Fox News Halftime Report

Nuclear codes, indeed

The debate continues on 'Overtime'


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On the roster: - Nuclear codes, indeed - Substitutions: Welcome wagon - Thousands take to the streets in protest to Trump’s victory - America says yes to cannabis - It’s about setting the right goals

There has probably been no more expert practitioner of politics in the past two cycles than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

After an embarrassing series of setbacks in 2010 and 2012, McConnell and his talented team got serious about winning primaries for incumbents and desirable general election candidates, winning the Senate by unexpected margins in 2014.

The cagey Kentuckian repeated the act in 2016, managing to help limit Republican losses to just two in a difficult cycle, through an affiliated super PAC and some canny political positioning.

The decision to blockade President Obama’s selection of Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court was originally presumed to be a liability to Republicans seeking reelection and a boon to Democrats.

In fact, it worked the other way.

Of all of the things that contributed to President-elect Donald Trump’s victory, none was more important than nine out of 10 Republicans coming home to vote for their party’s nominee. And their nominee had no stronger argument to skeptical conservatives than the vacancy on the court.

McConnell’s move took the abstract issue of judicial appointments and turned it into a concrete fact.

But it will come at a cost.

When it looked almost certain that former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would win, several Republicans took the rather bold position that they might never allow her to appoint a justice to the high court. The idea of a permanent blockade may have just been election-year talk, but talk has consequences.

In this case, it was that outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, in a fit of ill-advised optimism, said that should Democrats be returned to the Senate majority, they might undertake the “nuclear option” as it relates to Supreme Court appointments.

Reid was the father of the nuclear option for lower court appointments, using Senate majority rules to change the vote threshold for judicial appoints from 60 votes to 51.

McConnell kept the privilege when the red team took over in 2015.

As of now, a 40-seat minority has the power to block high court appointments and regular legislation, but many on the left, and an increasing number on the right have militated the idea of the so-called “silent filibuster” for other business of the Senate.

The not unconvincing argument is that the original Senate rules envisioned a filibuster as an opportunity for individual Senators to prolong debate, not for a 40-seat minority to shut off Senate business indefinitely. Doing it by numerical vote rather than holding the floor has saved a lot of sore feet and late nights.

But in the politics of the 21st century, pragmatic accommodation of one’s rivals may not be a thing anymore.

One of the reasons that Republicans so strenuously discouraged the option of judges or anything else, was their concern that they would spend plenty of time in the minority themselves. But given the success of the past two cycles, and the fact that many red-state Democrats face re-election in 2020, so many that Republicans might be fairly optimistic about keeping the Senate, even with the expected midterm losses for a majority party – the red team may see things differently.

Perhaps the most consequential decision the newly empowered GOP will face in the next three months is whether to deploy the nuclear option since Democrats can be counted on to engage an aggressive blocking campaign of their own of whoever Trump chooses to replace the late-Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

It would be expected that Democrats would adopt the same position as Republicans and propose a four-year ban on Trump appointments. If that’s the case, the Republican base will put plenty of pressure on McConnell to go with a simple majority. There will be pressure also to extend that 51-vote threshold to the rest of the business of the Senate.

Remember, no matter how long the current honeymoon lasts, stunned Democrats will figure out the way to make the most of their minority in Congress. Certainly liberal firebrands like Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken can be counted on to draw a hardline, but so too will others like the freshly defeated Democratic vice presidential candidate, Tim Kaine.

If it works out that way, and Democratic resistance begets McConnell moving to blow up the super majority requirement, the majority leader is poised to become the most powerful Republican lawmaker perhaps in history.

It would be hard to imagine a Republican more different from Trump than McConnell. But it may be in the era of Trump that McConnell finds his greatest success.

[Watch Fox: Speaker Paul Ryan appears tonight after meeting with President-elect Trump and Vice president-elect Mike Pence on “Special Report with Bret Baier” at 6 p.m. ET]

“There is hardly any part of the system which could have been attended with greater difficulty in the arrangement of it than [the executive department]; and there is, perhaps, none which has been inveighed against with less candor or criticized with less judgment.”– Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 67

On the 241st birthday of the U.S. Marine Corp, we look back at the story of one Marine that encapsulates the bravery and honor with which these men serve. Task & Purpose: “On April 14, 2004, Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, a squad leader with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, was leading his men on a mission near Karabilah, Iraq. A call came through that the battalion commander’s convoy was under attack by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades…When Dunham and his men came to an intersection and saw a line of cars along a dirt alleyway, they began searching the vehicles for weapons. As Dunham approached a rundown white Toyota Land Cruiser, the driver…leapt from the vehicle and the two tumbled to the ground…as a grenade rolled to the ground…The grenade was live. Without hesitation, Dunham leapt on top of it… [absorbing] the full impact of the blast. Dunham survived the initial explosion, but succumbed to his wounds on April 22, 2004. His selfless sacrifice saved the lives of at least two other Marines, at the cost of his own. He was 22.”

Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions

Time: “President Obama met with President-elect Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday, a little over 36 hours after the nation delivered a stunning upset to the current president’s legacy. Everything about the meeting on Thursday morning spoke to the shared tension between Trump and Obama. The president-elect ran on a platform of undoing the bulk of the current president’s policies. Obama spent past two weeks zigzagging across the country calling his now-successor ‘uniquely unqualified’ and ‘temperamentally unfit’ for office. Though First Lady Michelle Obama and Melania Trump also met at the White House on Thursday, the two couples did not pose for a ceremonially photo as the Obamas did with President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush after the 2008 election. Obama White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was seen walking near the Rose Garden with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and other Trump aides, including Dan Scavino.”

[Trump critic Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., congratulated the future president on his win saying, “On Tuesday, America demanded disruption.”]

Trump transition team set to begin - WaPo: “Washington began its transition of power Wednesday as the ascendancy of President-elect Donald Trump promised a seismic shift in nearly every facet of the capital city, from military and executive agencies to federal courts and financial and political establishments…Claiming an electoral mandate after maintaining majorities in both chambers of Congress, Trump’s resurgent Republican Party planned an aggressive and sweeping program to systematically dismantle Obama’s policies and to usher in a new era of conservative governance.”

But what will those first hundred days be like? - NPR reminds us of the 100 day plan Trump released in October, including: “…cleaning up Washington, including by imposing term limits on Congress; protecting American workers; and restoring rule of law. He also laid out his plan for working with Congress to introduce 10 pieces of legislation that would repeal Obamacare, fund the construction of a wall at the Southern border (with a provision that Mexico would reimburse the U.S.), encourage infrastructure investment, rebuild military bases, promote school choice and more.”

[McConnell confirms ObamaCare repeal will be priority number one in the still-Republican led Senate.]

Pentagon officials worry Trump could micromanage the generals more than Obama did - Military Times: “For years, top U.S. military officials have complained that the Obama White House micromanaged the armed forces. President Obama often personally approved individual airstrikes. His National Security Council authorized small deployments of a few dozen troops. Pentagon recommendations stalled as the White House debated them. With Donald Trump’s ascendancy to commander in chief, many Defense Department officials are optimistic those days are over…But there are plenty of reasons to believe Trump’s White House will continue Obama's pattern of heavy-handed management. ‘It could get worse,’ said another military officer, who was among several who talked to Military Times and speculated about the future Trump administration Wednesday on condition of anonymity.”

Trump’s financial advisors likely to be stocked with Wall Street - WSJ: “People close to Mr. Trump have said he is considering Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker who became his national campaign finance chairman in May, as his pick for Treasury secretary.”

Thousands take to the streets in protest to Trump’s victory - Fox News: “Thousands of people coast-to-coast took to the streets Wednesday night to protest Donald Trump’s election, disrupting traffic, chanting anti-Trump slogans and some ending up in handcuffs. From New England to heartland cities like Kansas City and along the West Coast, demonstrators bore flags and effigies of the president-elect, disrupting traffic and declaring that they refused to accept Trump's victory. Some California cities saw heated tensions over Trump’s election. Thousands of protesters burned a giant papier mache Trump head in Los Angeles and started fires in Oakland intersections.”

NATE SILVER: HOW 2 PERCENT MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE  FiveThirtyEight: “One fact that doesn’t fit very well into this narrative is that Clinton leads in the popular vote count. She should eventually win the popular vote by 1 to 2 percentage points, and perhaps somewhere on the order of 1.5 million to 2 million votes, once remaining mail-in ballots from California and Washington are counted, along with provisional ballots in other states. But ignore that for now — elections, after all, are contested in the Electoral College. (Hence the name of this website.) So here’s another question. What would have happened if just 1 out of every 100 voters shifted from Trump to Clinton? That would have produced a net shift of 2 percentage points in Clinton’s direction.”

The Judge’s Ruling:  The forgotten roar - The voice of American’s who have long felt forgotten thundered across the nation on Tuesday, says Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano: “Whatever the impression Trump may have given you – a carnival barker, a hero, a jerk, a courageous leader – he brilliantly tapped into a deep vein of millions of American men and women who believe they have been forgotten by the government they pay for. These good people have been alienated by the elites who dominate American government and culture and civic life.” More here.

USA Today: “American voters widely backed loosening marijuana laws across the country on Tuesday, permitting recreational use on both coasts, and dramatically expanding the number of people who can use pot as medicine or just for fun…California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada voters approved recreational legalization. Arizona voters appeared to have rejected recreational legalization. On the medical side, Florida, Arkansas, and North Dakota all voted in favor of medical cannabis, and Montana appeared likely to also approve it. If those results hold, 29 states will now permit cannabis use for certain medical conditions, including cancer and HIV, and eight will permit recreational use, as does the District of Columbia.”

[Check out all the initiatives, including gun control and minimum wage efforts that passed on Election Day.]

Russia says it was in contact with the Trump campaign during the election - Bloomberg

How the Clintons lost the middle Americans they used to know so well - WaPo

Inside Trump’s victory: how advisers refocused the president-elect to victory - Time

Still not sure how Trump won with a map that favors Democrats? This map will explain it all - WaPo

“We’ll talk about it.” – Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., to NBC News on whether he’ll have a job in the Trump administration.

“Chris, I am amazed that you would want Election Day a federal holiday when you would NEVER get the day off. There are so many pros and cons to this but IF it were to become a federal holiday, I would propose Election Day to ALWAYS be the day AFTER Thanksgiving.  If banks and stores were closed, then perhaps more people would become involved in the voting process and LESS involved in the COMMERCIAL side of Christmas. Thanks for your Halftime Report this election cycle.  I’ve really enjoyed it.” – Carla Ball, Kahoka Mo.

[Ed. note: Now that's one I never thought of! In West Virginia, we named that day Lincoln Day in honor of our state father who also established the modern, regular observance of Thanksgiving. The Twentieth Amendment is rather particular about the timing of the vote, but Congress is free to set holidays as it sees fit. So it may be easier to just keep the day where it is. One of the corresponding suggestions to a federal election holiday is to simultaneously limit early voting to encourage Americans to vote together. That holds appeal, but would have to be hashed out on the state level. And I work plenty of holidays anyway, so don't worry about me!]

“Chris, thank you for leading us through this nutty election cycle. You’ve made it bearable and hopeful, especially with today’s posting. One question: Was the young reporter in that Methodist church you, by any chance?” – Mary Carol Miller, Greenwood, Miss.

[Ed. note: Why, whatever do you mean, Ms. Miller? Thank you for reading and coming on the ride down this holler with us!]

“As I stood in line this morning to cast my vote I couldn’t help but reflect on the historic blessing and incredible honor that it is to be a part of such a participatory system. As I read your Halftime Report today I was reminded again what it truly means to be an American. And although this campaign has been long and at times extremely depressing, I have been reminded, as you are fond of saying, that this country is so much more than its politicians and political class. So let me say to you: Thank You for keeping it positive, or as they would say where I grew up, in the West End of Louisville, Kentucky, keeping it real.” – Drew Watkins, Lexington, Ky.

[Ed. note: The West End is sure enough a global leader in realness keeping! Thank you for your kind note. We've talked a lot here about the legitimate worries about our culture and our politics. There are many. But I believe very much that we have hardly exhausted the grace God shed on this country. Change is difficult and we are deep in a massive reordering of our economy and culture. But a people and a system that have achieved what ours has is more than equal to the task.]

“Chris, I’ve waited all election season for you to address it.  I’ve brought it to your attention several times. I’m so disappointed in you. The actual partisan violence, perpetrated against Trump supporters and RNC offices, by Democratic Party operatives and supporters, has been actively ignored by you. In fact, your various analyses, on the topic of electoral, partisan violence, has been aimed at the right.  You are guilty of journalistic willful blindness. You have fallen in my esteem-o-meter to subpar. It’s quite a shame, and I do mean shame.” – David Boling, El Paso, Texas

[Ed. note: One of the interesting trends on the right has been the cultivation of victimhood. Previously it was more typically a province of the American left, conservatives have taken increasing pains to seek status as downtrodden or abused. Certainly Trump supporters relished being singled out as "deplorable." This was, I think, reflective of resentment and a lack of confidence. The hope is that with political victory comes a new optimism and corresponding magnanimity. And as for your shaming, Mr. Boling, you know where to find the "unsubscribe" button. I wish you well.]

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

AP: “Bridget Smith wanted voters not to elect her to Frankenmuth's school board -- and they didn't. Smith filed earlier this year to run for one of three four-year terms on the school board, but afterward was hired to serve as Frankenmuth's city manager. When she was being hired by the Bavarian-themed community about 75 miles northwest of Detroit, Smith indicated that she would drop her school board bid. But the deadline to withdraw had passed and her name remained on Tuesday's ballot. She encouraged voters not to cast ballots for her and Smith placed last among the four candidates.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons 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. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.