Romney at CPAC

— March 2-5: Does anyone drop out at the CPAC? The Conservative Political Action Conference, a major event on the conservative calendar, is where Mitt Romney dropped out in 2008. Coming right after the SEC primary, it could be an important moment for the right to coalesce behind a candidate. Or it could be a free-for-all.


Rand Paul (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

— March 5: Will Rand Paul still be in the race when Republicans caucus in Kentucky? So that he could also run for reelection, the senator pushed the Bluegrass State GOP to go with a caucus, instead of a primary. He may not make it that long, though. Also holding Saturday caucuses that day are Kansas and Maine. Louisiana has a primary, and Nebraska has Democratic caucuses. Democrats caucus in Maine the next day.

— March 8: Primaries in Michigan and Mississippi (and, for Republicans only, in Idaho)

— March 9: The Washington Post and Univision sponsor a Democratic debate in Miami.


Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire (Reuters/Chris Wattie)

— March 10: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes a State Visit to Washington. That night, Republicans debate in Florida on CNN.

— March 15 is when states can start being winner-take-all in the Republican race. This is when someone with momentum could start running up their delegate count. Florida scheduled its primary for this day in the hopes of giving favorite sons Bush or Marco Rubio a lot of delegates, though Trump has been leading in every poll of the Sunshine State. There are other big-state primaries for both parties: North Carolina, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio. (Will John Kasich still be in the race by then?)

— March 22: Democrats have caucuses in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington State. Obama organized to take advantage of caucus states in 2008, and they tend to reward the more ideologically pure candidates. That would seem to benefit Sanders. But the Clinton campaign has been investing in ground games to get their people out.

— April 1: Can Republicans capitalize on a new Obamacare deadline? Or will this be the year where they find themselves on the defensive? In an under-covered announcement on Monday, the Treasury Department and the IRS extended a deadline for businesses to comply with the Affordable Care Act from Feb. 1 to April 1. With the new requirements going into effect, there will be a batch of stories about small businesses struggling to pay for the coverage. Organized labor continues to push for changes to the rules governing so-called Cadillac plans, and they could pile on if there are problems.

— April 5: The Wisconsin primary


Bryce Harper (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

— April 7: The Nationals’ home opener is an unofficial holiday in the capital. The Nats are hosting the Miami Marlins.

— April 9: Colorado Republicans award their delegates at a convention. Democrats caucus in Wyoming.

— April 19: New York primary

— April 26: Primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island


Barbara Mikulski at a Maryland Democratic Party reception for her in October (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

— April 26: Who succeeds Sen. Barbara Mikulski? The longest-serving woman in Congress, who has been a fixture of Maryland politics since the 1970s, is retiring. She will be succeeded by whomever wins the increasingly nasty Democratic primary between two members of the House delegation, Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards.

— Late April: Can Obama get a European trade deal before he leaves office? The president will travel to Hanover, Germany, for a trade show, part of his plan to seal a trade agreement before the end of the year. He will go back to Europe in the summer, visiting Poland for a NATO summit. Administration officials say other stops are likely.

— May 3: Indiana primary

— May 10: West Virginia primary

— May 17: Oregon primary (and Democrats caucus in Kentucky)

— May 24: Washington State’s GOP primary


Saudi King Abdullah, who passed away earlier this year, at the opening ceremony for the OPEC Summit in 2007. (Reuters/Ali Jarekji)

— June 2: Will OPEC stop keeping global oil prices artificially low? The countries in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries next gather in Vienna. They decided earlier this month to maintain current production levels, despite the glut of crude oil. This is one of the main reasons that the average price for a gallon of gas is below $2 nationally. Low prices at the pump help augur consumer confidence. The OPEC cartel has the ability to put pain in Americans’ wallet going into the summer driving season.

— June 7: Primaries in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota


Ivania Castillo and immigrant advocacy groups rallied in November outside the Supreme Court, calling on the justices to rule in favor of President Obama’s stalled deportation-relief proposal. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)

— Mid-June: The Supreme Court finishes its term by handing down potentially landmark decisions on abortion, affirmative action, immigration and other hot-button issues that could shake-up the presidential campaign. 

— July 18-21: The Republican National Convention is in Cleveland.

— July 25-28: The Democratic National Convention is in Philadelphia.

— August 5-21: The summer Olympics in Rio will suck up a lot of the oxygen from the presidential campaign, distracting most people for two weeks.


John McCain (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

— Aug. 30: Does John McCain survive another primary challenge in Arizona? Public polling has shown him under 50 percent among likely GOP primary voters, but he hasn’t drawn a credible challenger. He beat back a serious challenge in 2010, and his main competitor this year will be state Sen. Kelli Ward. The senator’s team has worked to get control of the state GOP, and he’s spending a lot of time back home. He did the ceremonial puck-drop at center-ice for the Coyotes on Tuesday night. He’s often spotted at Diamondbacks games. Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick got into the race, partly in hopes that McCain gets toppled by a tea partier who cannot win a general election.

— Sept. 26: The first general election debate takes place on a Monday night in Dayton, Ohio. 

— Sept. 30: Will there be a government shutdown? Notice the dearth of items on this list about Congress. John Boehner’s decision to “clean out the barn” before he left — and the omnibus that just passed — means that there’s not a big deadline or cliff until the annual government funding bill comes up at the end of September. It could become significant if Republicans nominate a senator. It’s also possible that there could be a short-term extension to punt until after the election.

— What will be this year’s “October Surprise,” and will it come in October? Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” video emerged on Sept. 17, 2012. The CDC announced that someone inside the United States had been diagnosed with Ebola on Sept. 30, 2014. Those developments threw late curveballs in the last presidential and midterm elections, respectively, and something we cannot foresee will this year too.


Joe Biden and Paul Ryan debate in Oct. 2012. (Reuters/ Jeff Haynes)

— Oct. 4: Who will be the candidates on stage for the one and only vice presidential debate? The Tuesday night event happens at Longwood University in Farmville, Va.

— Oct. 9: The second presidential debate is on a Sunday night at Washington University in St. Louis.

— Oct. 19: The third and final general election debate is at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas on a Wednesday.

— Nov. 8: Election Day

— December: How important is the lame duck session? Mitch McConnell said recently that he might punt consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership until after the election. How much is still on Congress’ plate depends on whether Republicans lose the Senate and the White House.

— Hopefully this clip-and-save list helps you stay one step ahead of what’s coming down the pike. Ideas for dates on this list were offered by my generous colleagues Juliet Eilperin, Karen DeYoung, Tom Hamburger, Paul Kane, Matea Gold, Rosalind Helderman, Anne Gearan, Ed O’Keefe, Steven Mufson, Zachary Goldfarb and Mike DeBonis. I look forward to being in your inbox every weekday morning to help narrate this 2016 journey. So thanks for reading, and buckle up…

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:


Belgian soldiers stand guard on Brussels’ Grand Place this morning. (Reuters/Francois Lenoir)

— A New Years’ Eve fireworks show in Brussels was cancelled due to credible threats of a terrorist attack. Police in Belgium also arrested and charged a 10th person in connection with the those attacks. Ten cellphones taken in the raid are being examined for evidence.

— Turkish police arrested two ISIS members who were allegedly planning a terrorist attack tonight in Ankara. Authorities said they found explosive suicide vests ready to go.


Secret Service agents watch over the motorcade outside Bobby Titcomb after dropping Obama off. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Obama spent seven hours attending a luau at his good friend Bobby Titcomb’s beachfront compound in Mokuleia.

The Japan and South Korea deal to resolve the dispute over Korean “comfort women” is in jeopardy after Tokyo announced it won’t pay the $8.3 million settlement until a statue dedicated to the women is removed from outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul. (Anna Fifield)

GET SMART FAST:


Bill Cosby, holding a cane, arrives at court to face a felony charge of aggravated indecent assault yesterday in Elkins Park, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
  1. Bill Cosby was arraigned in Pennsylvania for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in 2004 at his home after drugging her. Lawyers for Cosby promised a “vigorous defense” against what they called an “unjustified” felony charge. The comedian posted bail and turned over his passport. (Abby Olheiser, Niraj Choksi and Paul Farhi)
  2. Puerto Rico will avoid defaulting on nearly $1 billion in loan payments tomorrow by tapping into more than $100 million of the country’s reserve cash. (Michael A. Fletcher)
  3. The feds filed additional charges against the neighbor who bought the guns used by the San Bernardino terrorists, Enrique Marquez Jr., including marriage fraud and lying when he purchased the semi-automatics. (Los Angeles Times)
  4. The man who died after he crashed his car into a vehicle carrying four Secret Service agents in New Hampshire was driving on a suspended license and had a long criminal history. (Carol Leonnig and Niraj Chokshi)
  5. Ethan Couch, the “Affluenza” teenager from Texas, successfully got a three-day stay of his extradition to the United States, but his 48-year-old mother Tonya was flown back by U.S. Marshals. She’s in much greater legal jeopardy than her son. Prosecutors promise to throw the book at both. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
  6. Teaching assistants at Amherst College were encouraged to sleep with students to boost enrollment in the Spanish department, according to a lawsuit filed by a former faculty member. (Susan Svrluga)
  7. A drug company that Martin Shkreli bought in November, KaloBios, filed for bankruptcy after he was charged with fraud. (AP)
  8. The man arrested in connection with the arson at a Houston mosque says he is a regular worshiper there. (Houston Chronicle)
  9. Twitter is under fire from communities of color for hiring a 50-year-old white man to be “vice president for diversity and inclusion.” (Hayley Tsukayama)
  10. Apple agreed to pay Italy $347 million after failing to pay corporate taxes in the country from 2008 to 2013. (Wall Street Journal)
  11. After taking in more asylum seekers per capita than any other nation in Europe, Sweden has pulled the welcome mat. Overwhelmed by the human tide, the center-left government is deploying  new border controls and slashing benefits to deter new refugees. (Griff Witte and Anthony Faiola)
  12. The ruling socialist party in Venezuela is trying to stop the opposition from getting a super-majority in Parliament by using its dominance of the Supreme Court to bar four democratically-elected lawmakers from taking office next week. (AP)
  13. Argentina declared a “national statistic emergency” and says it won’t release new economic data until the numbers can be trusted. President Mauricio Macri has accused his predecessor, Cristina Kirchner, of manipulating past numbers. The IMF in 2013 censured Argentina for the large difference between its official data and independent estimates. (AFP)
  14. Press freedom advocates are concerned about a proposed bill in Poland to allow lawmakers to hire or fire media executives and control two public news outlets. (BBC)

POWER PLAYERS IN THE NEWS:


Rahm, back from Cuba, tries to save his political career. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
  1. Rahm Emanuel announced that all Chicago police officers will carry tasers by next June to help reduce the number of civilians shot by city cops. (William Wan)
  2. Arne Duncan, in his final speech as Secretary of Education, said the “greatest frustration” of his seven years in the cabinet was Congress’ failure to pass gun control legislation. (Emma Brown)
  3. Kentucky’s new Republican governor, Matt Bevin, announced he will NOT get rid of the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. Instead, by 2017, he will introduce a waiver to charge premiums and co-pays. (The Louisville Courier-Journal)
  4. Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, trying to improve his image ahead of the March 1 Republican primary and with nearly $20 million cash on hand, is launching a $6 million ad campaign today during the Cotton Bowl, which pits Alabama against Michigan State. (Birmingham News)
  5. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, announced  his panel will look into the Wall Street Journal’s report that the National Security Agency intercepted communications between members of Congress and Benjamin Netanyahu. Separately, the House Oversight Committee asked the NSA for copies of its policies on screening intercepted communications from lawmakers. (Carol Morello)
  6. Marco Rubio signed on to a conservative push for a new Constitutional convention. The senator said he’s open to amending the Constitution to include term limits for Supreme Court justices. (David Weigel)
  7. Hillary Clinton launched a radio ad in Iowa attacking Republican Gov. Terry Branstad for slashing mental health services, vetoing school funding and trying to privatize Medicaid. A narrator says Clinton is “the one candidate with the strength to stand up to the Republicans.” Hillary herself closes the 60-second spot: “I want you to know,” she says, “I’m listening to you, I’m fighting for you, and with your support, I’m going to deliver.” (Listen to the ad.)
  8. Clinton is ready to characterize what ISIS is doing to Christians as “genocide.” (Michelle Boorstein)
  9. Guns N’ Roses is reuniting. Original members Axl Rose and Slash will headline Coachella in April, and the guys are negotiating with promoters to play as many as 25 football stadiums in North America this summer. (Billboard)

— WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:


Marco Rubio in Miami Beach last month (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

— How Rubio helped his ex-con brother-in-law acquire a real estate license,” by Scott Higham and Manuel Roig-Franzia: “When Marco Rubio was majority whip of the Florida House of Representatives, he used his official position to urge state regulators to grant a real estate license to his brother-in-law, a convicted cocaine trafficker who had been released from prison 20 months earlier, according to records obtained by The Washington Post. In July 2002, Rubio sent a letter on his official statehouse stationery to the Florida Division of Real Estate, recommending Orlando Cicilia ‘for licensure without reservation.’ The letter, obtained by The Washington Post under the Florida Public Records Act, offers a glimpse of Rubio using his growing political power to assist his troubled brother-in-law and provides new insight into how the young lawmaker intertwined his personal and political lives. Rubio did not disclose in the letter that Cicilia was married to his sister, Barbara, or that the former cocaine dealer was living at the time in the same West Miami home as Rubio’s parents. He wrote that he had known Cicilia ‘for over 25 years,’ without elaborating.”


Col. Yadgar Hijran, a Peshmerga commander, stands on the front lines, where Kurdish-controlled territory borders ISIS-controlled territory in Iraq. (Alice Martins/For The Washingon Post)

— “On the front lines of the war against the Islamic State, a tangled web,” by Liz Sly: “A war seen by the United States as primarily aimed at preventing future terrorist attacks in America is being prosecuted for very different reasons by the diverse assortment of Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni fighters battling in both Iraq and Syria, often in pursuit of competing agendas that work to subvert the goal of defeating the militants. In northern Iraq and Syria, Kurds are busily carving out the borders to new Kurdish enclaves. Shiite militias, now the most powerful force in Iraq, are extending their reach deep into traditionally Sunni areas of northern Iraq. The Syrian government is focusing its energies on reclaiming land seized by its opponents during the five-year-old rebellion against it, while deeply divided Syrian rebels in turn are fighting a two-front war to hold their ground against both the government and the Islamic State. … he Islamic State may or may not be vanquished soon — and a string of defeats inflicted in recent months in northeastern Syria, northern Iraq and most recently Ramadi have raised hopes that its demise may be closer than had been thought.”


Miyoshia Bailey of Chicago struggles to speak while holding a photo of her slain son, Cortez, during a press conference on gun violence in the Capitol on Dec. 10. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

— “Their 1996 clash shaped the gun debate for years. Now they want to reshape it,” by Todd C. Frankel: “Twenty years ago, these two men were enemies on opposite sides of the nation’s gun debate. Their distrust was so deep and well known, they were warned to avoid each other. Back then, Jay was Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), the National Rifle Association’s self-described point man on the Hill. And Mark was Dr. Mark Rosenberg, a champion of gun-violence research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When they clashed in person for the first time in April 1996, it was a meeting that would ripple across the years and into the present. It quickly led to the CDC’s controversial decision to halt its gun-violence research. Dickey declared victory. Rosenberg lost his job. And for two decades, the CDC has refused to investigate shootings as a public health problem, a position that even presidential pleas and strings of mass shootings have proved powerless to reverse.  … As the 2016 presidential hopefuls offer competing visions of how to deal with shootings — with everything on the table from stricter gun laws to expanding gun rights — these two men are trying to get their message out. They believe they have a solution. But they are not sure that anyone, on either side, wants to hear it.”


Vladimir Putin speaks with a deputy at the Kremlin on Dec. 21. (Alexei Druzhunin/AFP/Getty Images)

— “Lack of Russia experts has some in U.S. worried,” by Karoun Demirjian: “Top intelligence and national security officials — including the top general of NATO — have warned that the United States’ depth of knowledge and capacity for collecting information on Russia is not up to snuff, given the stakes of the conflicts at hand and the threat an unpredictable Kremlin poses to U.S. interests. Experts, lawmakers and former administration officials describe a national security apparatus that, once teeming with experienced Russia specialists, including at the highest levels of decision-making, now relies on looser regime of more junior experts who lack the reach to directly influence policy. The result, they say, is a series of missed opportunities to anticipate Moscow’s recent moves in areas such as Ukraine and Syria, even when clues were readily available. ‘We’ve been surprised at every turn,’  said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.). ‘We were surprised when they went into Crimea, we were surprised when they went into Syria.’ Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said there has been some ‘atrophy’ in the government’s Russia expertise since the Cold War, a trend that needs to be reversed. ‘We’ve gotta double down on re-looking at Russia,’ he said.”


Walter Pincus, a national security journalist at The Washington Post, digs through 60-plus boxes in the sub-basement of the old Post building in October. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

— After more than 40 years at The Post, the legendary Walter Pincus pens his farewell column“Leaving The Post, I have three concerns — not about this newspaper, but related to journalism as a whole, the profession which I love. One is how much more influential the media has grown to become … The second is how much better so-called newsmakers have become at influencing what is written and broadcast to the public. … The third is that the current competitive rush to be first in both breaking news and slick commentary is leaving behind the facts related to the complex issues of our time.”

Pincus calls for the media to provide readers with both more facts and perspective, specifically with regards to the threat of terrorism: “After 9/11, a very wise intelligence officer told me in 2002, ‘We have turned 16 clever al-Qaeda terrorists into a worldwide movement, seemingly more dangerous to Americans than the communist Soviet Union with thousands of nuclear missiles.’ Never at the height of the Cold War did we institute the security actions at home that have been taken and are being contemplated to meet what’s been described as the current terrorist threat. President Obama put it in perspective during a Dec. 21, National Public Radio interview when he said, ‘This is not an organization that can destroy the United States . . . But they can hurt us … The most damage they can do, though, is if they start changing how we live and what our values are.'”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

–Pictures of the day:

Several politicos posted their #2015BestNine photos on Instagram (get your own here):

White House Photographer Pete Souza shared his favorite photos of 2015. See the whole gallery here:

–Tweets of the day:

Rand Paul tweeted up a storm, accusing the NSA of spying on Congress:

And the Kentucky senator joined the fray over how much work his rivals Marco Rubio and Chris Christie are missing:

Jeb Bush touted his 2nd Amendment credentials, saying they provide a “clear contrast” with Hillary:

And one of The Donald’s supporters is pretty confident of victory. Naturally, Trump retweeted.

Meanwhile, CNN reporter Jim Sciutto wondered about the necklace made of bullets on Trump national spokeswoman Katrina Pierson, who responded that she’d wear “a fetus next time& bring awareness to 50 million aborted people that will never ger [sic] to be on Twitter.” She seemed exasperated that people would take the latter literally:

— Instagrams of the day:

Native Americans showed their support for Bernie Sanders in Las Vegas:

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) shared this snap of his son Brady  zonked out adorably with their dogs Bear and Buckeye:

It’s cold enough to ski in New Hampshire. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) went to Loon Mountain with her kids:

The snow didn’t stop Rubio’s bus from getting to his first stop of the day in Pella, Iowa:

Jeanette Rubio has accompanied him for the bus trip:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:


Donald Trump speaks on Hilton Head Island, S.C., yesterday. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

— Valley News (of Lebanon, N.H.), “Trump campaign claims Upper Valley supporters who say they didn’t commit,” by Tim Camerato: “Nancy Partington isn’t a fan of Trump. The Woodsville resident plans to vote for a Republican in the upcoming New Hampshire presidential primary, but thinks the billionaire businessman can sometimes be ‘a little erratic.’ ‘I’m going to vote for Jeb Bush,’ Partington said …. That might be news to Trump’s New Hampshire campaign, since it listed Partington as one of more than 200 town chairs for Trump across the Granite State. But being named a town chairwoman for Trump was a surprise to Partington, who was one of three people in the Upper Valley who said they had been listed without their knowledge as town chairs … Partington said members of the Trump campaign first called her to ask who she likes in the Republican primary field. She replied that she ‘kind of liked’ Donald Trump and the caller said they would sign her up to receive some letters or a sign for her front lawn. Now, she’s listed as the campaign’s Woodsville chair. Jackie Bergeron is listed as the Canaan chair. She watches the Republican debates and plans to vote for Trump, but also wasn’t aware of the listing made after she expressed interest in the campaign. A Mascoma Valley resident also said he was listed incorrectly as a Trump town chairman.”

— New York Times, “New Hampshire independents may control fates of Trump and Sanders,” by Patrick Healy and Matt Flegenheimer: “About 40 percent of the New Hampshire electorate is independent (officially called undeclared) — a greater voter share than either party can claim — and is allowed to participate in either primary. And their choices could be decisive for two very different candidates, Trump and Sanders, who are counting on independent support to win the state. Early indications suggest that independents are being drawn to the turbulent Republican race.”

  • “Bill Bradley and Barack Obama won the undeclared vote in their primaries in 2000 and 2008, but lost among registered Democrats and wound up narrowly losing to Al Gore and Hillary Clinton in the state…”
  • “No one has ever won a New Hampshire primary without a plurality of his or her own party’s voters. But with such a large Republican field this time, if one candidate amassed a large number of independents and a smaller but healthy share of party members, victory could be possible — especially if the candidate needed only 20 percent to 25 percent of the total vote to prevail.”

— Wall Street Journal, “Obama administration preparing fresh Iran sanctions,” by Jay Solomon: “The Obama administration is preparing to sanction nearly a dozen companies and individuals in Iran, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates for their alleged role in developing Iran’s ballistic-missile program. … The planned actions by the Treasury Department would mark the first U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran since the country came to a nuclear agreement with global powers in July. Iranian officials have warned the White House in recent months that any such financial penalties would be viewed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei as a violation of the nuclear accord. Senior U.S. official have said the Treasury retained a right under the agreement to blacklist Iranian entities allegedly involved in missile development as well as those that support international terrorism and human-rights abuses. Officials view those activities as separate from the nuclear deal. … Recently, Iranian diplomats have accused the U.S. of violating the nuclear agreement when Congress passed legislation requiring any foreign national who visits Iran or Syria to obtain a visa before entering the U.S., a change made in response to the San Bernardino shootings.”


John Campbell testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in October. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

— USA Today, “Top U.S. general may seek more troops for Afghanistan,” by Tom Vanden Brook: “Afghanistan’s security situation is so tenuous that the top U.S. commander there wants to keep as many U.S. troops there as possible through 2016 to boost beleaguered Afghan soldiers and may seek additional American forces to assist them. Army Gen. John Campbell said in an interview that maintaining the current force of 9,800 U.S. troops to train Afghan forces and conduct counter-terrorism raids is vital, and that the scheduled reduction to 5,500 by Jan. 1, 2017, should be put off as long as possible. … The Pentagon’s own quarterly assessment of security in Afghanistan this month noted that in ‘the second half of 2015, the overall security situation in Afghanistan deteriorated with an increase in effective insurgent attacks and higher (Afghan security force) and Taliban casualties.’ Campbell will be Washington soon to brief senior leaders on the security situation in Afghanistan and troop levels required for their missions.”


Bill Clinton speaks in New York City on Dec. 9. (Reuters/Mike Segar)

— Wall Street Journal, “Speaking fees meet politics for Clintons,” by James V. Grimaldi and Rebecca Ballhaus: “At Hillary Clinton’s confirmation hearing for secretary of state, she promised she would take ‘extraordinary steps…to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.’ Later, more than two dozen companies and groups and one foreign government paid former President Bill Clinton a total of more than $8 million to give speeches around the time they also had matters before Mrs. Clinton’s State Department. Fifteen of them also donated a total of between $5 million and $15 million to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation … Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said ‘no evidence exists’ to link any actions taken by Mrs. Clinton’s State Department to organizations hosting Mr. Clinton’s speeches, and that all of her actions were in line with Obama administration policies and priorities.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“Conservative Democrats hope John Bel Edwards’ victory means new direction for state party.” From the New Orleans Times-Picayune: “A faction of moderate and conservative Louisiana Democrats are hoping to steer the state party away from the more liberal message of its national leaders on social issues like abortion and gun control and build on John Bel Edwards’ historic victory in the governor’s race.”

HOT ON THE RIGHT

Taxes on the richest Americans in 2013 shot up to their highest rate since 1997. From the Washington Examiner: “In a report on 400 income tax returns showing the largest incomes, updated for 2013, the IRS reports that the group faced an average tax rate of 22.89 percent. The 2013 rate paid by the highest earners was a major jump from the year before. In 2012, the average tax rate for the 400 top earners was 16.72 percent, although that rate was likely artificially low because of families shifting income and capital gains into 2012 to avoid new higher taxes in subsequent years.”

DAYBOOK:

— What’s happening today on the campaign trail: A huge batch of Clinton’s State Department emails will drop in the late afternoon. Sanders has a town hall in Knoxville, Iowa, in the morning, and will host a New Years’ Eve party in Des Moines at 7 p.m. Central.

— On the Hill: Recess

— At the White House: President Obama continues his Hawaiian vacation.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

Jerry Seinfeld asked Obama, “How many world leaders do you think are just completely out of their mind?” The president responded, “A pretty sizable percentage…. And part of what happens is these guys — I think the longer they stay in office, the more likely that is to happen…. At a certain point, your feet hurt and you’re having trouble peeing.”

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

— “Today will be a comparatively cool end to a month of seemingly unending warmth,” the Capital Weather Gang forecasts.Tonight’s festivities are nice and dry but heavier coats need to come out as chillier air is finally making its big move into the area. Clouds begin to show breaks in the morning and there should be quite a bit of sun by afternoon. Most areas still reach the low-to-mid 50s but it takes a little more work as cold air pours in from the Midwest.”

The Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-2 for their ninth straight win. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

The Toronto Raptors beat the Wizards 94-91. (Jorge Castillo)

— Every D.C. police officer will wear a body camera by next summer. (Abigail Hauslohner)

A member of the 18th Street Gang admitted to prostituting a 15-year-old girl to repay an $1,800 debt to another gang member. The case is just the latest sickening example of gangs turning to child sex trafficking as a way to make money, Matt Zapotosky notes.

–The city’s Parks and Rec department announced that fees at city-run fitness centers will be eliminated next year. (Perry Stein)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Jerry Seinfeld’s interview with President Obama posted overnight. The 19-minute edition of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” includes footage of POTUS driving a 1963 Corvette Stingray, chatting about his morning routine and Seinfeld knocking on the glass window of the Oval Office to get his attention. Read Dan Zak’s story hereWatch the full video here:


Jeb released a video of Trump’s top five “worst” moments of the year, set to “Auld Lang Syne”:

The Trump campaign shot a video of his descent by helicopter into South Carolina:

Watch C-SPAN’s top 10 social media video hits of 2015:

And just because, what would the last day of 2015 be without a funny cat video?