Trump flips again: Shutdown back on

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On the roster: Trump flips again: Shutdown back on - GOP, military brass seethe over Trump’s Syria reversal - Asylum seekers will remain in Mexico - Dems announce a dozen debates for 2020 race - In otter news

Roll Call: “President Donald Trump has rejected a stopgap funding bill passed by the Senate, Speaker Paul D. Ryan said following a meeting at the White House. He said House GOP leaders will try to add border security to the Senate measure before a Friday night deadline. 'He will not sign this bill,' Ryan said outside the executive mansion. He said House GOP leaders will try to add border security to the Senate measure before a Friday night deadline, at which time Homeland Security, Justice, Interior and other departments would run out of funds and be shuttered. … Last week, Trump threatened to trigger a partial shutdown unless he got $5 billion for the border barrier project during a rowdy Oval Office meeting with Democratic leaders.  … But then, just as senators began crafting a stopgap funding measure keeping those departments open until early February, Trump went silent on his intentions and thoughts on what mostly was a ‘clean’ bill.”

Markets tank - The Street: “Stocks were tumbling Thursday, Dec. 20, after concerns grew that the U.S. government would partially shut down following word from the White House that Donald Trump was wavering over signing a stopgap spending bill. Shares already were down following the Federal Reserve's move Wednesday to raise its benchmark lending rate and signaled tighter monetary conditions into 2019. But the declines gathered momentum after White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump "does not want to go further without border security, which includes steel slats or a wall…”

“Next to the effectual establishment of the Union, the best possible precaution against danger from standing armies is a limitation of the term for which revenue may be appropriated to their support.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 41

Smithsonian: “You could call it the face that launched a thousand Christmas letters. Appearing on January 3, 1863, in the illustrated magazine Harper’s Weekly, two images cemented the nation’s obsession with a jolly old elf. The first drawing shows Santa distributing presents in a Union Army camp. Lest any reader question Santa’s allegiance in the Civil War, he wears a jacket patterned with stars and pants colored in stripes. … A second illustration features Santa in his sleigh, then going down a chimney, all in the periphery. At the center, divided into separate circles, are a woman praying on her knees and a soldier leaning against a tree. … The artist responsible for this coup? A Bavarian immigrant named Thomas Nast, political cartoonist extraordinaire and the person who ‘did as much as any one man to preserve the Union and bring the war to an end,’ according to General Ulysses Grant. But like so many inventors, Nast benefitted from the work of his fellow visionaries in creating the rotund, resplendent figure of Santa Claus.”

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Trump job performance 
Average approval:
 41.2 percent
Average disapproval: 53.6 percent
Net Score: -12.4 points
Change from one week ago: down 1 point 
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 39% approve - 52% disapprove; Gallup: 38% approve - 57% disapprove; NBC/WSJ: 43% approve - 54% disapprove; Fox News: 46% approve - 52% disapprove; CNN: 40% approve - 53% disapprove.]

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Politico: “Although the president claimed Thursday that his decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria should come as 'no surprise,' several of his administration's top national security officials appeared to be caught off-guard by the move. … Some in the GOP compared the White House’s announcement to former President Barack Obama's decision to dramatically scale back the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, a move many have blamed for creating the vacuum that allowed the Islamic State to flourish in the first place. Sen. Lindsey Graham … said leaving Syria would be a ‘stain on the honor of the United States,’ and a ‘disaster on multiple fronts.’ The South Carolina Republican pledged to get to the bottom of why Trump was moving toward withdrawal, citing conversations with national security officials that led him to conclude the president was acting ‘against sound military advice.’”

Trump switches position on ISIS defeat, now says others will fight - CBS News: “Mr. Trump declared ISIS ‘defeated’ in Syria in a tweet Wednesday, a claim he reiterated in a video posted to Twitter Thursday. On Thursday morning, he started out his day tweeting quotes from the few public figures who praised his decision. In a single tweet, the president made claims about ISIS in Syria that both appeared to contradict himself and claims made publicly by Russia. Mr. Trump claimed on Twitter that ‘Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us.’”

Putin gives thumbs up - NYT: “President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Thursday welcomed President Trump’s announcement of a withdrawal of American troops from Syria, calling it ‘the right decision.’ Mr. Trump said on Wednesday that he was ordering the withdrawal because the United States military had achieved its goal of defeating the Islamic State militant group in Syria. But the move caught many by surprise, including some of his military and diplomatic advisers. …. ‘Donald’s right, and I agree with him,’ Mr. Putin said.”

Fox News: “Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker will not recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe, despite mounting pressure from Democrats who cite his “hostility” toward Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation. Senior Justice Department officials told Fox News on Thursday that Whitaker met several times with Department ethics officials, who found no conflicts of interest regarding his oversight of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling and potential collusion with Trump campaign associates during the 2016 presidential election. A small group of senior advisers then did their own review and recommended that Whitaker not recuse himself. Whitaker agreed. ‘It's a close call,’ one senior DOJ ethics official said, noting that he would have recommended Whitaker recuse out of an abundance of caution.”

Barr seemed solicitous in memo bashing Mueller - WSJ: “William Barr, President Trump’s choice for attorney general, sent an unsolicited memo earlier this year to the Justice Department that excoriated special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into potential obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump, saying it is based on a ‘fatally misconceived’ theory that would cause lasting damage to the presidency and the executive branch. The 20-page document, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, provides the first in-depth look at Mr. Barr’s views on the special counsel’s Russia investigation, which he would likely oversee if confirmed. In the memo, Mr. Barr wrote he sent it as a ‘former official’ who hoped his ‘views may be useful.’ … Mr. Barr’s memo, dated June 8 and sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, argues that, based on the facts as he understands them, the president was acting well within his executive-branch authority.”

The Judge’s Ruling: Is a Trump prosecution in the works? - This week Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano writes:  “All three [Department of Justice] opinions counsel that if a statute of limitations -- the period of time after the crime has been committed and during which a prosecution must be commenced or waived -- is about to expire, the president may need to be indicted in secret, so as to preserve the government's ability to prosecute him for his crimes after he leaves office yet also preserve the president's ability to conduct the duties of his office unimpeded by the burdens of a criminal prosecution. The statute of limitations in this case is five years. The conspiracy took place in 2016. The math for Trump is daunting.” More here.

USA Today: “The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday announced a new policy banning asylum-seekers from entering the U.S. and requiring them to stay in Mexico, a dramatic change that upends the way migrants fleeing persecution have been welcomed into the country for decades. Under current U.S. law, people requesting asylum at the southern border — either at a port of entry or after illegally entering the country, and who pass an initial screening — are allowed to stay in the country pending an immigration judge’s decision on their application. Under the new policy unveiled Wednesday by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, that will no longer be the case. Anybody who requests asylum will now be processed by federal immigration agents and then immediately returned to Mexico. The U.S. and Mexican governments had been negotiating over a similar policy for weeks dubbed ‘Remain in Mexico’…”

Mexico agrees - AP: “Mexico has agreed to a U.S. proposal to let third-country migrants remain in or be returned to Mexico while their claims for asylum in the United States are being processed. The decision was a historic one for Mexico, which has traditionally refused to accept the return of any migrants who aren’t Mexican. Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department said Thursday the move was a temporary, humanitarian measure.”

Williamson: Migrant money for Mexico a good investment - National Review: “Illegal immigration is only one aspect of our complicated relationship with our economically and socially laggard neighbor to the south and with the Central American nations south of it. Mexico’s problems are North American problems, which means that they are American problems and Canadian problems, whether we like it or not. … The $5.8 billion the administration is committing to Mexico’s ‘Marshall Plan’ for its Central American neighbors is a step in the right direction. In the short term, the priority of the López Obrador government is humanitarian relief and stabilization. In the long term, the priority is economic development and entrenching the rule of law. Expecting the Mexican government to lead the way on rule-of-law issues is a little bit like expecting Chris Wallace to dance the lead in the New York City Ballet’s all-Balanchine show this spring: It doesn’t exactly draw on what you’d call characteristic talents.”

WaPo: “Democratic presidential candidates will meet in June for the first of at least 12 planned primary debates of the 2020 election cycle under a plan released Thursday by party officials who said they were determined to create large debate audiences with broad candidate participation. Ticket entry to the early debate stages will be determined by a combination of polling, grass roots financial support and other factors, in an effort to include candidates who are not registering nationally in public opinion surveys. If the number of candidates is too large to host at a single event, the party plans to host two events in the same location on consecutive nights, after randomly dividing the candidates in a public selection process. That would increase the number of actual debates beyond a dozen.”

Trump admin lifts sanctions on Russian oligarch, former Manafort client Oleg Deripaska - NYT 

“With Rudolph voting present”: Senate Dems sing Christmas carols as votes drag onRoll Call

N.C. and Michigan Republicans continue to push lame-duck bills - Reuters

“The moment I found out Trump could tweet himself was comparable to the moment in ‘Jurassic Park’ when Dr. Grant realized that velociraptors could open doors. I was like, ‘Oh no.’” – Justin McConney, the Trump Organization’s director of social media from 2011 to 2017, told Politico

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 

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SF Gate: “A tweet full of memes singing the praises of a very large sea otter named Abby, written by the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Tuesday, was just such a piece of content. ‘Abby is a thicc girl. What an absolute unit. She c h o n k. Look at the size of this lady. OH LAWD SHE COMIN. Another Internetism!’ wrote the aquarium alongside a picture of Abby the sea otter staring piercingly into the camera. … Abby is one of six surrogate mothers at the aquarium that help to raise orphaned baby otters and model proper otter behavior for them, the aquarium wrote in a follow-up tweet. Abby is actually a normal size for a sea otter. … People in the replies suggesting that Abby ‘otter go on a diet’ were swiftly rebuffed, as were those implying the aquarium was insulting or fat-shaming the otter. ‘No no these are compliments for a smallest marine mammal, living in frigid temperate waters, lacking a blubber layer, with the thickest pelt in the animal kingdom, and a challenging surface area to volume ratio,’ they wrote.”

“Moreover, self-defense is the self-evident justification for unilateralism. When under attack, no country is obligated to collect permission slips from allies to strike back.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on March 1, 2002. 

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.