Lame duck, indeed

**Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.**

On the roster: Lame duck, indeed - H.W. Bush-era AG eyed as possible Sessions successor - GOP officials had early warning of voter fraud in N.C. - SupCo’s double-jeopardy case holds Mueller probe implications - Will study for bacon


In the universe of Washington dud stories, “government shutdown looming” is right up there with “fireworks expected at hearing” and “leadership challenge brewing.”

Almost invariably these stories fizzle. The witness shrugs off lame speechifying disguised as tough questioning, the insurgency peters out over the question “who else” and in all but five cases since 1990 the government makes it past the fiscal cliff by plopping out some temporary spending measure.

And yet…

Congress today passed a two-week extension of current spending while the lame-duck House and Senate bicker over how to proceed. At issue are seven stalled annual appropriations bills that fund nine cabinet agencies. Congress passed five such packages before the end of the fiscal year in September but punted on the rest.

There were promises after the punt that Congress would address these remaining appropriations in a cogent, thoughtful way. Ha!

The issue here is political, not fiscal. One of the agencies running on borrowed time is the Department of Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over, you guessed it, border security. President Trump says he wants $5 billion to beef up the border while Senate Democrats, whose cooperation is required, are offering less than half that.

Our last two government shutdowns came as a result of political stunts. First was when Sen. Ted Cruz launched his presidential campaign by forcing a symbolic but utterly pointless shutdown over ObamaCare. And, more recently, when Democrats did much the same thing concerning individuals brought to the United States illegally as minors.

Cruz and the Democrats both failed because they were making an unrelated point to the budget. Both quickly found out that it is unwise to start a shutdown you don’t know how to stop without folding up like a cheap suit.

The current impasse, though, looks more like the partial shutdowns of the 1990s where the issues really are about which agencies are getting monies for which initiatives.  

Conventional wisdom in Washington holds that by the time we get to December 21 or perhaps after one more extension some compromise will be found to paper over the differences.

The way these things usually end is late at night in a nearly-empty House chamber where some Frankenstein spending bill is approved on a voice vote. Then it’s just jet fumes and “I’ll be home for Christmas.”

The way we would typically get there would be for Republicans to sweeten their offer to Democrats in some other area and pick off the nine votes they need in the Senate to pass a spending plan.

But there are a couple of other considerations this time around. First, what is the definition of the word “wall?” Trump doesn’t care if it is a wall in a literal sense, he just wants to call it one. Democrats, on the other hand, are fine with building things that look like walls as long as they are not called such.

Washington, man…

But the other complication is the unpredictability of a lame duck House with a lame duck speaker. You know the routine well by now: Conservative Republicans yell and stamp their feet as Paul Ryan, like John Boehner before him, steamrolls their objections to push through the package with plenty of Democratic votes. The Freedom Caucus likes this because they get two scoops of goodies. They get to claim the moral high ground by saying they voted against big, sloppy legislation but they also get to avoid the consequences of saying no.

If Ryan does that for his party, he sets Republicans up to avoid these impasses for the next nine months, there by denying the newly Democratic House major leverage. With markets feeling sea-sick over the uncertainty surrounding the U.S.-China trade war and Christmas just ahead to not be an ideal time for Congress to fail.

But what if Ryan doesn’t “clean the stable” this time? He would be well within his rights to tell the members of his conference to put up or shut up. Now there are some murmurings among members that he may do exactly that.

Again, these stories are usually duds and the countdown clock usually never gets to zero. But, given the willful misunderstanding of the word wall and so many lame ducks in the coop, you never know.

“To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision), is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 22

For Christians today marks the feast of St. Nicholas, a fourth century bishop from the Greek-dominated portion of Asia Minor. You may know him by the Americanized version of his name in Dutch: “Sinter Klaas.” The celebration in the United States is little noticed but the feast is a pretty big deal in Europe, especially in the central part of the continent. Children place their shoes in their foyer or entry way in hopes they will awake to find a treat there. The significance of the shoes is related to the story of Nicholas, who inherited a vast fortune from his parents, surreptitiously sneaking help to a family in need that very same way. These little gifts are intended to reflect and honor the great generosity Nicholas exhibited in his own life. Americans have mostly turned Nicholas into a one-dimensional figure, lacking the texture and lessons from his namesake. The American version also stands on its head the message of Nicholas, who showed generosity and love for all, not just the deserving. There is no “naughty list” when it comes to unconditional love. German cultures go even further with the Krampus, a half goat, half demon who is said to travel on the eve of St. Nicholas Day, dispensing switches and coal to bad children.

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

Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
40.6 percent
Average disapproval: 53.4 percent
Net Score: -12.8 points
Change from one week ago: up 1.6 points 
[Average includes: IBD: 39% approve - 55% disapprove; Grinnell/Selzer: 44% approve - 47% disapprove; Gallup: 40% approve - 56% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve - 54% disapprove; CBS News: 39% approve - 55% disapprove.]

Fox News:President Trump wants to nominate William Barr, the George H.W. Bush-era leader of the Justice Department, as his next attorney general, sources told Fox News. While Trump does not know Barr, he likes the immense respect Barr commands and the fact that he has earned bipartisan support in the past, the sources said. Still, other sources indicated that Trump could still decide to go with someone else. Others believed to be under consideration include Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Those close to Trump are divided over the choice: One source close to the White House told Fox News that Barr would be a bad choice, saying ‘Barr could be worse than Jeff Sessions.’ Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned at the president's request after the November midterms. For months, Trump lambasted Sessions in public over his recusal from the Russia investigation. The president then named Matthew Whitaker, who was chief of staff to Sessions, acting attorney general.”

WaPo: “When GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger lost his primary by a narrow margin in May, he suspected something was amiss. The congressman turned to a group of friends and family who had gathered with him on election night at a steakhouse near Charlotte and blamed the ‘ballot stuffers in Bladen,’ according to three people at the gathering. Pittenger’s concern stemmed from the vote tallies in rural Bladen County, where his challenger, a pastor from the Charlotte suburbs named Mark Harris, had won 437 absentee mail-in votes. Pittenger, a three-term incumbent, had received just 17. In the days immediately after the race, aides to Pittenger told the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party and a regional political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee that they believed fraud had occurred, according to people familiar with their discussions. GOP officials did little to scrutinize the results, instead turning their attention to Harris’s general-election campaign against a well-funded Democratic opponent, the people said. Their accounts provide the first indication that state and national Republican officials received early warnings about voting irregularities in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, now the subject of multiple criminal probes. A spokesman for the NRCC denied that Pittenger’s campaign raised the possibility of fraud in the primary.”

Pelosi: Deciding who should hold the seat is the House’s call - Roll Call: “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, when asked Thursday about allegations of election fraud in North Carolina’s 9th District, said deciding whom is seated is up to the House itself, not an outside authority or state election board. ‘The House still retains the right to decide who is seated,’ she said. ‘Any member-elect can object to the seating or the swearing in of another member-elect, and we’ll see how that goes.’ ‘The House Administration Committee will have full investigative authority to determine the winner of the election,’ Pelosi added. … Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, the incoming majority leader, told reporters this week that Democrats could refuse to seat Harris.”

History shows Bladen County has had five elections investigations - Charlotte Observer: “The investigation into voting irregularities in the 2018 election in Bladen County is, at least, the fifth elections case since 2010 in the rural eastern North Carolina county. ‘Bladen County has a troubled history of political groups exploiting the use of absentee ballots in an effort to skew support for a specific candidate or group of candidates,’ wrote Jon David, district attorney for Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus counties, in a Jan. 26, 2018 letter to the State Bureau of Investigation’s interim assistant director. ‘These groups package the anticipated ability to garner absentee ballots as a commodity to be brokered.’ Bladen County is at the center of an investigation into possible election fraud in the 9th Congressional District election, which has yet to be certified by North Carolina’s nine-member State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. A 2010 case, investigated by the State Bureau of Investigation and referred to the Attorney General’s Special Prosecutions Unit, was closed in 2013 without any criminal charges being filed, David told The News & Observer in an email.”

Sacramento Bee: “A longtime top staff member of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris resigned Wednesday after The Sacramento Bee inquired about a $400,000 harassment and retaliation settlement resulting from his time working for Harris at the California Department of Justice. Larry Wallace, who served as the director of the Division of Law Enforcement under then-Attorney General Harris, was accused by his former executive assistant in December 2016 of ‘gender harassment’ and other demeaning behavior, including frequently asking her to crawl under his desk to change the paper in his printer. The lawsuit was filed on Dec. 30, 2016, when Harris was still attorney general but preparing to be sworn in as California’s newly elected Democratic senator. It was settled less than five months later, in May 2017, by Xavier Becerra, who was appointed to replace her as attorney general. By that time, Wallace had transitioned to work for Harris as a senior advisor in her Sacramento office. ‘We were unaware of this issue and take accusations of harassment extremely seriously. This evening, Mr. Wallace offered his resignation to the senator and she accepted it,’ Harris spokeswoman Lily Adams wrote in an email.”

Fox News: “A Supreme Court case concerning double-jeopardy rules is receiving outsized attention due to its potential implications for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. At issue in the case heard Thursday is whether and when being tried in state and federal courts for the same crimes is permissible. Under a current constitutional exception, it has been allowed for years. A court reversal here could be far-reaching – and represent a sea change in how state, federal and tribal criminal cases are handled. The justices raised tough questions Thursday about being tried twice for the same crime in different jurisdictions – 'a double whammy,' as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it – yet a majority seemed inclined to preserve what the Trump administration calls 170 years of precedent allowing an exception to the double jeopardy provision. Justice Elena Kagan said respect for precedent (known by the Latin phrase stare decisis) is a bedrock principle. ‘Part of what stare decisis is, is a kind of doctrine of humility,’ she said, ‘where we say we are really uncomfortable throwing over 170-year-old rules that 30 justices have approved just because we think we can kind of do it better.’”

The Judge’s Ruling: Why Mueller isn’t about to go home - This week Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano writes: “I am not of the view that Mueller is on a fishing expedition or is about to go home. First, he has a few dozen defendants whom he has indicted and needs to try -- even though most are Russians indicted for hacking and interfering with the 2016 election campaign and will be tried in absentia. Second, he keeps acquiring new evidence. Last week, when Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to lying to Congress about Trump's negotiations with Russian authorities during the 2016 presidential campaign to build Trump Tower Moscow, Cohen claimed he lied so as to further Trump's political message, which has been one of zero relationships with Russian officials during the campaign. … The third reason for rejecting the belief that Mueller will soon shut down is Mueller's declaration to a federal judge in Washington last week that Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager during the time the Trump campaign had 87 communications with Russians, lied to FBI agents in defiance of his commitment to be truthful to them made during his guilty plea in federal court in September. Mueller will no doubt seek to indict Manafort for each of those lies and then try him -- a trial that could not occur until mid-2019.” More here.

Rick Scott will delay Senate swearing in until Jan. 8th - Roll Call

Dems say GOP Rep.-elect Ross Spano should be disqualified for violating campaign finance law - Roll Call 

Pelosi warming up to the idea of term limits for committee chairmen - Politico

Tech execs to attend meeting at White House Thursday - Axios

Check this out: ‘Making President Trump’s Bed: A Housekeeper Without Papers’ - NYT

Report: Veterans Affairs’ diversity chief was told not to condemn white nationalists after Charlottesville - WaPo

“While I maintain my call for new leadership, I refuse to jeopardize a Democrat being Speaker of the House and our Democratic legislative agenda.” – Rep.-elect Gil Cisneros, D-Calif., writing on Medium why he plans to support Pelosi to be the next Speaker of the House.

“Good Afternoon Chris, Can you please explain the regularity of what the Wisconsin legislature is doing with their lame duck power curtailing?  Is this a normal thing that has just gone unnoticed until this day in the age of media lime light?  I am just curious as to the history of it.  It seems very shady to me and very non democratic, but I am just a simpleton. Thanks!” – Jeff Cox, Broken Arrow, Okla.

[Ed. note: I don’t know if I would say “shady,” since it is legal and within the power of the legislature of Wisconsin (and Michigan, where GOP lawmakers are following a similar path). But I would call it toxic partisanship. I’d also call it short-sighted, bad politics. The voters in both states spoke in unambiguous terms about the direction they wanted to take. To thwart and subvert the will of the electorate may sound smart to Republicans in these states, but voters will punish them harshly for this churlishness.]   

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

WPVI: “The Ohio Pork Council announced they are launching their own Bacon Vending Machine. Yeah you read that right, a Bacon Vending Machine. The vending machine is located in the Animal Science Building at the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, and will be available for students until December 13th. Inside you'll find bacon strips and bacon bits. The bacon was donated by Hormel, Sugardale, and Smithfield, and all the money made from the machine will go towards the meat science program. ‘The Bacon Vending Machine is a unique and fun way for the Ohio Pork Council to support Ohio State students and promote the pork industry at the same time,’ said President-Elect Dave Shoup, Ohio Pork Council. So how much will it set you back? A dollar per bacon item. So if you're a parent concerned with your child cramming during finals week and not eating, no worries, now they can fill up on bacon.”

“How primitive have our politics become? Fix what? Family structure? Social inheritance? Self-destructive habits? How? He doesn’t say. He’ll will it. Trust him, as [Trump] likes to say.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) in the Washington Post on Sept. 29, 2016. 

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.