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On the roster: Hunter Biden news raises stakes for A.G. pick – Jobless claims jump as virus rampages – Biden joins campaign efforts in Georgia Senate runoff – Susan Rice to get to domestic policy post – Kinda makes you Mr. Misty
HUNTER BIDEN NEWS RAISES STAKES FOR A.G. PICK
Outside of his probably misbegotten effort to pick a recently retired general to lead the Pentagon, President-elect Joe Biden has mostly succeeded in his no-drama effort to fill his cabinet with well-known, well-vetted, big-name Democrats.
But his biggest test is still ahead.
We have known all along that Biden’s most significant pick would be that of attorney general. Even if there were no near-term considerations – of which there are plenty –the unavoidable truth is that the Justice Department has been in turmoil and trouble for more than a decade.
Whether it was Eric Holder’s contempt for Congress, Loretta Lynch’s tarmac tête-à-tête with Bill Clinton, James Comey’s stagey and self-important Diogenes routine, poor ole Jeff Sessions or brawling Bill Barr, there’s no doubt that the agency is in need of reform and a respite from the hyper-politicization by which it has been so afflicted.
A good attorney general for a situation like this would be hard to find, but that’s not all that there is on the to-do list.
News today that Biden’s son, Hunter, is the subject of a federal investigation for not just “tax issues,” but also perhaps his activities trying to do a little buckraking on his family’s name in China makes things even more complicated for any would-be A.G.
While some Republicans have already called for a special prosecutor to probe the younger Biden’s behavior, the hope among most in Washington would be that the agency could show its capacity for fairness and competency by running this through normal channels.
That would, of course, depend on Biden’s pick’s independence, real and perceived.
That also goes for the other hanging question that will face any candidate for attorney general: Possible prosecutions of President Trump and his family.
Opinion among Democrats runs a broad spectrum when it comes to the possibility of investigations and potential charges against Trump and his offspring after he leaves office. There are some who want Biden and his Justice Department to make an example of Trump and go for a bed-sheet prosecution.
Others warn that if Biden wastes too much time and energy looking backward he will fail to generate enough forward momentum to get his own presidency launched. This is something like the debate that took place during the transition between the Bush and Obama administrations, albeit a more vigorous version.
Certainly, Trump will face prosecution post presidency. We’re not going to waste time on the debate over whether a president can preemptively pardon himself, because even if he could that would only apply to federal crimes. Prosecutors in New York seem quite enthusiastic about their chances to pop Trump for financial misdeeds.
America has never had to go through the spectacle of a former president in the dock, but we may yet live to see it. What Biden needs as it relates to both the matter of the prosecution of his own kin and that of his predecessor is someone respected in both parties, with a track record of principled service and no political obligations or ties to Biden.
Oh yeah, and they should be telegenic and brilliant at extemporaneous speaking for the sure-to-be-contentious confirmation hearing.
If you can find someone with all that, you might as well pick up some leprechauns, a unicorn and some low-fat potato chips that don’t taste like asbestos roofing on the way.
THE RULEBOOK: AND YET…
“Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 68
TIME OUT: GET LIT
National Geographic: “After [Alexander the Great’s] death in 323 B.C., a power struggle broke out among his generals that lasted for more than a century. The Greco-Syrian Seleucid kings would emerge victorious and rule many of Alexander’s former territories, including Judea… The Seleucids captured the holy Temple of Jerusalem and defiled it by erecting an altar to the Greek god Zeus inside [and] outlawed the Jewish faith and mandated the worship of Greek gods. … Judah the Maccabee (the ‘Hammer’) … led the Jewish people in many victories over the Seleucids. In 164, Judah won back Jerusalem and restored the Temple, cleansing and rededicating it. … Hanukkah, which means ‘dedication,’ commemorates the miracle of light that occurred when Judah rededicated the Temple to the Hebrew [God]. According to the Talmud… the Seleucids left only one intact vial of oil, just enough to light the Temple’s candelabrum for one day. But it burned for eight days—enough time for the victorious Judeans to secure more oil…”
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GOT A WILD PITCH? READY TO THROW A FASTBALL?
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JOBLESS CLAIMS JUMP AS VIRUS RAMPAGES
AP: “The number of people applying for unemployment aid jumped last week to 853,000, the most since September, evidence that companies are cutting more jobs as new virus cases spiral higher. The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of applications increased from 716,000 the previous week. Before the coronavirus paralyzed the economy in March, weekly jobless claims typically numbered only about 225,000. The latest figures coincide with a surging viral outbreak that appears to be weakening the job market and the economy and threatening to derail any recovery. Consumers thus far haven’t spent as much this holiday shopping season as they have in previous years, according to credit and debit card data. And in November, employers added jobs at the slowest pace since April. Restaurants, bars and retailers all cut jobs last month. The total number of people who are receiving state-provided unemployment aid rose for the first time in three months to 5.8 million, the government said, from 5.5 million. That suggests that some companies have sharply pulled back on hiring.”
Panel weighs last steps before vaccine approval – AP: “A U.S. government advisory panel convened on Thursday to decide whether to endorse mass use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to help conquer the outbreak that has killed close to 300,000 Americans. The meeting of outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration represented the next-to-last hurdle before the expected start of the biggest vaccination campaign in U.S. history. Depending on how fast the FDA signs off on the panel’s recommendation, shots could begin within days. The FDA panel functions like a science court. During the scheduled daylong session, it was expected to debate and pick apart the data — in public — on whether the vaccine is safe and effective enough to be cleared for emergency use. With unprecedented interest in the normally obscure panel, the FDA broadcast the meeting via Youtube, and thousands logged on.”
Lots of ‘optimism’ but no deal yet on stimulus – Marketwatch: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sounded upbeat Thursday on progress toward fresh aid to Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic, as lawmakers were weighing competing relief packages. Pelosi, a California Democrat, said that a bipartisan group of lawmakers is making ‘great progress’ on a deal, and that Congress should not break for the holidays without new legislation. [There’s] some optimism that a bipartisan $908 billion aid proposal might check enough boxes for Democratic and Republican lawmakers to deliver relief to struggling Americans as several end-of-year deadlines near. … The White House has offered a $916 billion package to Pelosi that would send $600 direct payments to most Americans. Yet it would cut a $300 a week unemployment benefit favored by bipartisan Senate negotiators. Pelosi has called the unemployment-insurance cut ‘unacceptable.’”
House passes punt – USA Today: “The House on Wednesday passed a bill allowing the federal government to remain open for one more week as lawmakers scramble to come to a bipartisan deal on government spending. The bill, which passed by a 343-67 vote, punts a potential government shutdown, which was set to occur Friday, to next week. The legislation will head to the Senate. Then, if approved, will go to President Donald Trump for his signature. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the chamber planned to take up the bill soon after it was approved by the House. Congressional leaders have continued to meet in hopes of reaching a compromise on some of the biggest sticking points in the budget. As in years past, immigration-related issues, including funding for a wall along the U.S. southern border and immigrant detention beds for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, are at the center of the dispute.”
BIDEN JOINS CAMPAIGN EFFORTS IN GEORGIA SENATE RUNOFF
AJC: “President-elect Joe Biden will campaign in Atlanta on Tuesday for Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to rally Democrats ahead of Jan. 5 runoffs to determine control of the U.S. Senate. The event coincides with the first week of early voting in the twin contests – and comes a day after presidential electors in Georgia and other states formally cast their votes to make Biden the next president. Details of the Atlanta rally have yet to be announced. Ossoff and Warnock are trying to recreate the formula that helped Biden narrowly capture Georgia, making him the first Democratic White House hopeful to carry the state since 1992. They’re betting that Biden’s return – he stumped in Georgia a week before the election – will re-energize the base. Biden’s trip will follow a string of high-profile Republicans who have stumped for U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.”
Liberal group drops $1 million for Warnock, Ossoff – Politico: “A liberal group dedicated to voting rights is pouring $1 million into an independent expenditure to help Democrats win control of the Senate. The Voter Protection Project, which shared the news first with POLITICO, said it will use the funds on TV ads and direct mail supporting Democratic candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s Senate runoff races. The political action committee is airing its first attack ad as part of the effort slamming Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, whom Warnock is trying to unseat. ‘Kelly Loeffler pretends she’s one of us, but this billionaire is only about cashing in. Days before the pandemic, Loeffler attended a secret briefing about China and the coronavirus pandemic. Then failed to warn us,’ the narrator in the spot says. … After receiving a private briefing on Covid-19 earlier this year, Loeffler sold millions in stock holdings, according to the Daily Beast. The Department of Justice investigated the trades, but there were no criminal charges.”
Top conservative group says ground game could be ‘the difference maker’ – Fox News: “The political arm of Americans for Prosperity, the powerful conservative and libertarian political advocacy group, is putting on a full-court press to get out the vote in Georgia’s twin Jan. 5 Senate runoff elections… While pro-GOP super PACs and other outside groups have shelled out big bucks to flood the airwaves on behalf of Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, Americans for Prosperity Action is knocking on doors across the state to make sure conservative voters will cast ballots in the runoff and to try and persuade swing voters to support the GOP candidates. AFP Action, sharing their battle plan first with Fox News, says that it’s sent 200 of its best field staff from across the country to Georgia, and that it’s already made roughly 2 million phone calls or door knocks to reach voters. The group adds that it’s spent approximately $5 million so far on direct mail and digital ads.”
SUSAN RICE TO GET TO DOMESTIC POLICY POST
Reuters: “U.S. President-elect Joe Biden chose Susan Rice, who was national security adviser to former President Barack Obama, to lead the White House’s domestic policy council, the Associated Press reported on Thursday. Rice, who also has served as U.N. ambassador and assistant secretary of state, had been on Biden’s short list as a possible running mate before Biden picked U.S. Senator Kamala Harris. Rice joins the growing list of Obama administration officials Biden is picking for top roles.”
Biden’s pick for VA raises eyebrows with vets – AP: “Biden is also nominating Denis McDonough, who was Obama’s White House chief of staff, as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. … McDonough was credited with helping Obama try to bridge divides on Capitol Hill, including around one of his most substantial second-term legislative achievements: the Veterans Choice Act. The legislation … gave former service members more options to seek care and the VA secretary more authority to fire underperforming staffers. The bill came about following exposes during the Obama administration into mismanagement at some VA hospitals and mounting complaints by advocacy groups. ‘We are surprised by this pick. No way to deny that,’ said Joe Chenelly, national executive director of AMVETS, or American Veterans. ‘We were expecting a veteran, maybe a post-9/11 veteran. Maybe a woman veteran. Or maybe a veteran who knows the VA exceptionally well. We are looking forward to hearing from President-Elect Biden on his thinking behind this nomination.’”
Katherine Tai for U.S. trade representative – CBS News: “President-Elect Joe Biden plans to nominate Katherine Tai to serve as U.S. Trade Representative, a Cabinet-level position, two people familiar with the decision tell CBS News. … Tai is a senior staffer on the House Ways and Means Committee serving as the panel’s trade counsel. She also would be the first Asian American woman to hold the job and the second poised to serve in the Biden Cabinet.”
Birx looks for place in new administration – AP: “When Dr. Deborah Birx was brought into President Donald Trump’s orbit to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, she had a sterling reputation as a former U.S. Army physician, a globally recognized AIDS researcher and a rare Obama administration holdover. Less than 10 months later, as Trump’s time in office nears its end, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator’s reputation is frayed. And after serving every president since Ronald Reagan, her future in the incoming Joe Biden administration is uncertain. … Birx has made clear that she wants to stick around to help the Biden administration roll out vaccines and persuade the American people to be inoculated. She has reached out to Biden advisers in recent days as she tries to make the case for a role in the incoming Democratic president’s virus response effort…”
TRUMP WARNED GEORGIA A.G. TO STAY SILENT
AJC: “President Donald Trump warned Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr not to rally other Republican officials against a long-shot Texas lawsuit seeking to toss out the state’s election results, according to several people with direct knowledge of the conversation. The roughly 15-minute phone call late Tuesday came shortly before U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue issued a joint statement saying they ‘fully support’ the improbable lawsuit asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reject election results in Georgia and three other battleground states that Trump lost. Earlier in the day, Carr’s office called the lawsuit by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ‘constitutionally, legally and factually wrong.’ The complaint asks the justices to delay the Monday deadline for certification of presidential electors in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.”
Andy McCarthy: Texas’ unserious suit – National Review: “The first thing to notice about Texas’s desperation lawsuit, which seeks to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election, is what does not appear on the front page: the name of the state’s solicitor general, Kyle Hawkins. The lawsuit is brought against four other states — Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin — that have certified Joe Biden as the winner of their electoral votes. Thus, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton invokes the original jurisdiction of the United States Supreme Court to hear disputes between states. Yet the brief is not signed by the lawyer who typically represents Texas before that nation’s highest court (as Solicitor General Hawkins did, for example, in the recent Obamacare case). Plainly, this is because the complaint Paxton has filed is a political document that has no prospect of being taken seriously as a set of legal claims.”
Ron Johnson open to trying to overturn election – The Hill: “Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Wednesday did not rule out challenging the results of the Electoral College next month when Congress formally certifies the vote. Johnson, who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced the same day that he would hold a hearing next week on the ‘irregularities’ of the 2020 election. When asked if he plans to challenge the election results, Johnson told reporters: ‘I would say it depends on what we found out. I need more information. The American people need more information. I’m not ready to just close and slam the book on this thing and go ‘OK, let’s walk away from it.’’ Johnson’s remarks come as Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) has said he will object when Congress convenes next month to certify the Electoral College vote.”
Arizona GOP asks followers if they’re willing to die to prevent Biden win – CBS News: “The Arizona Republican Party asked its Twitter followers this week if they would be ‘willing’ to die to overturn President Trump’s election loss. On Monday, an activist associated with the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement, which promotes baseless arguments that Democrats ‘stole’ the election, tweeted, ‘I am willing to give my life for this fight.’ In response, the official account for the Arizona branch of the GOP quote tweeted the sentiment, adding, ‘He is. Are you?’ Last week, Arizona certified President-elect Joe Biden as the winner of its 11 electoral votes. Trump’s team has lost several lawsuits in the state after failing to provide evidence of voter fraud, but continues to dispute the results. Despite Republican Governor Doug Ducey‘s support of the state’s election process, the Arizona GOP account has continued its unwavering efforts to fight the election outcome, tweeting Tuesday, ‘Live a life of service to a cause greater than yourself.’”
PELOSI BACKS SWALWELL AMID FANG FANG IMBROGLIO
Fox News: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she’s not concerned about Rep. Eric Swalwell‘s ability to serve in Congress despite his past connections with a suspected Chinese spy. … She pushed back on [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy who has publicly questioned whether Pelosi knew of China’s alleged attempt to infiltrate Swalwell’s office when she appointed him to the House Intelligence Committee in January 2015. Pelosi said GOP and Democratic leadership were briefed ‘at the same moment’ in the spring of 2015 about a suspected Chinese spy targeting members of Congress. … Swalwell’s judgment has been in the spotlight after Axios reported that a Chinese national named Fang Fang or Christine Fang targeted up-and-coming local politicians, including those who had the potential to become national figures. Fang reportedly took part in fundraising for Swalwell’s 2014 reelection campaign — although she did not make donations nor was there evidence of illegal contributions.”
Outgoing VA secretary cited for mishandling sexual misconduct claims – WSJ
The Judge’s Ruling: Can President Trump pardon himself? – Fox News
AUDIBLE: CROSSING GUARD
“I think we better bring that to a halt, huh?” – House Majority Whip James Clyburn when asked about if Biden keeps pulling members from the small Democrat majority in the House for his cabinet.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I was surprised at your omission of the investigative Axios piece on Christine Feng, who was on the FBI’s radar while she fundraised for Congressman Eric Swalwell for several years, from The Halftime Report on 9 December. I’m aware you can’t include every political article in your report but I’m curious to hear your reasons.” – Gary W. Cimino, Millville, N.J.
[Ed. note: I promise we have not been compromised by the Chinese Communists, Mr. Cimino! It was a simple omission — we just forgot to include in the final draft. And you saw the coverage in today’s note above.]
“I am disappointed. Far better would have been to use Pig Latin, as in ‘ors-hay ucky-pay.’ Disappointed but still a fan.” – Gregg Hart, Inverness, Ill.
[Ed. note: Easeplay orgivefay ouryay ancyfay Atinlay , Istermay Arthay!]
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
KINDA MAKES YOU MR. MISTY
Fox News: “The staff of a Minnesota Dairy Queen was stunned when a drive-thru customer paid for the vehicle behind him, only to set off a chain reaction that inspired over 900 others to do the same. On Dec. 3, the anonymous customer paid for the person behind him in the Dairy Queen drive-thru in Brainerd, KARE 11 reports. Store manager Tina Jensen said the second customer was taken aback by the sweet surprise, and asked to do the same. … From there, the small act of kindness just kept getting bigger, as each subsequent customer wanted to pay it forward, too. After about 125 cars, Jensen said that one woman ‘threw us a 20 dollar bill, almost in tears’ over the fact that the chain had continued for so long. … The Dairy Queen customers kept paying for each other’s orders through Saturday, with 900 cars paying for $10,000 worth of sales.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“[Trump] lives in a cocoon of solipsism where the world outside himself has value — indeed exists — only insofar as it sustains and inflates him.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing about then-candidate Trump in the Washington Post on Aug. 5, 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.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.