Opinion writer

* The Toddler-in-Chief just threw some applesauce at the grown-ups again:

President Trump told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday that he was postponing an unannounced trip of hers to Afghanistan and Brussels because of the federal government shutdown, apparent retaliation following Pelosi’s suggestion Wednesday that Trump delay his State of the Union address.

“In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure that you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate,” Trump wrote in a letter to Pelosi (D-Calif.) released by the White House.

Pelosi and other lawamkers were planning to leave for Afghanistan on Thursday afternoon, a trip that would include a required stop in Brussels for pilot rest, her spokesman Drew Hammill wrote on Twitter. He said there was no plan to stop in Egypt, contrary to how Trump described the trip in his letter.

In Brussels the group was to meet with top NATO commanders and military leaders “to affirm the United States’ ironclad commitment to the NATO alliance,” Hammill wrote.

“The purpose of the trip was to express appreciation & thanks to our men & women in uniform for their service & dedication, & to obtain critical national security & intelligence briefings from those on the front lines,” Hammill continued.

It’s difficult to say what’s more pathetic -- the idea that this is supposed to persuade President Trump’s supporters that he’s “fighting,” or the possibility that they might actually thrill to it. -- gs

* Amy Goldstein reports that the horror of family separations at the border was even worse than we knew:

The Trump administration separated thousands more migrant children from their parents at the U.S. border than has previously been made public, according to an investigative report released Thursday, but the federal tracking system has been so poor that the precise number is hazy.

According to the report issued by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, the separated children include 118 taken between July and early November — after the administration halted a short-lived family separation effort that provoked a political firestorm and public outrage.

The report estimates that thousands of other youngsters were taken starting early in the Trump administration, months before the government announced it would separate children in order to criminally prosecute their parents, through late last spring.

Although previous administrations also separated minors from adults at the border in some instances — usually when they suspected the child was smuggled, or the parent appeared to be unfit — the report documents a sharp increase in separations under Trump.

This administration has done a lot of despicable things, but this one has to rank near the top of the list.

* Jeanne Whalen and Karoun Demirjian report that even many Republicans are uneasy with how solicitous the administration is being toward Russia:

In a rebuke to the Trump administration, 136 Republicans joined House Democrats Thursday to oppose a Treasury Department plan to lift Russian sanctions against companies controlled by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The overwhelming 362 to 53 vote will not prevent the Trump administration from easing sanctions on three companies connected to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as Senate Republicans narrowly blocked a similar measure on Wednesday.

But the House vote does mean that a majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill oppose President Trump’s efforts to soften punitive measures on a Russian oligarch — a rejection with potential implications for the administration’s continued stance on Russia, and for the GOP lawmakers who backed the plan to ease the sanctions.

Even Putin is probably saying, “You’re going to lift sanctions on Deripaska NOW? Dude, don’t be so obvious!”

* Yoni Appelbaum offers a detailed, well-argued case for initiating impeachment proceedings against the president without further delay. The key distinction that the piece makes effectively is between saying Trump unquestionably has committed offenses that merit impeachment and conviction right now, and arguing (as Appelbaum does) that hearings should be set in motion, to channel angst about Trump’s unfitness to serve into a rule-bound congressional process. -- gs

* Michael Levenson reports that former Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn says the shutdown is completely wrong and can't figure out what strategy Trump is following, if any.

* Natalie Kitroeff and Robert Gebeloff report on how deeply the shutdown is hurting in places where government jobs are the best jobs around.

* David Corn has the tale of how right-wing members of Congress and Fox News are cooperating to smear a former FBI official.

* Laura Santhanam reports on a new PBS/NPR/Marist poll showing that 57 percent of voters say they will definitely vote against Trump in 2020. So much winning!

* Eric Boehlert argues that it’s time the New York Times owns up to the mistakes it made in covering Trump and the Russia scandal during the campaign.

* Amelia Thomson-Deveaux explains why Trump has so much to fear from the New York State attorney general

* Kim Parker, Nikki Graf, and Ruth Igielnik report that Generation Z is just as liberal on all kinds of issues as Millennials are, which is good news for Democrats and bad news for Republicans.

* Alyssa Rosenberg explains what Karen Pence is doing that's right and admirable.

* And Glenn Kessler and Meg Kelly run down some of the many times when Donald Trump and Steve King said nearly the same thing about a charged issue.