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On the roster: Forget the shutdown, it’s Mattis that matters - McConnell ‘distressed’ over Mattis - Audible: Available at 12:01 am - Wings: What can’t they do?

Everybody enjoying a nice slow news Friday before Christmas? 


Dysfunctional governments are like bad NBA teams. They never really try until the clock is almost out. So it’s not surprising that we see a great deal of churn and angst in the closing weeks of the year. Nor is it surprising that the fight is entirely about political opportunism and blame casting and not even a little about actual policy.

This is the phoniest shutdown fight in a lamentable 20-year history of phony shutdown fight. Both sides want to increase federal funding for border security, one by $1.6 billion, the other by $5 billion. 

In a normal world the members of a government running trillion dollar deficits and $22 trillion in debt would scoff, split the difference call it $3.3 billion and pour some eggnog. Fighting over three-tenths of a percent of just the current load of deficit spending among people who could bankrupt a banana stand seems a little too precious.  

Whether they spend $5 billion or $1.6 billion or whether the government is partially shut down over the coming four-day holiday or thereafter is a matter of relatively little consequence. We feel bad for anxious federal workers, but from the question of lasting consequences, this is a bad farce.

More consequential is what is taking shape in the military. 

Trump refused the advice of his secretary of defense long enough and thoroughly enough that the secretary felt obliged to resign. With a normal president and under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But because Trump has no background in these matters, has a mercurial temperament and a loose relationship with the truth, retired Marine General James Mattis had taken on extra significance in his role. 

Trump chose Mattis because of his remarkable accomplishments and the near-universal praise for his character. The reason the Senate was willing to oblige Trump and break a 60-year precedent was because Mattis’ reputation may be as sterling as any since the last general to hold the post, George Marshall.

Just as Mattis’ arrival calmed the Congress, eased public sentiment about Trump’s preparedness as commander in chief and cheered servicemen and servicewomen from the Pentagon to Fort Jackson, his departure – especially over terms of employment – will tend to excite, intensify and worry.

Coming as it does with a sudden policy lurch in Syria, all of those conditions will be made worse. 

Remember that while it’s obvious now that Trump’s 2016 opponent was pretty obviously just chucking up anything that came to mind by the end of the campaign, it was not for nothing that Hillary Clinton closed her argument basically by saying that electing Trump would mean a nuclear holocaust.

(Imagine casting an election as “It’s me or Armageddon,” and voters say “We’ll chance it!”)

The unavoidable political truth for the president is that national security is his Achilles heel. What voters may indulge in domestic policy gambits or tweetstorms they will not tolerate on national security.

[Ed. note: It seems like now would be a good time to take a little break, dear readers. It has been a remarkable year and a great privilege – a privilege purchased with your continued support – to get to cover it. Wherever you go and whatever you do in this last week of 2018 you do it with my gratitude and most affectionate thoughts. I do many things here at Fox News, but nothing is as important or, ultimately, as satisfying as hashing out the news of the day, every day, here with you and our friendBrianna. Your thoughtful and generous comments and questions are an integral part of that experience. Please keep them coming. But more importantly than that, please consider the possibility of a political detox next week. My professional life’s work centers on politics, but that is a starvation ration by itself. The degree to which we can experience our lives as individuals and as Americans without first applying a political lens might just be determinative of our portion of happiness. This note will return on Dec. 31, when I will be ready to get back on top of the bucking, snorting bull that we call American politics. Merry Christmas for all who celebrate! May it be a joyous one free from care.] 

“The inordinate pride of State importance has suggested to some minds an objection to the principle of a guaranty in the federal government, as involving an officious interference in the domestic concerns of the members.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 21

The greatest piece of choral music for Christmastime (or any time) is George Frideric Handel’s oratorio “Messiah.” It tells the Christian story of salvation and the life of Jesus of Nazareth in an hours-long masterwork. It also announces the birth of Jesus with a particularly famous “hallelujah.” Handel had fallen on hard times physically, financially and emotionally when he composed the music – hundreds of pages in length – in an astonishing 24 days in 1742. He wrote the music for a charity concert to benefit the cause of freeing men from debtors’ prisons, a rather fitting object for the story of one whom Christians believe paid the debts of all mankind’s sins. Defeated in many ways, Handel found himself delivered from his own struggles. The first performance was staged in Dublin, somewhat beyond the reach of bluenoses in London who thought an entertainer had no place interpreting the sacred scriptures. By the time of his death in 1759, it had already claimed its place as one of the enduring works of our civilization. Said Ludwig van Beethoven of Handel: “He is the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb.”

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

Trump job performance 
Average approval:
 41.6 percent
Average disapproval: 53.8 percent
Net Score: -12.2 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.8 points 
[Average includes: USA Today/Suffolk: 42% approve - 54% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 39% approve - 52% disapprove; Gallup: 38% approve - 57% disapprove; NBC/WSJ: 43% approve - 54% disapprove; Fox News: 46% approve - 52% disapprove.]

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**we now return you to our regularly scheduled political palaver**

National Review: “Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that he is ‘distressed’ over defense secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation after Mattis clashed with President Trump. ‘I am particularly distressed that he is resigning due to sharp differences with the president,’ the Senate leader said in a statement. ‘It is regrettable that the president must now choose a new Secretary of Defense.’ Mattis quit abruptly on Thursday after Trump’s unpopular decision to withdraw the over 2,000 American troops currently in Syria. … The retired four-star general had ‘vehemently opposed’ the decision to withdraw from Syria, a move that was panned by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and other officials as imprudent. ‘We cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies,’ Mattis said.”

Trump call with Turkish leader led to US pullout - AP: “President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria was made hastily, without consulting his national security team or allies, and over strong objections from virtually everyone involved in the fight against the Islamic State group, according to U.S. and Turkish officials. Trump stunned his cabinet, lawmakers and much of the world with the move by rejecting the advice of his top aides and agreeing to a withdrawal in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, two officials briefed on the matter told The Associated Press. The Dec. 14 call, described by officials who were not authorized to discuss the decision-making process publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, provides insight into a consequential Trump decision that prompted the resignation of widely respected Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.”

SupCo temporarily blocks Trump asylum ban AP

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had surgery Friday to remove malignant nodules in lung WaPo

Whitaker ignored ethics advice to remain on Mueller’s tail - AP 

Booker backer promises big bucksNYT

N.C. election officials’ fraud concerns date back to 2017WaPo

“Nothing really Mattis.” – The name of a cocktail from a shutdown-themed menu from Capitol Hill dive bar, the Capitol Lounge. The drink description reads: “Mad Dog 20/20 & Vodka. Order it, drink it and leave.”

This weekend Mr. Sunday will sit down with former Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta and Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio. Watch “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.

It’s time again for our annual year-end edition saluting the year’s best journalism, and we need your input. What stories stood out? Which journalists helped you understand the world in a better way? Who did it with integrity and an unflinching commitment to the truth? What about the ones who made you think or laugh? You can read last year’s winners here to get an idea of what we’re looking for. Share your suggestions with us by email at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM 

“I held my nose and voted for Trump. I still would not have voted for Hil but Trump is causing me to eat antacids by the handfuls. Now General Mattis--arguably the most effective SecDef in many years--has taken the honorable way out of the Trump circus by resigning so a [Secretary of Defense] ‘more aligned’ with Trump’ could take over.  This know-it-all narcissistic president looks like a clip from the cutting room floor of a bad Three Stooges movie. Who is next? Melania?” – James Douglas, Wetumpka, Ala.

[Ed. note: So you’re saying you don’t like it… I hear you, Mr. Douglas. And I know that for a lot of Americans, these have been trying times. But I would also humbly submit that one of the reasons there is so little confidence in our institutions is because of atrophy through disuse. The Congress doesn’t legislate. The political parties have become shell corporations. The news media chases clicks and views. These organizations haven’t done their jobs because they haven’t had to. The norms of the broad bipartisan establishment have mostly held for most of the past 50 years and the individual participants have been free to pursue self-interest over national interest. Well, the times they are a-changin’. As much as we decry (and we do) the stupid, blunt partisanship that passes for political discourse these days, we have never seen this degree of engagement. Of old we might have quoted W.B. Yeats “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” No more. Everybody’s in the pool. We have a president who was elected on a promise to attack that bipartisan consensus, and he is now in a mood to deliver. But we are supposed to rely on our Constitution and the good offices of the great American people (to say nothing of the providential guidance of our Creator) not the murmurings of the Mandarins of the Potomac. Let every Democrat defend the republic and let every Republican preserve democracy. Our blood is up and the stakes are high. And whether you think the president a crusader for forgotten men and women or, as you do, something else, we are all roused now from our sleep. And that has to be a good thing.]   

“I am a fairly recent subscriber and did so primarily because I almost always enjoy your commentary on FNC, particularly when coupled with Dana Perino. However, and I may be wrong, it seems that the bulk of the commentary contained in the Halftime Report has a decidedly anti-Trump tinge to it. Perhaps I have become overly sensitive to the news reporting of today that is heavily tilted to the left.  Today's report, for example, has the bulk of the items with an initial reference to articles published by known liberal publications. That trend seems to me to be the ongoing routine.” – Darell Reichel, Port Lavaca, Texas

[Ed. note: First and foremost: Thanks for signing up! As for the provenance of the articles we choose, we are more interested in the stories themselves than the perceived bias of the organizations. If we were to only take our news from places that are considered liberal, we would leave a lot on the table. And if we would only take news from places considered conservative, we would have the same problem. We pay attention to individual outlets track records, but also those of the individual journalists’ reputations and results in terms of deciding what passes the bar for inclusion. When it comes to news stories, we are looking for straightforward reporting, reliable sources and fair treatment of various points of view. It doesn’t really matter what the sources are as much as it matters that the items pass these tests so that we can give you up to date, clear information. We wouldn’t want to wait around until someone with a particular viewpoint published a story on a topic, nor would we ever want to use an inferior story because of ideological snobbery. On Thursday, we included items from Roll Call, The Street, Smithsonian Magazine, Politico, CBS News, the New York Times, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Associated Press, National Review, the Washington Post, Reuters and the San Francisco Chronicle. The only opinion piece was Kevin Williamson’s very smart read on the Mexican government’s efforts in Central America and the U.S. support for them. It was in a conservative publication – National Review – but we included for clarity and perspective not because he’s a conservative. Our emphasis is on keeping opinion out of news. Your opinions are up to you. Our job is to try to equip you with reliable, current information and whatever context we can provide so your opinion is as informed as possible. We hope you’ll stick with us and give it a try. It’s our privilege to provide it and our compliment to you. We don’t think you need to be told how to think.] 

“I noted the comment from the senior DOJ official that [Acting Attorney General Whitaker] should recuse himself out of an ‘abundance of caution.’ But shouldn’t [Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein] have done the same out of an ‘abundance of conflicts.’ The Special Prosecutor – and I agree there should have been one – Rosenstein chose should not have been someone that he is so closely affiliated with throughout his career.  I know that would have been difficult, but Rosenstein is actually a witness in the obstruction of justice portion of the investigation. It would seem that he should not have been part of the process to choose the Special Prosecutor.  What’s a good phrase from W.Va. for ‘that’s all water under the bridge’ that could apply here?” – Diane Balcom, Pittsburgh

[Ed. note: If Rosenstein had to choose a qualified prosecutor with whom he was not well familiar it would have been rather a challenge. Rosenstein first joined the Justice Department 28 years ago and has worked at nearly every level over the course of his career. He worked on Ken Starr’s independent counsel team. He worked on tax fraud, prosecuted drug crimes, handed appellate cases, was nominated to be a federal judge (but was blocked by Senate Democrats) and more before he was named deputy attorney general. That would rule out a lot of folks in the Justice Department – far beyond Mueller. What’s more, Mueller was the obvious choice. Had Rosenstein called up some old crony from Baltimore for the gig, it would have raised concerns. Instead, he picked the single most respected federal lawman in the country. The only question was whether Mueller, 72 and finally making some serious jack after 30 years in government jobs, would want to return for what was guaranteed to be grueling, thankless work. This was far from a favor to Mueller. And as to whether someone other than Rosenstein – someone who holds Mueller in lower esteem – should be overseeing the case, I’d say good luck. I’ve never met anyone at the FBI or Justice Department who doesn’t think that Mueller is a straight shooter and a highly competent law enforcement official. I’ve never heard that Rosenstein and Mueller are particularly friendly. I know as a law student, Rosenstein interned in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts when Mueller was briefly the acting boss and that Mueller was the head of the public corruption division at the Justice Department for some of Rosenstein’s tenure there, but I have no reason to believe that there is anything disqualifying there. Anyway, it’s a moot point now. Whitaker is now overseeing Mueller and Rosenstein has taken a step back. The dubious basis for Whitaker’s appointment, however, makes him something of a paper tiger. If he were ever to get too froggy, the agency would be swamped in lawsuits and many cases would grind to a halt as courts took up the question of whether he can really carry out the duties of attorney general without being confirmed by the Senate. Republicans now want to sidestep that issue by quickly confirming former Attorney General William Barr back to his old job.]

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

UPI: “Police in California said a driver tried to avoid toll enforcement by covering part of their license plate with a sticker from a package of chicken wings. The California Highway Patrol said in a Facebook post that a sergeant pulled over a white Ford Mustang about 8 p.m. Tuesday for having a partially covered license plate. Police said the driver had apparently tried to avoid paying the toll on the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge by using the sticker receipt from a package of Safeway teriyaki chicken wings. ‘Well, sure enough the driver had used his receipt from a pound of teriyaki chicken wings he had bought at Safeway earlier in the day, ripped it in half and used it to cover two digits of both the front and rear plate,’ the post said. The driver was cited for having an obstructed license plate and driving on a suspended license. The car was impounded.”

“Science has everything to say about what is possible. Science has nothing to say about what is permissible.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Deseret News on March 15, 2009. 

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.