A to-do list for House Democrats

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On the roster: A to-do list for House Democrats - I’ll Tell You What: They could be contenders - 2020 Roster change: No’Malley - RNC urged to consider rigging nomination for Trump - ‘I [was] privileged to hold your groin’

A TO-DO LIST FOR HOUSE DEMOCRATS
Congratulations Democrats on your first House majority since the “Jersey Shore” was in its first run. And now you, like Snooki, JWoww and The Situation, are back, older and perhaps a bit wiser for the experience.

As you may have noticed, things are very different this time around. In the original, you were wingmen and wingwomen for a still-popular new president of your own party. The tension was whether or not you could fulfill all of your wildest dreams. You did not, but we’re sure it was fun to think you might.

In the reboot, you are supposed to play the serious-minded grownups who act as a check on an intemperate, mercurial president of the other party. When you were last in this position we all marveled at once-and-future Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ability to move legislation even when it as unpopular and politically damaging.

There will be no serious legislating this time around. With a staunchly Republican Senate and a president interested in making you into his foil for re-election your options are extremely limited compared to before.

With that in mind, here is a realistic to-do list for House Democrats in the 116th Congress:

TIE DOWN TRUMP
Who’s foiling who here? The best news from the 2018 election for Trump, aside from an expanded Senate majority, was that in losing the House he gained a sparring partner. Had the Republicans maintained a narrow majority in the lower chamber governing would have been hard and avoiding blame would have been harder.

His job now is to blame you for everything that goes wrong and paint your party as a wacky assortment of mixed nuts from every big city in the country.

The Trump administration’s expectation is that you will devote yourselves to preparing articles of impeachment against the president, hoping that you will replicate the deadly overreach of the Gingrich-era House GOP. The other expectation is that you will beleaguer the administration with investigations, hearings and general legislative harassment.

On the first question, all of the impeachment talk hinges on what prosecutors find or don’t find. So just cool your jets. On the second question, don’t get your hopes up. As your Republican predecessors discovered, “contempt of Congress” isn’t nearly as scary for administration officials as it sounds. They’re going to blow you off and voters won’t care any more about your howls than they did when Eric Holder stiff-armed the House GOP.   

If you really want to tie Trump down, keep him at the negotiating table and make him do the part of the job he obviously dislikes. The current shutdown provides a pretty good blueprint for how Democrats can keep the president hunkered down.

Your job, like the new Republican majority eight years ago, is to make the incumbent a one-term president. This approach may not be good for the country (it’s not) but it’s pretty much all that’s left in this burned-over country that we call politics.

Voters will not yet hold you responsible for what’s wrong and you can keep telling your base that all of its wildest dreams will come true once you have total control of Washington again. *snort*

DEVELOP A BRAND
It's not easy to make a new coalition, but that’s exactly what your party needs you to do right now. With a mix of suburban moderates and urban left wingers your new majority has new clear mandate other than to be a check on Trump, and even there, as we discussed above, it’s a matter of degree.

Even though you are not going to be able to enact legislation, that doesn’t mean you can’t pass some. Certainly you have control over which topics you discuss.

Health insurance is an obvious choice, though it brings obvious tensions about methodology. But as Obama-era Republicans demonstrated solutions are more politically difficult than just good-old fashioned complaining.

You don’t have to know what you want, you just have to make sure that the incumbent president gets the blame for whatever goes wrong. But you also have to have some kind of an economic agenda. Markets may look like the inside of a rental car after a Myrtle Beach bachelor party, but the president still enjoys a substantial advantage when it comes to his handling of the economy.

Infrastructure would be a harmonizing subject for your conference and would undercut the president on an unmet promise to voters. If you get very lucky, you could pass something that the president would actually pressure Senate Republicans to pass.

You will face enormous pressure from your base to take large, symbolic action on firearms and climate change. This seems like a bad idea. Both would make for difficult votes for swing state members while accomplishing no change. Your 2020 nominee will not want to have to defend pie in the sky you passed to prove a point.

STAY SWITZERLAND 
Are any of you not running for president? You are not as bad as the Senate where 11 Democrats are running or may run for president, but you’ve got five current or former members dipping toes in the presidential waters.

Even after the field thins out and even if the top tier includes no current lawmakers, there will be a serious backdraft from your party’s nominating contest.

Members are likely to oppose or support legislation based on the self-interest of their campaigns. That will be annoying enough, but in addition those of you who still consider yourselves esteemed public figures will soon enough start making endorsements and pronouncements about the race.

This is very stupid. Outside of one or two iconic figures, none of your endorsements will make much difference, even if you happen to be from an early-voting state. This contest could turn into a food fight inside your own conference and derail your hopes for a successful two years.

Try rehearsing the following like you were Nuke LaLoosh: “We have a very impressive field. Democrats are lucky to have so many great choices. And of them would be better than the current president.”

Playin’ ‘em one game at a time…

BEND BUT DON’T BREAK 
Both new and old members have lots of personal ambitions that will diverge from the good of your party and your hopes for full restoration in 2020. You have Democratic socialists on the left who, like the Tea Party in 2011, want to show maximum resistance. But you also have moderates in vulnerable seats who will want to take no chances.

The solution is very simple but very hard: You have to give in a little bit to avoid full rupture, but not so much as to really fracture your new coalition. Find ways to humor cranky members. Wild goose chases and special select committees make good busywork for members with more ambition than ability.

And never overlook an opportunity to summon your party’s single greatest unifier: Trump himself. There are no atheists in fox holes, but neither are there many free thinkers of any kind. The more your conference sees itself as under siege from Trump the easier it will be to keep it together.

It's unlikely, but be on the lookout for Trump overcoming his basic instincts and looking for ways to effectively divide your party by selective cooperation.

SENDING NOT RECEIVING 
You begin your time in the majority as you will likely end this Congress: Caught in some penny-ante fight with the administration. The current shutdown is over an absurdly small amount of money but an absurdly large portion of posturing.

It will be true for you as it is for every House in both divided and unified governments. If you can’t pass bills, you lose. It happens every time.

The final miracle of Paul Ryan’s unlikely speakership was the passage of a final, Hail Mary pass to push the shutdown back on the Senate. As soon as your conference becomes too divided to pass legislation you become sitting ducks.    

THE RULEBOOK: TBH
“The truth is, that the great principles of the Constitution proposed by the convention may be considered less as absolutely new, than as the expansion of principles which are found in the articles of Confederation.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 40

TIME OUT: OH CHRISTMAS TREE
Smithsonian: “Tis the season … to kick millions of Christmas trees to the curb. … [I]n many places the trees are simply tossed in the landfill, where their pine needles break down, emitting greenhouse gases. Now, researchers at the University of Sheffield are offering a sustainable alternative to this sad fate. … Cynthia Kartey, a chemical engineer, found another use for pine needles. As it turns out, they are a great feedstock for creating other chemicals. … Using heat and solvents like cheap, environmentally friendly glycerol, the needles can be broken down into bio-oil and bio-char. Bio-oil can be further refined into glucose, which is used as a food sweetener, acetic acid used in making paint and adhesives, and phenol, which is used in mouthwash. The solid-bio char also has industrial uses. ‘In the future, the tree that decorated your house over the festive period could be turned into paint to decorate your house once again,’ Kartey says.”

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

SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
42 percent
Average disapproval: 53.4 percent
Net Score: -11.4 points
Change from one week ago: no change  
[Average includes: Gallup: 40% approve - 55% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk: 42% approve - 54% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 39% approve - 52% disapprove; NBC/WSJ: 43% approve - 54% disapprove; Fox News: 46% approve - 52% disapprove.]

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: THEY COULD BE CONTENDERS
This week, in Dana Perino’s absence, Chris Stirewalt is joined by Brianna McClelland to give an early look at the 2020 Democratic field. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

2020 ROSTER CHANGE: NO’MALLEY
Fox News: “Former presidential candidate Martin O’Malley is urging Beto O’Rourke to launch a 2020 White House bid, while making clear he’s taking himself out of the running. The former governor of Maryland who abandoned his 2016 Democratic primary campaign against Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., after a third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses penned an op-ed in the Des Moines Register Thursday encouraging outgoing Texas Rep. O’Rourke to run. ‘I will not be running for president in 2020, but I hope Beto O’Rourke does. And this is why,’ O’Malley wrote. ‘People are looking for a new leader who can bring us together. They are looking for a unifier and a healer. They are looking for a leader of principle, and they are now looking for a fearless vision.’ … O’Malley added: ‘Like so many other Americans, I believe we need new leadership to make that future a reality.’”

Kraushaar: Warren, Booker already making rookie mistakes - National Journal: “As the first leading contender to announce her intent to run for president, Elizabeth Warren has drawn ample scrutiny over her decisions. From publicizing the results of a much-mocked DNA test showing a trace of Native American ancestry to announcing her candidacy before the New Year when few were paying attention, there’s plenty to second-guess. But more consequential than these tactical decisions is the big-picture strategy that a candidate adopts. And Warren, in the run-up to her announcement, has concluded that she can’t deviate from an agenda embraced by the party’s progressive activists. When moderates (and conservative Democrats) make up over half of the Democratic electorate, and in a prospective field filled with progressive candidates, such down-the-line liberal orthodoxy threatens to be a major political blunder.”

Minnesota’s Klobuchar ‘getting close’ - [Minneapolis] Star Tribune: “Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Wednesday that she is ‘getting close to a decision’ about running for president in 2020, as other prominent Democrats begin to jump in the race to challenge President Donald Trump next year. ‘I’m continuing to talk to people about it,’ the Minnesota Democrat said in an interview in her U.S. Senate office, a day before the start of a new congressional term. She said those discussions have been with a handful of longtime political advisers in Minnesota, some fellow U.S. senators and others. … Her likeliest strategy would be to win or finish strongly in neighboring Iowa, with its presidential caucus on Feb. 3, 2020. Klobuchar declined to put an exact timeline on when she’d reveal her plans. But she acknowledged that the likelihood of a large Democratic field vying to challenge Trump means she can’t wait too long.”

RNC URGED TO CONSIDER RIGGING NOMINATION FOR TRUMP
CBS News: “A member of the Republican National Committee, fearing primary challengers to President Trump in the wake of incoming GOP Sen. Mitt Romney’s scathing op-ed, is urging fellow committee members to change the rules to thwart intra-party threats to Mr. Trump in 2020. In an email obtained by CBS News, Jevon O.A. Williams, the national committeeman for the Virgin Islands, urged fellow elected RNC members … to close ‘loopholes’ in the nomination in a way that would make it tougher for even token challengers to Mr. Trump to enter the fray. … Williams also called for a resolution to declare Mr. Trump the presumptive nominee in 2020, calling for both of those moves to take place at an RNC winter meeting later this month.”

The Judge’s Ruling: The ‘office pool’ for 2019 - This week Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano asks a series of multiple choice questions on where the country will be a year from now. He asks about President Trump, Bill and Hillary Clinton and even Kim Kardashian. You’ll have to click here to take the quiz yourself and compare your answers to the Judge’s.

TRUMP ECONOMIST: ‘HECK OF A LOT’ OF U.S. FIRMS WILL SUFFER 
Bloomberg: “President Donald Trump’s trade war with China will force many U.S. companies to join Apple Inc. in announcing lower than expected earnings, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers said. ‘It’s not going to be just Apple,’ CEA chairman Kevin Hassett said in an interview on CNN. ‘There are a heck of a lot of U.S. companies that have sales in China that are going to be watching their earnings being downgraded next year until we get a deal with China.’ Hassett argued that a softer economy in China is cutting into U.S. companies’ sales there and that the economic pain gives Trump leverage in ongoing trade negotiations. ‘That puts a lot of pressure on China to make a deal,’ he said.”

HOUSE DEMS LOOK TO DIFFUSE DEBT LIMIT FIGHT
Roll Call: “A proposed House rules package wouldn’t just reinstate the old rule that let the chamber avoid separate votes on the statutory debt ceiling 20 times in three decades starting in 1980. The new rules offered by House Democratic leaders, set for floor debate Thursday, would turbocharge the old ‘Gephardt rule’ into something completely new. It would allow the chamber to spin off a resolution ‘suspending’ the debt ceiling to the Senate, without a House vote, once the House adopts its own version of a budget resolution. That’s a stark departure from the previous Gephardt rule, named for former House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., which required the House and Senate to jointly agree on the same budget resolution in order for the House to avoid what is typically a difficult vote on the debt ceiling. …Congress will have to address the debt limit later this year after a temporary suspension of borrowing authority expires March 1.”

New Congress less Christian, but still more Christian than the nation - Pew: “While the number of self-identified Christians in Congress has ticked down … the religious makeup of the new, 116th Congress is very different from that of the United States population. Within Protestantism, certain groups are particularly numerous in the new Congress, including Methodists, Anglicans/Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Lutherans. Additionally, Protestants in the ‘unspecified/other’ category make up just 5% of the U.S. public, but 15% of Congress. By contrast, some other Protestant groups are underrepresented, including Pentecostals (5% of the U.S. public vs. 0.4% of Congress). But by far the largest difference between the U.S. public and Congress is in the share who are unaffiliated with a religious group. In the general public, 23% say they are atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular.’ In Congress, just one person – Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who was recently elected to the Senate after three terms in the House – says she is religiously unaffiliated, making the share of ‘nones’ in Congress 0.2%.”

NORTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN SUES FOR HOUSE SEAT 
Charlotte Observer: “The Republican in the nation's last undecided congressional race asked a North Carolina court Thursday to require that he be declared the winner because the now-defunct state elections board didn't act. A lawsuit by GOP candidate Mark Harris claims the disbanded elections board had been declared unconstitutional, so its investigation into alleged ballot fraud by an operative hired by the Republican's campaign was invalid. The elections board was dissolved Friday by state judges who in October declared its makeup unconstitutional but had allowed investigations to continue. A revamped board doesn't officially come into existence until Jan. 31. … The investigation is continuing, however, with Harris being interviewed Thursday as all other U.S. House winners were sworn into office in Washington. Democratic leaders in the U.S. House have said they won't allow Harris to take office because of the ongoing investigation. The U.S. Constitution makes the House the judge and final arbiter of its members' election contests.”

McCrory may challenge Tillis - [Raleigh] News&Observer: “Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday ruled out running in the 9th Congressional District — but not for governor in 2020 or the U.S. Senate in 2022. Speaking on his morning talk show on WBT radio, the Charlotte Republican said he’ll make that decision later this year. ‘I’m going to do a thorough assessment about running for governor (in 2020) or Senate in 2022, but I’m not ready to make either decision,’ McCrory said. Charlotte’s longest-serving mayor did say he’s ruled out running if there’s a special election in the 9th Congressional District. The election in November of Republican Mark Harris has been clouded by allegations of election fraud involving absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson counties. The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has twice declined to certify the race.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Report: Criminal probe follows Zinke after resignationWaPo

Pergram: As shutdown lingers into new year, blame game intensifies - Fox News

Senate Judiciary sets mid-January confirmation hearings for attorney general - Politico

Senators confirm slew of second-tier Trump nominees in closing hours of 115th Congress - Roll Call

AUDIBLE: ULP…
“The market is pricing in recession no matter what -- the market has priced it in. Now to what extent and when? That history hasn’t been written yet.” – Jeff Carbone, managing partner at Cornerstone Wealth, talking to Bloomberg about some scary economic indicators. 

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

‘I [WAS] PRIVILEGED TO HOLD YOUR GROIN’
Philadelphia Inquirer: “Nobody ever warns the patients at Pennsylvania Hospital about Pete Schiavo, ‘The Groin Crusher.’ The first time most people meet Schiavo, they’ve just come out of a coronary procedure and he’s explaining that after the catheters are pulled out of their femoral artery, he’s going to apply pressure to their groin for 20 to 40 minutes to aid in clotting. Awkward! Or it would be, if it was anyone else but Schiavo, a gregarious, emotional, wisecracking guy who is all South Philly… He’s won awards, had money donated in his name, and gets stopped all the time by former patients who want to buy him drinks or dinner. ‘I’m holding someone’s groin for 20 minutes, they tend to remember me and nobody else,’ Schiavo said. ‘I tell them: ‘I can promise you two things when I’m done: You’ll never forget my name or my face.’ And they never do.’”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“So brace yourself for a glorious Republican punch-up, punctuated by endless meta-coverage of the Democrats’ coronation march. After which, we shall decide the future of our country. Just the way the Founders drew it up.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on April 16, 2015.  

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.