President posts that he works well with the secretary of state and that media speculation that illerson is being fired is ‘fake news’; John Roberts reports from the White House.
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On the roster: The tweets speak for themselves, but do they speak for Trump? – Trump charges in for embattled Moore – Trump lawyer: POTUS is top cop, can jump into any case – Legislative logjam piles up – Florida opossum drunk as a skunk
THE TWEETS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES, BUT DO THEY SPEAK FOR TRUMP?
As often as President Trump’s tweets have caused headaches for his administration, they have also been quite valuable in several ways.
Most significantly, they’re exactly what the president says they are: A free means to communicate directly with millions of loyal followers.
To the extent that Trump’s political movement has become a cult of personality, his tweets are the hadiths. They entertain and endear his followers to him, but also provide daily instructions for the never-ending battle – online and off – with the president’s detractors.
But social media helps the White House with the inside game, too.
The accepted narrative in Washington has long been that the president rises with the dawn and then bedevils the team at the White House with off-topic tweets. In this telling, the president tweets out sketchy videos from a British hate group or an insult to congressional Democratic leaders or whatever mayhem-maker crosses his mind that morning and then his beleaguered staff is left to clean up the mess.
But we got a different insight into the White House social media strategy over the weekend as one of the president’s defense lawyers copped to authoring what was passed off as a presidential tweet, a post that John Dowd said he put up with the help White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino.
Trump critics were incredulous, arguing that Dowd was just trying to take the heat for his client. Read literally, the tweet seemed to be Trump acknowledging that he knew former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had lied to investigators about his Kremlin contacts when the president sought leniency for Flynn and then fired the FBI director over his handling of the Russia case.
Whether you believe or disbelieve Dowd likely depends on whether you think Trump is guilty. In the mostly pointless but irresistible guessing game surrounding the direction of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, partisans on both sides are feverishly preparing to either cheer on or rebut allegations that Trump actively obstructed investigators.
But set aside your prejudices about the underlying case for a moment and take Dowd at his word: He and Scavino crafted a tweet that, however unartfully, aped the president’s shouty style, including the signature terse exclamatory closing: “There was nothing to hide!” That’s “Sad!” as rendered by a former partner at Akin Gump…
It’s not so hard to believe. During the campaign, analysts found evidence that Trump’s Twitter feed isn’t a one-man show. Certainly, it’s no secret that Scavino is an important part of the @RealDonaldTrump persona, though he is careful to always stipulate that while he may be positing what the president dictates or suggesting tweets to Trump, it’s the president’s voice we’re hearing.
The president once, though perhaps less credibly, even blamed a “young intern” for a tweet that suggested Ben Carson was leading in Iowa caucus because Hawkeye State residents had brain damage.
Given all that, we see a different narrative about Trump’s social media habits as president. In this telling, Twitter isn’t a source of aggravation for Team Trump but instead a vehicle to get on the record on various issues but not be held accountable for the content.
Both of Trump’s press secretaries so far have relied on the construction “the tweets speak for themselves.” That is to say that they don’t speak for the White House or the executive branch of the federal government.
But what if the tweets don’t speak for the president, either?
Aside from interfering with the reputation for authenticity that Trump uses to such great effect with his supporters, the idea of tweets done by committee and orchestrated by a senior White House staffer would also deprive the administration of a great way out of jams.
Every flack in history would love to have access to a steady stream of unofficial, unaccountable but universally read missives.
We can’t know whether Dowd and Scavino’s tweet will hurt the president in his bid to beat the rap on Russia, but it seems they may have succeeded in messing up a good thing for their fellow staffers.
THE RULEBOOK: MEANT TO LAST
“The question, therefore, whether this amount of power shall be granted or not, resolves itself into another question, whether or not a government commensurate to the exigencies of the Union shall be established; or, in other words, whether the Union itself shall be preserved.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 44
TIME OUT: LITIGATION-ITIS
Aaron Carroll, a medical professor and health policy analyst, explores how lawsuits are hampering innovation. NYT: “We have a dispiriting shortage of high-quality health research for many reasons, including the fact that it’s expensive, difficult and time-intensive. But one reason is more insidious: Sometimes groups seek to intimidate and threaten scientists, scaring them off promising work. … [Dr. Pieter Cohen, an associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School] and I, along with Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan, recently wrote in JAMA Internal Medicine about the damage such suits inflict on scientific inquiry. … Lawsuits like these are too common in health research. Mr. Bagley did a fairly comprehensive search of the reported opinions over the past 40 years. He found two cases in the 1980s and two in the 1990s. Since 2000, however, there have been 10. These numbers greatly understate the number of filed cases, however, since the vast majority are settled.”
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Trump net job-approval rating: -19.6 points
Change from one week ago: down 2.8 points
[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]
TRUMP CHARGES IN FOR EMBATTLED MOORE
AP: “President Donald Trump endorsed embattled Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race on Monday, looking past sexual misconduct allegations against the GOP candidate to argue that his vote is needed in Congress. Trump tweeted early Monday that ‘Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama.’ It was Trump’s strongest show of support for Moore since allegations surfaced that the candidate had sexually assaulted teenage girls decades ago, including one who said he molested her when she was 14 and he was in his 30s. Many national Republicans have called on Moore to step aside in the wake of multiple sexual assault and harassment allegations. Shortly after Trump’s tweet, Moore responded on Twitter: ‘Thankful for President Trump’s support. The America First agenda will #MAGA. Can’t wait to help him #DrainTheSwamp.’ Trump also had assailed Moore’s Democratic rival Doug Jones…”
McConnell softens his opposition – Politico: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday shifted his tone on allowing Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore to serve in the Senate if elected. … When the allegations first appeared, McConnell said he believed the women and said Moore should drop out of the contest. ‘I’m going to let the people of Alabama make the call,’ McConnell said on ABC’s ‘This Week.’ He said he thought the Senate Ethics Committee would handle the allegations against Moore if he is elected: ‘The ethics committee will have to consider the matters that have been litigated in the campaign should that particular candidate win.’”
Jones looks to rev up African-American voters – Politico: “Doug Jones’ hunt for votes took him over the Edmund Pettus Bridge and into Selma’s annual Christmas parade Saturday, seeking to energize his most important bloc of supporters in Alabama’s special Senate election: African-Americans. Jones’ visit to a civil rights movement landmark epitomized his strategy in the final days of the Alabama race. Jones simply cannot win without African-American voters flooding to the polls on December 12, when he faces scandal-plagued Republican Roy Moore and hopes to become the first Democrat in years to win a statewide race in Alabama. Turnout for the unusual special election is uncertain and there are fewer traditional swing voters available here than other states, laying even more importance on the Democratic base.”
Polls all over the place – Politico: “Roy Moore appears to have inched back in front of Democrat Doug Jones in the latest Alabama Senate election polls, according to the oft-cited RealClearPolitics average — a change in fortune from mid-November, when sexual misconduct allegations against Moore first surfaced. The reality? No one really has a clue about where things stand with Alabama voters in the Dec. 12 special election. … And that’s precisely the problem. The most important and closely watched election in the nation is taking place in the equivalent of a polling black box. There are no established, in-state polling institutions or dominant regional media outlets to fill that void. Since it’s not typically a politically competitive state, outside pollsters don’t have much experience in Alabama either.”
But voters are definitely tuned in – FiveThirtyEight: “Overall, the effects of the scandal seem to be of roughly the same magnitude as those identified in a 2011 paper by Nicholas Chad Long, who found that scandals involving ‘immoral behavior’ hurt incumbent U.S. senators by a net of about 13 percentage points, controlling for their past margin of victory and other factors. … One needs to be careful here, because the line between ‘don’t believe the allegations’ and ‘wouldn’t vote for a Democrat under any circumstances’ can be blurry — voters may say they disbelieve the allegations as a way of rationalizing their vote for Moore. Nonetheless, if you’re someone who worries about what sort of precedent Moore’s election would set, the better reason for concern is that Moore seems to have successfully persuaded some Alabamians…”
TRUMP LAWYER: POTUS IS TOP COP, CAN JUMP INTO ANY CASE
Axios: “John Dowd, President Trump’s outside lawyer, outlined to [Mike Allen] a new and highly controversial defense/theory in the Russia probe: A president cannot be guilty of obstruction of justice. The ‘President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case,’ Dowd claims. Dowd says he drafted this weekend’s Trump tweet that many thought strengthened the case for obstruction: The tweet suggested Trump knew Flynn had lied to the FBI when he was fired, raising new questions about the later firing of FBI Director James Comey. … Trump’s legal team is clearly setting the stage to say the president cannot be charged with any of the core crimes discussed in the Russia probe: collusion and obstruction. Presumably, you wouldn’t preemptively make these arguments unless you felt there was a chance charges are coming.”
Graham warns Trump to tweet ‘at your own peril’ – Reuters: “A series of tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump about the investigation into contacts between his 2016 campaign and Russia prompted concerns on Sunday among both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham saying Trump could be wading into ‘peril’ by commenting on the probe. ‘I would just say this with the president: There’s an ongoing criminal investigation,’ Graham said on the CBS program ‘Face the Nation.’ ‘You tweet and comment regarding ongoing criminal investigations at your own peril,’ he added.”
House Intel to interview FBI employee tied to Trump dossier – The Hill: “The Department of Justice (DOJ) is permitting the House Intelligence Committee to interview an FBI employee thought to have been the main contact of the former British intelligence agent behind the unverified ‘Trump dossier,’ CNN reported on Sunday. The news comes days after Fox News reported that the House Intelligence Committee was seeking contempt citations against the DOJ and the FBI over the investigation into the dossier, which contains allegations regarding the president’s connections to Russia. Shortly after the report, President Trump tweeted that the FBI and DOJ should release documents pertaining to the probe.”
Nunes keeps pressure on Mueller – Bloomberg: “U.S. House Republicans are drafting a contempt of Congress resolution against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray, claiming stonewalling in producing material related to the Russia-Trump probes and other matters. Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes and other committee Republicans, after considering such action for several weeks, decided to move after media including the New York Times reported Saturday on why a top FBI official assigned to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russia-Trump election collusion had been removed from the investigation.”
LEGISLATIVE LOGJAM PILES UP
Politico: “Congress faces another frantic week as GOP leaders and President Donald Trump wrestle with a possible government shutdown; immigration, tax and gun policies; multiple allegations of sexual harassment against lawmakers; and the probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Funding for federal agencies is set to run out on Friday, but lawmakers don’t really think there will be a shutdown — at least not yet. Still, a pile-up of contentious policy fights coupled with frequent distractions as Trump’s frustration grows with the Russia investigation has many Republicans anxious about the next few weeks. House GOP leaders have proposed a two-week ‘continuing resolution’ to keep the government open until Dec. 22, arguing they need the funding extension to make progress in bipartisan talks to boost both defense and non-defense spending. They expect they’ll need a second two-week funding bill in late December to get past the holidays, though the odds of a shutdown would drastically increase during that time if a budget deal isn’t close.”
Try, try again: Pelosi, Schumer to meet with Trump – The Hill: “Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will head to the White House on Thursday for end-of-the-year negotiations with President Trump. ‘We’re glad the White House has reached out and asked for a second meeting. We hope the President will go into this meeting with an open mind, rather than deciding that an agreement can’t be reached beforehand,’ the two Democratic leaders said in a joint statement. They added that they ‘are hopeful the President will be open to an agreement to address the urgent needs of the American people and keep government open.’ … The meeting will come a day before the Dec. 8 deadline to fund the government and avoid a shutdown.”
Delicate dance of sorting out House, Senate tax plans – WaPo: “Republicans will try Monday to urgently reconcile the tax overhaul bills they passed in the House and Senate, entering a delicate period where they have to retain the support of their party’s conservative and moderate members. Party leaders insist that there are no show stopping differences between their two bills, each of which features a decrease in the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. Still, the bills feature differences worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Lawmakers are expecting an intense period of work starting Monday as lobbyists descend on the conference committee that will negotiate differences between the two pieces of legislation.”
GOP can see the finish line on tax bill – Axios: “Republican House members return to Washington on Monday — a day earlier than previously planned — to vote to proceed to a conference to hash out a final tax bill with the Senate. None of [Jonathan Swan’s] best sources — inside or out of Republican leadership — think there’s much of a chance the GOP tax effort collapses. Per a senior administration source: ‘There’s always a chance for this Congress to f— things up, but I don’t think it will happen. Have one vote to spare in Senate. Lots of momentum.’ Republicans are saying they’ll have final legislation on Trump’s desk by the end of this month.”
ObamaCare fail led to tax bill success – NYT: “For Mitch McConnell and fellow Senate Republicans, the push for a sweeping tax overhaul was never anything like the divisive internal party struggle that prevented repeal of the Affordable Care Act. ‘All of my members, from Collins to Cruz, were just more comfortable with this issue,’ Mr. McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and majority leader, said in an interview this weekend, referring to the centrist Susan Collins of Maine and the conservative Ted Cruz of Texas. ‘Everybody really wanted to get to yes. There was a widespread belief that this was just a good thing to do for the country and for us politically.’ Still, pulling off a victory in a contentious early Saturday morning vote took weeks of careful management.”
TRUMP WORKING OVERTIME TO KEEP ROMNEY OUT OF SENATE
Politico: “Donald Trump is going all out to persuade seven-term Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch to seek reelection — a push aimed in no small part at keeping the president’s longtime nemesis, Mitt Romney, out of the Senate. Romney has been preparing to run for Hatch’s seat… Yet Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, is now refusing to rule out another campaign… Trump has sounded off to friends about how he doesn’t like the idea of a Senator Romney. The president’s mostly behind-the-scenes campaign to sway Hatch will burst into public view on Monday… Trump’s appearance is ostensibly official in purpose: He will announce his decision to reduce the size of Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante national monuments, a cause that Hatch has championed. But it’s also undeniably political: To use the trappings of presidential power to get a veteran lawmaker to rethink his long anticipated plans to leave the Senate.”
Bannon offers to back Hatch to block Romney – WashEx: “Steve Bannon is mulling an endorsement of Sen. Orrin Hatch in his bid to keep Mitt Romney out of the Senate, a source close to President Trump’s former chief strategist confirmed on Sunday. Bannon is targeting Republican incumbents in 2018 primaries to undermine support for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Hatch, a McConnell loyalist and a fixture of Washington and the Republican establishment for more than 40 years, is not Bannon’s ideal choice. But short on insurgent Republicans willing to challenge Hatch, Bannon is eying the seven-term senator as a better option than Romney. Encouraged by Hatch, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee — a sharp, regular critic of Trump — is planning to run for Senate if the incumbent retires.”
DEMS READY CAMPAIGNS AGAINST RED STATE GOVERNORS
The Hill: “The man who will lead Democratic efforts to win back governorships in key states next year says his party is poised to capitalize on a political environment so favorable it will make the Republican wave of 1994 look small. … [Gov. Jay Inslee (Wash.)] formally takes charge of the Democratic Governors Association on Monday, about a month after Democrats won the New Jersey governor’s race and kept control in Virginia… ‘The lead message for every Democrat running for governor is going to be economic growth and job creation for family-wage jobs. They’re all going to have their independent and state-specific plans to do that,’ Inslee said. Thirty-six states will elect a governor in 2018. Thirteen states currently held by Republicans will elect a new governor, because of term limits, while Democrats are defending just four open seats. Thirteen Republicans are seeking reelection, as are five Democrats.”
Battle for the House: GOP targets Democrats in Trump districts – Politico: “Republicans are mostly on defense in the House of Representatives ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, with Democrats looking to erase the GOP’s 24-seat advantage and take back the majority. But Republicans are also confident they can pad their margin by picking off some Democrats in heavily white, blue-collar districts next fall, despite the political winds blowing against them elsewhere in the U.S. — and Democrats are relying on those members to learn the lessons of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss to avoid 2018 surprises. … Congressional Leadership Fund, the main Republican super PAC focused on House races, has already named Cartwright, Wisconsin’s Ron Kind and Iowa’s Dave Loebsack as top 2018 targets.”
Snack attack: New book dives into the president’s prodigious appetites for fast food – Fox News
U.S. Rep. Sander Levin D-Royal Oak, plans to retire at end of his term – Detroit Free Press
Former Florida Dem. Rep. Corrine Brown sentenced jail for fraud – Fox News
AUDIBLE: BUT NOT NECESSARILY IN THAT ORDER
“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.” – U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley on estate tax.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“So we see more and more just how unethical Jim Comey and those directly around him were. And Mueller was his mentor and the apple never falls far from the tree. Hence I really wonder about Mueller’s ethics and intentions. And Mueller is apparently building a case using the testimony of what are clearly unethical people. And we the people are supposed to believe all of this? But what is really scary is where all of this behavior is leading. It is clearer and clearer we cannot trust the FBI, the Justice Department, the IRS, the politicians, the bureaucrats–no one.” – John Mills, Atlanta
[Ed. note: You would not be the first American to mistrust the FBI, the Justice Department or the IRS. Civil rights leaders certainly didn’t trust the FBI when it was targeting your fellow Atlantian, Martin Luther King, perhaps even attempting to blackmail him into committing suicide. Certainly, consumers had reason to mistrust the Justice Department when Attorney General Harry Daugherty was accused of covering up a kickback scheme over federal land leases, including the one for Teapot Dome in Wyoming. And certainly there was plenty of reason to mistrust the IRS when Richard Nixon was using the agency to try to target his political enemies. It is important for us to simultaneously hold two ideas in our heads: That corruption is real but that the system itself has generally worked against it. It is too easy to simply say that things were once good and are now bad, perhaps irredeemably so. We have to evaluate each case and charge individually, but also within the larger context of how the republic functions.]
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FLORIDA OPOSSUM DRUNK AS A SKUNK
Panama City [Fla.] News Herald: “An opossum that snuck into a liquor store and apparently helped itself to a few drinks the day after Thanksgiving was brought in to the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge for treatment before it was released Thursday. … ’A worker there found the opossum up on a shelf next to a cracked open bottle of liquor with nothing in it,’ [an animal control officer] said. “Assuming the opossum drank it all, he brought her to us, and we looked over her and she definitely wasn’t fully acting normal.’ … Cash Moore, who owns the liquor store, said the opossum had gotten into a bottle of bourbon. Moore added that as far as he knew, it was 21 years old. … Moore added it was the ‘first time in my life’ he had an opossum break into his store and drink his alcohol. ‘But it just goes to show that even the animals are impressed with Cash’s,’ he said.”
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.