Fox News Halftime Report

Cue the Tchaikovsky

James Rosen reports from the White House

 

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On the roster: Cue the Tchaikovsky - Time Out: Heady brew - Obama admin promises retaliation against Russia - Power Play: You gotta have faith - Beard-o

CUE THE TCHAIKOVSKY
Today’s presidential press conference is what we in Washington refer to as “taking out the trash.”

President Obama, in what is expected to be the final full-dress press conference of his presidential tenure, will face off with reporters before he and his family take off for Christmas vacation in his native Hawaii.

It is as much a time-honored tradition of the presidency as “Hail to the Chief.” Before you leave town and while most of the country is distracted separate your rubbish from your recyclables and put it all on the curb.

But this is obviously not the particular waste bin Obama thought he would be hauling.

Obama did not expect Donald Trump to be the president-elect as the Obama family bid Washington “Mele Kalikimaka” today. Neither did Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Heck, neither did Trump. Now we really know, however, exactly how certain Obama was that his designated successor would win.

As NBC News reported, Obama was so sure of a Clinton victory that he chose not to aggressively respond to Russian cyber warfare aimed at interfering with the presidential campaign. Rather than risk other policy aims with Russia, Obama let it slide believing Clinton would win anyway.

It’s not unreasonable for Obama and the members of his party to be outraged over Russia’s effort to change the trajectory of the 2016 campaign.

What is highly suspect, however, is the timing.

Sane politicians and journalists mostly agree that Russia was fiddling with the campaign narrative in 2016. There is sharp disagreement of course, on whether the Russian bandits and vandals intended to help Trump or simply undermine the process. While both things could conceivably be true, this narrow and mostly academic debate is dominating the political space.

But as Obama prepares to take his lumps from reporters, that question is substantially less important than this one: Why did the commander-in-chief fail to prevent and then fail to respond to hostile activities aimed at the very core of our system by, as one failed applicant to be secretary of state once said, “number one geopolitical foe.”

Democrats have fixated on the Russia question to assuage their own guilt about Clinton’s loss. But the truth is a bad nominee who ran a bad campaign managed to lose a very winnable race. Of course, there were many factors that fed into it, but whether it was Russian hacking and propaganda or ill-timed FBI notices to Congress, it was Clinton’s response to these things that was so lacking.

Clinton presumably knew at least as much as the general public could have about the Kremlin’s role, particularly in succoring in anti-American online activist Julian Assange. She even accused Trump of being a Russian puppet during one of their debates. But she apparently did not use her considerable influence to urge Obama to strike back.

Overlooked in much of the initial reporting about the intelligence briefings given to lawmakers and Obama about Russia’s role during the campaign, is that because the president could not reportedly get Republican leaders to join in the act, he declined to even go public with some key details.

Here we are hearkened to the most glaring failure of Obama’s tenure on display today.

The world is freshly aghast at the carnage in Syria. A certified Russian puppet, Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, is finally seeing his desire for wholesale slaughter in the former rebel stronghold of Aleppo carried out.

As a failure of the West, a humanitarian disaster and creation of multiple new threats, Obama’s Syria policy stands to outrun other questionable moves including his nuclear deal with Iran, attempt to install an Islamist government in Egypt and even the debacle of Libya.

While Obama’s UN Ambassador Samantha Power scolds the international community for failing to protect the hundreds of thousands slaughtered in Syria and staunch the flow of refugees into the region and the world, it was Obama’s whiff on Syria that set the disaster on its current course.

Seemingly moments away from military intervention to topple Assad after he gassed his own people, Obama pulled back and bought a lemon of a Lada off of Putin’s car lot. It was laughable for America to cede the lead role in Syria to the most obvious bad guys, but Obama was willing to do it to avoid responsibility for potentially another failed intervention in the region.

Remember, Obama’s primary mission in the region has been a rebalancing of the tri-polar balance of power in the region that includes Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel.

Angering Russia and Iran by tossing Assad aside would have jeopardized not just Obama’s nuclear deal with Tehran, but also the entire long-term strategy of elevating the Iranians to engineer a new Sunni-Shia balance of power, and the president no doubt still does, durable peace in Iraq and the wider region elsewhere without U.S. involvement.

It’s a nice thought, but a grandiose plan like that quickly becomes a liability when it comes into contact with people like Assad and Putin. If you care less about the slaughter of innocents that the other guy and you won’t stop him from doing it, you begin any conflict with a massive advantage. As the U.S. has learned about Russia about our cooperation in fighting Islamists around the world, Slavic standards for brutality in war differ sharply from our more-delicate, laser-guided rules of engagement in the West.

And so here we are, back to Obama letting Russia get away with murder. Literally, in the case of Syria and figuratively when it comes to helping to wreck Clinton’s woe-begotten campaign.

Whatever Obama wants to talk about as he works to shape his legacy, Democrats will always be forced to remember that part of his legacy includes supplication to Russia at moments when it mattered most.

THE RULEBOOK: CHANGE OF PERSON NOT OF PLACE
“Where the whole power of the government is in the hands of the people, there is the less pretense for the use of violent remedies in partial or occasional distempers of the State. The natural cure for an ill-administration, in a popular or representative constitution, is a change of men.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 21

TIME OUT: HEADY BREW
On this day 243 years ago, the Sons of Liberty dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor as a protest of taxation. History: “The midnight raid, popularly known as the ‘Boston Tea Party,’ was in protest of the British Parliament’s Tea Act of 1773, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a virtual monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the East India Company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny. When three tea ships, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor, the colonists demanded that the tea be returned to England. After Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused, Patriot leader Samuel Adams organized the ‘tea party’ with about 60 members of the Sons of Liberty, his underground resistance group. The British tea dumped in Boston Harbor on the night of December 16 was valued at some $18,000.”

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

OBAMA ADMIN PROMISES RETALIATION AGAINST RUSSIA
Fox News: “President Obama said Thursday that the U.S. needs to ‘take action’ in response to cyberattacks on Democratic officials during the recent presidential campaign, hours after his administration insisted -- without offering proof -- that President-elect Donald Trump ‘obviously knew’ of the breaches, and suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally authorized them.  ‘I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections… we need to take action,’ Obama said in an interview scheduled to air Friday on National Public Radio…Earlier Thursday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters during the daily White House briefing that ‘Mr. Trump obviously knew that Russia was engaged in malicious cyber activity that was helping him, [and] hurting [Democrat Hillary] Clinton…These are all facts that are not in dispute.’

Russian hackers attacked ‘top military brass’ former chairman of the joint chiefs confirms - Fox News: “Russian hackers attacked the unclassified email system used by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in August 2015, a former top military officer confirmed to Fox News late Thursday. ‘Our unclassified network was attacked by a very sophisticated attacker who operated with astonishing speed and skill,’ said retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of the breach. ‘Not an amateur.’”

[Intel officials intended to brief House Intelligence Committee members, but cancelled the meeting saying they will brief members of Congress after their review is complete.]

Podesta: Something is deeply broken at the FBI - In an op-ed for WaPo, former Clinton campaign Chairman, John Podesta, writes that although the election is over, Congress should put together an investigation modeled on the 9/11 Commission, a bipartisan, independent investigation of wide-reaching authority.

[Former chief of Russia analysis for the CIA and former adviser to Dick Cheney, George Beebe, takes a deep dive into Russia’s role in the campaign.]

POWER PLAY: YOU GOTTA HAVE FAITH
As members of the Electoral College prepare to cast ballots for President-elect Donald Trump on Dec. 19, some Democrats are still making efforts to change the outcome. WashEx’s David Drucker and WashTimes’ Charles Hurt weigh in on the latest twist of 2016. WATCH HERE.

But the clock is ticking for Republicans too - Inauguration day is not that far away and despite a winning outcome, congressional Republicans are still divided on many of Trump’s policy issues. Will they fall in line behind the new president? Drucker and Hurt give their take. WATCH HERE.

SUBSTITUTIONS
--Former Fox News Contributor Monica Crowley joins the Trump team as senior director of strategic communications for the National Security Council.

--David Friedman, a conservative, Orthodox Jewish attorney, will serve as U.S. ambassador to Israel. Friedman advised Trump throughout the campaign and has assisted him through various bankruptcy cases in the past. Friedman supports Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

--Retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg will serve as chief of staff to the National Security Council. Kellogg advised Trump throughout the campaign and was a key figure in rebuilding Iraq after the U.S. invasion and overthrowing of Saddam Hussein.

--CNBC Contributor Larry Kudlow is being considered for chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Trump adviser Stephen Moore, who worked with Kudlow to write Trump’s tax plan, initially told the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce’s economic club that Kudlow was already picked, but then backtracked his comments saying he was on the shortlist.

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Trump says he’ll put in ‘safe zones’ in Syria - NYT

Tillerson oversaw Exxon’s acceptance of human contributions to climate change -
The Hill

Poll: Obama looks like he’ll leave office on a high note -
Fox News

Perez officially announces run for DNC chairman - USA Today

David Drucker explains how Sanders, Ellison are trying to rebuild a Democratic Party decimated under Obama -
WashEx

Abedin says she never received a warrant for Weiner emails -
NY Post

Cooper threatens to sue GOP legislature in N.C. over bills to limit his power as governor - Fox News

AP partners with Facebook to combat fake news - WashEx

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
Christine
Pelosi and Clay Pell, two Democratic members of the Electoral College, join Mr. Sunday as news around Monday’s meeting continues to swirl. Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., who is calling on Congress to delay the electors’ vote, also joins on “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.

#mediabuzz - Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Mayonnaise? Surely you jest. That is more revolting than an anti-American progressive democrat platform. I’d have to see it to believe it. Thanks for what you do. You do it well. I enjoy it greatly.” – Keith McIntyre, Statesboro, Ga.

[Ed. note: Mr. McIntyre, for the benefit of our other friends who might be reading, I assume you are referring to the use of mayonnaise to make the best grilled cheese. Dana Perino and I discussed the topic in this week’s “I’ll Tell You What,” podcast available here. The point here is not about taste, it is about emulsification. While it certainly works to melt butter then use a brush to evenly distribute it across the bread before setting in a well-heated skillet, mayonnaise requires one step: straight out of the jar with a table knife. The even distribution of the fat on the bread ensures even toasting on the griddle. Your challenge is to use a soft enough cheese so that it will melt in the remarkably rapid time that the bread will be toasted to perfection in the pan. Gouda, especially the smoked variety, is a fantastic choice. Provolone, also is a winner. Try it! You’ll like it.]

“So 31 percent of the country ‘feel that Trump will be one of the worst presidents?’  I know the takeaway from this is that many have a low opinion of the impact that Trump will have as president, but really, ‘one of the worst’ of our past presidents?  I would take them a bit more seriously if they were able to explain why James Buchanan or Warren Harding (maybe even Jimmy Carter?) belong on that list. Nice hyperbole from people who may not even know who was elected president right after Benjamin Franklin finished his three terms.” – Kent Haldorson, Beaverton, Ore.

[Ed. note: We can ignore, practically, both extremes in polls like these. There’s a certain percentage of voters that would say President Obama was doing the right thing even if he kicked Bo on the South Lawn. Conversely, there’d be a share of the electorate who disapproved if Obama developed cold fusion in the White House Mess. Partisan extremes in polling on issues don’t matter. What matters is how the persuadable voters in between see things. The good news for Trump in our survey and others is not just his improved overall favorability numbers with voters, but also the large number of voters who are withholding judgment for the moment. It would be absurd to say that you believed Trump would join the ranks of the basket of deplorable presidents you listed up above, just as it would be absurd to assume that muralists would one day be sizing him up to paint his apotheosis to go next to George Washington’s. On election nights, sometimes we say that a race is “too close to call.” Ask Michiganians about that this year. But most of the time, we say some variation of “too soon to say” who will win. It is way too soon to say what kind of presidency Trump will have.]

“Chris, don’t you just hate it when you actually type in ‘illegitimate,’ but your auto-correct changes it to legitimate, and you don’t catch it? ’Oh no, my spellchecker thing just gave Trump the Presidency!’ So now we know, it wasn’t the Russians, it was that darn auto-correct…” – S. Scott Fontenot, Bremerton, Wash.

[Ed. note: Ha! We all have emails we’d like to call back, but that one was a doozy…]

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

BEARD-O
WPLG: “HOLIDAY, Fla. – A suspect attempting to rob a Florida gas station wore a fake beard on their face to protect their identity during the crime. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office sent out a tweet Wednesday reporting the incident in Holiday, but they had to leave out one important detail. Officials could not tell whether the crook was a male or female. Surveillance video showed the heavy-set suspect wearing a red bandanna on their head, and, of course, the faux beard that was seemingly groomed by Sharpie. At first, even the police thought it was a male, but later had to clarify that the suspect could also be a woman. The arts-and-crafts coiffed thief left the station in a truck.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“There was no penalty the Russians had to pay at any stage at tipping the balance in the war and that was a role we could have played short of anything like a ground invasion.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in you 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 FoxNews.com. 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.