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On the roster: Sondland bursts the ‘perfect’ bubble - Time Out: Nineteen Thanksgivings ‘over there’ - Buttigieg takes the lead in New Hampshire - Opossum like its hot

President Trump
’s ambassador to the European Union didn’t tell us anything today that wasn’t obvious from the moment America first read the transcript of Trump’s phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart.

Gordon Sondland certainly added some context with his descriptions of the Keystone Cops routine by Rudy Giuliani. Sondland also made clear what some had once adamantly denied: That help for Ukraine was contingent on the president’s political demands.

But anybody who didn’t think those things were true after reading Trump’s transcript was either being facile or is a few chicken wings short of a dozen.

Democrats can be happy to have had such a senior official from the Trump administration – a political appointee of the president himself – make their case so clearly.

But there is reason for relief among Republicans, too.

The House GOP has been a messaging disaster throughout this process. It’s not entirely their fault given the contradictory, scattershot efforts from the White House, but it has not been pretty at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Democrats with uncharacteristic discipline have homed in on the concept of the president abusing his broad foreign policy powers to try to harm his leading political rival.

Seemingly on a daily rotating basis, the president’s defenders in Congress have tried out myriad defenses. He didn’t do it! If he did do it, everyone else does it! The process is unfair! Trump was just worried about corruption!

The worst version of this stuff has been the tortured explanations about the “bigger” story in Ukraine. As Democrats tell their simpler story about presidential misconduct, some Republicans have been trying to tell a more convoluted one about the real nature of Ukrainian politics.

Sondland’s testimony today should put that all to rest, and that is good news for the GOP.

As we have long argued here, Republicans should be following the playbook laid out in 1998 by Bill Clinton and his team.

Much as with Clinton’s seamy conduct with a White House intern, Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of what Trump did to the Ukrainian president. Poll after poll shows that two-thirds or more of voters think the president acted wrongly.

But on the question of whether Trump should be impeached or removed from office, voters are much more evenly divided. That difference points the way to the useful strategy going forward and a way for the White House to meaningfully diminish support for impeachment.

There’s no sense in trying to convince persuadable voters that what Trump did was “perfect.” That’s a fool’s errand. But arguing that the offense doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment, especially less than a year away from an election, is a political winner.

Acknowledging Trump’s mistake, reminding voters that the system worked – the necessary aid to fight Russia’s military advances in Ukraine did flow to Kyiv – and pointing to next November seems like a much more fruitful place for the GOP to be.

If that approach is consistently applied it could make Democrats look like they are obsessed with obvious, old issues rather than dealing with the matters important to voters.

But that will require Republicans, including the president, to abandon their doctrine of denial and excuse. Sondland made doing so much easier today.

“The direction of war implies the direction of the common strength; and the power of directing and employing the common strength, forms a usual and essential part in the definition of the executive authority.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 74

NYT: “This year marks the 19th Thanksgiving since the beginning of the wars, occupations, operations and deployments that together form what the Pentagon calls the global war on terrorism. Across all this time and terrain, a few million American service members, and those who labored beside them, have accumulated vast and varied observances of a quintessential American holiday spent at war. Earlier this year The Times asked service members, veterans and civilians who have celebrated Thanksgiving in a conflict zone to share their photographs and memories. … Like combat service itself, Thanksgivings for troops have been wildly uneven experiences. Depending on each place and time, dinners and celebrations veered between scarcity and excess, spectacle and sorrow, isolation and crowds. But common themes inform veteran memories, including the longing for home caused by separation from families and lifelong rituals, the bonds many veterans formed with fellow troops, and recollections of rich palettes of emotions associated with the particular circumstances troops lived in while deployed.”

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Biden: 27.6 points (no change from last wk.)
Warren: 22.6 points (no change from last wk.)
Sanders: 17.6 points no change from last wk.)
Buttigieg: 7.6 points (no change from last wk.)
Harris: 3.2 points (no change from last wk.)
[Averages include: Monmouth University, NBC News/WSJ, ABC News/WaPo, Fox News and IBD.]

Average approval: 43 percent
Average disapproval: 54.4 percent
Net Score: -11.4 percent
Change from one week ago: ↑ 2 points
[Average includes: NPR/PBS/Marist: 44% approve - 51% disapprove; Monmouth University: 45% approve - 52% disapprove; NBC News/WSJ: 45% approve - 53% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 39% approve - 59% disapprove; Fox News: 42% approve - 57% disapprove.]

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WMUR9: “The Saint Anselm College Survey Center poll of 255 likely Democratic primary voters shows that [Pete] Buttigieg, supported by 25 percent, now holds a 10 percentage point lead over former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who are tied for second at 15 percent. Buttigieg is substantially ahead of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is in fourth place at 9 percent. Rounding out the top 10 were Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 6 percent; billionaire activist Tom Steyer of California at 5 percent; U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey at 3 percent each; entrepreneur Andrew Yang of New York at 2 percent and California Sen. Kamala Harris at 1 percent. Thirteen percent of those polled said they were undecided.”

Can he bring the momentum to the debate stage? - Politico: “Pete Buttigieg will take the stage at Wednesday’s debate as a serious threat to the top Democratic presidential candidates for the first time. … But that surge in the early states comes with the glare of additional scrutiny, including on his struggles appealing to African American voters in other states, and the growing likelihood of attacks from Democratic opponents eager to blunt Buttigieg’s rise and regain momentum of their own. … Though the campaign has heated up recently, many candidates are still reluctant to go on the attack and risk alienating a rival’s supporters. But Buttigieg’s strong polling out of Iowa has already come with fresh criticism over several campaign missteps related to one of the mayor’s biggest weaknesses: his lack of support among African American voters, which has contributed to his lower numbers in polls of Democrats in South Carolina and nationally.”

Michael Kruse: Are your neighbors ready for Mayor Pete? - Politico: “Up till now, Buttigieg’s youth and sexual orientation largely have been calling cards in the Democratic primary, distinguishing him in a field whose front-runners are in their 70s and whose back-of-the-packers are too numerous for most people to keep track of. … When it comes to the prospect of a gay president, the numbers right now are sobering for Buttigieg: Polling suggests that the country was more ready for a black president back in 2008 than it is for a gay president now. And last month, the current iteration of the question of readiness became front-page news when a leaked memo revealed focus groups commissioned by the Buttigieg campaign suggested his sexuality could be ‘a barrier’ for black voters in at least South Carolina, the crucial fourth nominating contest—and a bellwether for the party’s more socially conservative voters.”

Biden steps up efforts in Iowa - WaPo: “[Biden] has been in Iowa fewer times than any of the other top-tier candidates, and he is spending much less on advertising than several of his rivals. And now, even as he retains a national lead in polling, he is falling behind in a state that doomed his campaign the last time he sought the presidency. Biden’s campaign once shrugged off the potential impact of losing the caucus vote on Feb. 3, but concerns lately have grown about just how poorly he might do. Desperate to avoid a humiliating showing that might have broader repercussions, Biden is planning a renewed focus on Iowa, with an expectation that both he and his wife, Jill, soon will make the kind of extended trips to the state that other candidates have for months. They also have launched a new digital campaign and could have additional endorsements in the works.”

Foundering Harris calls talk of campaign crack-up ‘gossip’ - Nevada Independent: “California Sen. Kamala Harris is dismissing recent reports of unrest within her campaign and chatter among attendees of a Democratic convention in her home state about whether she should drop out of the presidential race as no more than ‘gossip.’ … With about two and a half months until the first presidential preferences are cast, Harris said that it is “still early” and that “to follow the punditry around what is going on with the campaign is to overlook what’s happening on the street…” But she remained vague when asked whether that enthusiasm had at all changed her campaign’s plans to shift staff from Nevada to Iowa. ‘I will keep you posted but I’m going to tell you something: Nevada is very, very important to me,’ Harris said.”

Adieu, Wayne Messam - Axios: “Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam (D-Fla.) announced on Wednesday that he is dropping out of the 2020 presidential race. The big picture: Messam got into the race after Southbend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg's announcement, however, the small-town Florida mayor failed to gain the momentum that Buttigieg's campaign achieved. Messam did not make it on to any debate stage and struggled to see significant gains in polling. Messam is Miramar's first black mayor, the owner of a construction company, a former college football player and the son of a Jamaican sugarcane worker.”

Pergram: Before impeachment hearings, a journalist's homework - Fox News

Hong Kong bill passes US Senate as lawmakers aim to crack down on human rights violations Fox News

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., gets nod to replace the late Elijah Cummings as Oversight Chairman - Roll Call

Former Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh indicted on corruption charges - WaPo

“The campaigns, of course, are always, shall I say, hot salsa, but the governing part doesn’t need to be that way.” – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a speech in his home commonwealth of Kentucky decrying the level of vitriol in government.

“What do you make of the Chairman’s larger than anyone else’s chair? It looks like Queen Elizabeth’s throne to me. Is that standard for the Congress? To me, it makes him look diminutive.” – Tom Winter Lt. Col. USMC (Ret), Steele, Mo.

[Ed. note: It is standard practice for chairmen and chairwomen. And it always has seemed a little silly.]

“So, it would seem that the Democratic Party fear a journalist [Tim Alberta] that is not necessarily in the tank for the Democratic agenda. What a load of disservice to the voters! Our country is greatly endangered by partisan politics and journalism that does not stay clear of taking sides. Perhaps, I am not in the swing of things, but I would like to believe that the American voter could figure out what to do or think without a partisan scorecard. That is probably naive.” – Lisa Lentz, Hollister, Calif.

[Ed. note: Both sides suffer from this affliction. In 2016, Republicans were talking openly about only allowing avowed partisans or right-leaning opinion mongers to moderate debates. It was nearly as pitiful as the effort to assassinate the character of Alberta, one the most respected, finest political reporters working in Washington today because he started his career at a right-leaning publication. I dare anyone to find any partisan hackery in Alberta’s work, wherever he was doing it. But both Republicans and Democrats make a self-defeating mistake when they look for gentle coddling instead of incisive questioning. Are Democrats better off for letting opinion journalists play patty-cake with their candidates these many months? No chance. Insulating candidates from tough questioning has not only help keep the field at its bloated size but also allowed them to ignore the most important issues when it comes to winning in 2020. It’s farcical that Elizabeth Warren made it until October before anyone put the bite on her about her formless, pie-in-the-sky health insurance program. If you can’t handle Tim Alberta for five questions, you darned sure can’t handle the presidency.]

“Lincoln's quintessential address of 156 years ago seems much closer to today when referred to as seven score and 16 years. I agree with your often-stated position that the dearth of humanities in secondary education, especially civics and western civilization, is tearing away the very fabric of our republic - an educated citizenry. Unfortunately, I do not see the education elites embracing the classics and the much-maligned vocational education necessary to sustain our grand experiment.” – Dan Burch, Turlock, Calif.

[Ed. note: Cheer up, Mr. Burch! We just need to keep banging the drum for civics and history education. It’s got a lovely rhythm.]

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AP: “A movement is growing in North Carolina to prevent the act of so-called ‘opossum dropping.’ The practice involves suspending an opossum in a transparent box on New Year’s Eve and slowly lowering it the ground as people count down to midnight. The Raleigh News & Observer reported Monday that a western North Carolina town had conducted opossum drops for 24 years. Brasstown in Clay County dropped its last opossum in 2018. But the organization Animal Help Now wants to prevent anyone from doing it elsewhere. That will require a change to state law that allows people to do anything they want to opossums for five days each year. The group started a petition and gathered almost 160,000 signatures before the petition closed. The group says it’s continuing its legislative efforts.”

“It is pure fiction that this pro-American sentiment was either squandered after Sept. 11 or lost under the Bush Administration. It never existed.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in Time magazine on Nov. 9, 2003.

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.