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On the roster: Can Trump broker a GOP ceasefire? – Trump drug czar pick under fire for opioid bill – Democrats downplay shutdown over ObamaCare, but… – Trump heads to S.C. in bid to boost embattled backer – To be fair, fajitas are delicious

CAN TRUMP BROKER A GOP CEASEFIRE?
In the same day, President Trump managed to show support for the work of Steve Bannon to unseat Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader, and also to praise McConnell’s work itself. 

That’s a tough one. And it reveals the central challenge for Trump in trying to chart the way forward for his administration. 

If Trump cannot forge a working compromise between the Bannonite populist nationalists who won Trump the GOP nomination and the Republican establishment that controls Congress, then all of this talk about the GOP agenda is just killing time until the Democrats retake the majority.

By raising the stakes for the closing weeks of the year, Trump is certainly hoping to increase pressure on Democrats to come to the negotiating table on issues ranging from health insurance to Iran’s nuclear program. But the president’s real squeeze play is on members of his own party. 

Since being shown the door at the White House, Bannon has been capitalizing on his status as a boogeyman to both Republicans and Democrats to exact his revenge on those he blames for pushing him out. 

Capitalizing on the defeat of a Republican incumbent in an Alabama Senate primary, Bannon has gleefully embraced the role as the Grim Reaper of the right. Speaking to his fellow populists at a gathering over the weekend, Bannon declared a “season of war against the GOP establishment.”

If this is now war, then what the heck have the past two years been? 

Bannon doesn’t just claim victim status for himself following his ouster, but rather for all of the GOP populists who were mowed down by the party’s establishment in 2014 as part of their ultimately successful bid to retake the Senate. 

Appearing with Trump today, McConnell also invoked those days, reminding his listeners what happened when the populists succeeded in winning primaries and beating incumbents. Bannon may scare Republicans, but names like Todd Akin and Christine O’Donnell still scare them more. 

There is much debate in Washington these days on whether Bannon can succeed in his primary attacks on the GOP, but that doesn’t really matter. There are certainly exceptions to the rule – as the 2008 presidential election shows – but the reasonable rule of thumb is that parties and politicians that endure bitter primaries tend to do worse than those that don’t.

In that way, Bannon could most simply succeed in ending McConnell’s tenure as majority leader simply by turning him back into the minority leader. But one tends to think Chuck Schumer would tend to be even less MAGAish…  

McConnell’s larger problem is not electoral right now. He and his party have delayed necessary actions so many times that the end of the year is shaping up to be a high dive like Dave Lindsay’s: Even if you survive it, it’s going to hurt. 

As Lindsay said after his 170-foot plunge in 1982 broke his clavicle, “I’ve got to get out on my own power, and then you can take me to the hospital.” 

In order to get Republicans willing to climb that tall ladder, McConnell has to offer whatever protections he can. That’s why he was at the White House today. McConnell needs Trump to lay off GOP senators for long enough to try to get all these deals done. 

It’s an encouraging sign for Trump, at least, that McConnell is still fearful enough of the presidential wrath that he is publically and privately courting Trump’s favor. What we don’t know yet is whether Trump can deliver the necessary protection. McConnell may fear Trump, but Bannon quite evidentially does not. 

Trump will need both wings of the Republican Party and even the handful in the squishy center to execute the current salvage mission on his agenda. 

We will find out over the next few weeks whether Trump can forge even a temporary truce between these warring factions or if Bannon & Co. feel perfectly free to keep sharpening their scythes.

THE RULEBOOK: WORK FIRST  
“The prosperity of commerce is now perceived and acknowledged by all enlightened statesmen to be the most useful as well as the most productive source of national wealth, and has accordingly become a primary object of their political cares.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 12

TIME OUT: BOOM!
Atlantic: “To directly observe the origin of gravitational waves, astronomers needed a different kind of collision to send the ripples Earth’s way. This summer, they finally got it. Scientists announced Monday they have observed gravitational waves for the fifth time—and they’ve seen the light from the cosmic crash that produced them. The waves came from the collision of two neutron stars in a galaxy called NGC 4993, located about 130 million light-years from Earth. Neutron stars are strange, mysterious objects, the collapsed cores of stars that exploded in spectacular fashion—supernovae—and died. These stars measure about the size of a metropolitan city, but have about the same mass as our sun. Astronomers had long predicted that when two neutron stars collide, the resulting explosion would produce electromagnetic radiation, in the form of optical light. The afterglow would shine bright enough to be seen through powerful telescopes, the first visible proof of a source of gravitational waves, provided the latter could also be detected.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -20.2 points
Change from one week ago: -3.8 points

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

TRUMP DRUG CZAR PICK UNDER FIRE FOR OPIOID BILL 
WaPo: “Tom Marino is a four-term Republican member of the House who represents a district in northeastern Pennsylvania that has been hard-hit by the opioid crisis. Yet Marino also has been a friend on Capitol Hill of the giant drug companies that distribute the pain pills that have wreaked so much devastation around the nation. Marino was the chief advocate of the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which requires the government to meet a higher bar before taking certain enforcement actions. The Drug Enforcement Administration fought against the bill for years, but finally relented last year after a leadership change at the agency. Marino is now President Trump’s nominee to become the nation’s next drug czar.”

Dems push for repeal – The Hill: “Legislation introduced by a top Senate Democrat would repeal an Obama-era bill that critics say has dramatically restricted the ability of the Drug Enforcement Administration to crack down on opioid distributors suspected of wrongdoing. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said her legislation is being introduced in response to a joint Washington Post and ‘60 Minutes’ investigation. The investigation concluded that a handful of members of Congress who were allied with the country’s major drug distributors helped to pass an industry-friendly bill that weakened DEA enforcement efforts against distributors.”

Manchin wants trump to dump nomination – WaPo: “In a statement, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said he was ‘horrified’ to read details of an investigation by The Washington Post and ‘60 Minutes’ that detailed how a targeted lobbying effort helped weaken the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to go after drug distributors, even as opioid-related deaths continue to rise. He called on Trump to withdraw Marino’s nomination.”

DEMOCRATS DOWNPLAY SHUTDOWN OVER OBAMACARE, BUT… 
Wash Times: “Democrats on Sunday downplayed talk of forcing a government shutdown after President Trump launched a twin assault on Obamacare, saying they will continue their uphill push to negotiate fixes to the law after the administration halted critical ‘cost-sharing payments’ to insurers and ordered agencies to explore the sale of cheaper plans across state lines. Yet Mr. Trump has shown little interest in a deal that temporarily shores up the 2010 health care law without paving the way for repeal or bolstering other parts of his agenda, leaving little room for a deal as policymakers struggle with wobbly insurance markets before open enrollment begins in two weeks. Mr. Trump’s decision to halt the cost-sharing payments, in particular, is sending shock waves through the insurance markets and has reignited legal fights over health care.”

Cochran too ill to return to Washington, raising doubts on budget vote – 
Axios: “Sen. Thad Cochran‘s office announced this morning that a urinary tract infection would postpone his planned returned to Washington after a period of illness at home in Mississippi. Cochran’s office said he’d be back in the Senate ‘when his health permits.’ The Senate GOP wants to pass a budget resolution this week that would allow its tax plan to pass the chamber with a simple majority. However, not all Senate Republicans are publicly on board with the budget resolution yet, so [the 79-year-old Cochran’s] absence will make the expected vote even tighter given the GOP’s slim 52-vote majority.”

White House to release paper defending corporate tax cut – The Hill: “The White House on Monday is rolling out a paper arguing that the GOP’s plan to slash the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent would ‘very conservatively’ increase average household income by $4,000 per year. ‘By inducing higher capital investment, reductions in corporate tax rates increase the demand for workers and heighten their productivity,’ President Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) said in the paper. The paper had been expected after Trump, citing the CEA, touted the $4,000 figure in a speech on taxes last week in Pennsylvania. ‘About a $4,000 amount of money additional for the American family to spend,’ Trump said. ‘That’s very exciting.’”

NAFTA TALKS TURN SOUTH 
Bloomberg: “After laying out the Trump administration’s most aggressive NAFTA demands to date, chief U.S. negotiator John Melle was asked on Sunday how things are progressing. … The fourth round of negotiations is nearing an end amid rising tensions after the U.S. presented proposals that could be politically unfeasible for Canada and Mexico. U.S. industry and Congress, meanwhile, are mounting a more vocal defense for preserving regional trade ties as they sense the discussions could be in trouble. U.S. negotiators in recent days put forth a string of bold proposals — on auto rules of origin, a sunset clause, government procurement, and gutting dispute panels seen by the other nations as core to the pact. … The proposals have spurred public warnings from prominent U.S. lawmakers and the private sector about the perils of scuttling a deal that … has broken down trade barriers, including tariffs, for industries like manufacturing and agriculture.”

TRUMP HEADS TO S.C. IN BID TO BOOST EMBATTLED BACKER 
AP: “President Donald Trump’s support wasn’t enough for Luther Strange to win the GOP nomination in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race. Will the story be different in South Carolina’s gubernatorial contest? Fresh off the Alabama defeat of his chosen candidate to replace Jeff Sessions, Trump is again wading into southern horse-race politics, visiting South Carolina on Monday to lend his support the campaign of Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, one of his earliest backers. But some here in this ultra-red state are seeing some similarities with the high-profile defeat in Alabama. Despite Trump’s endorsement, McMaster faces a strong challenger: attorney Catherine Templeton, who has amassed a campaign war chest commensurate with McMaster’s. She even topped his fundraising last quarter.”

Florida Senate race heats up – Politico: “Florida’s Democratic Party was in disarray after the 2016 presidential debacle, [Sen. Bill Nelson] said, and he needed help from D.C. to prepare for a likely challenge next year by GOP Gov. Rick Scott, who’s spent at least $86 million of his own fortune on his two gubernatorial campaigns. … Nelson is one of 10 Democrats up for reelection in states carried by President Donald Trump — and among the most vulnerable. A loss in Florida would all but relegate Democrats to the Senate minority for at least another two years; their hopes of winning the chamber next year are already exceedingly slim.”

At least it wasn’t a private jet: House hopeful says she flew with aliens – McClatchy: “Florida has a U.S. senator who once flew aboard the Space Shuttle. A congressional candidate from Miami can go one better: Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera says she’s been aboard a spaceship too. But this one was crewed by aliens. As in extraterrestrials. Three blond, big-bodied beings — two females, one male — visited her when she was 7 years old and have communicated telepathically with her several times in her life, she says. (Sen. Bill Nelson served as payload officer aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986. All seven people aboard were from Earth. As far as is known.) Rodriguez Aguilera, 59, a Republican who is running to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, recounted her experience with the ETs during a 2009 television interview.”

Judge deals blow to Menendez defense – Politico: “After raising Sen. Robert Menendez’s hopes last week, a federal judge crushed them on Monday morning. U.S. District Court Judge William Walls refused to toss any of the 18 charges in the corruption case against Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, despite last week casting doubt on a legal theory that’s at the heart of the prosecution’s case.”

Flake under fire offers no regrets for bucking Trump – NYT: ‘In which of those instances,’ [Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.] asked, ‘should I not have spoken out? At what point should you not stand up and say, ‘This is not right; this is not conservative; this is not where Republicans ought to be?’’ Mr. Flake said he had known from the start that taking on Mr. Trump might do him political harm. Even before he declared the president’s brand of populism a corruption of conservative values, he anticipated a tough primary challenge, given his policy differences with Mr. Trump on issues like immigration, trade and Cuba. ‘The truth is, if my only goal were to be elected, re-elected to mark time in the Senate, there are much easier paths,’ he said.”

TRUMP CAMPAIGN SPENDS BIG ON RUSSIA LEGAL FEES
NYT: “President Trump’s campaign spent more than $1.1 million on legal fees over the last three months — a sharp increase that coincided with the escalation of investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The spending was revealed in reports filed on Sunday with the Federal Election Commission detailing the campaign’s finances from the beginning of July through the end of last month. During that period, legal fees represented more than 25 percent of all spending by Mr. Trump’s campaign. The legal spending was nearly twice as much as the campaign spent during the preceding three months. The report underscores the degree to which Mr. Trump’s team has been consumed by investigations being pursued by congressional committees and the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russian meddling in the presidential election, and connections between Russia, Mr. Trump and his associates.”

Liberals start to worry about a possible President Pence – New Yorker: “[Vice President Mike Pence], who has dutifully stood by the President, mustering a devotional gaze rarely seen since the days of Nancy Reagan, serves as a daily reminder that the Constitution offers an alternative to Trump. … If the job is a gamble for Pence, he himself is something of a gamble for the country. During the tumultuous 2016 Presidential campaign, relatively little attention was paid to how Pence was chosen, or to his political record. And, with all the infighting in the new Administration, few have focused on Pence’s power within the White House. Newt Gingrich told [Jane Mayer] recently that the three people with the most policy influence in the Administration are Trump, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and Pence. Gingrich went on, ‘Others have some influence, such as Jared Kushner and Gary Cohn. But look at the schedule. Pence has lunches with the President. He’s in the national-security briefings.’ Moreover, and crucially, Pence is the only official in the White House who can’t be fired.”

Aides work hard to keep Trump from derailing – WaPo: “When Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) described the White House as ‘an adult day-care center’ on Twitter last week, he gave voice to a certain Trumpian truth: The president is often impulsive, mercurial and difficult to manage, leading those around him to find creative ways to channel his energies. Some Trump aides spend a significant part of their time devising ways to rein in and control the impetuous president, angling to avoid outbursts that might work against him…”

Trump predicts four SupCo vacancies –
 Axios: “Sources who’ve spoken to the president about the Supreme Court say he tells them he thinks he’ll have appointed four justices by the end of his first term. ‘It’s all about the numbers for him,’ one source said. Asked how he comes to that jaw-dropping number, Trump mentions the obvious: he’s already replaced Antonin Scalia with Neil Gorsuch, and there are rumors Anthony Kennedy will retire. ‘Ok,’ one source told Trump, ‘so that’s two. Who are the others?’ ‘[Ruth Bader Ginsburg],’ Trump replied. ‘What does she weigh? 60 pounds?’ ‘Who’s the fourth?’ the source asked. ‘[Sonia Sotomayor],’ Trump said, referring to the relatively recently-appointed Obama justice, whose name is rarely, if ever, mentioned in speculation about the next justice to be replaced. ‘Her health,’ Trump explained. ‘No good. Diabetes.’”

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
Rep. Steve Cohen D-Tenn. claims to have GOP support on impeachment legislation – The Hill

California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoes bill for Trump to disclose income tax
 – LAT

Government will give 2 million work permits to illegal immigrants in 2017
 – Wash Times

Toga Party: Niall Ferguson muses on the very Roman moment in American public life – The Times [London]

AUDIBLE: DRILL DOWN 
“I checked. I’m fully intact.” – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when asked by CNN about comments from Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., that President Trump had “castrated” his secretary of state by publicly disparaging him. Tillerson also refused to deny a report that he once referred to Trump as a “moron” for wanting a massive increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Chris – You did a great job describing the President’s mastery of keeping his competitors/adversaries off balance by being unpredictable and perhaps willing to risk more than they might find comfortable. What I found most interesting, however, is your implication that the success of his strategies will be measured by how well republicans do in the next two election cycles. I doubt very much that Mr. Trump will measure his success that way. Given the governing impotence of establishment republicans – and their invariably gutless approach to any issue of substance – I would hardly use the bolstering of their numbers as a standard of success!  More likely, Mr. Trump will measure his success mainly by the positive economic impact of his America first policies and, to a lesser degree, the extent to which he can turn the tide on secular progressivism and revitalize American values. I’ll wager most voters will apply the same standards!” – Tom Hansen, Chaska, Minn.

[Ed. note: I am surprised, Mr. Hansen, by the degree to which you think those things mutually exclusive. In fact, I would think you would see the two as necessarily interconnected. If voters like what Republicans are doing, they will elect more Republicans. If there are more Republicans in Congress, it should be easier for President Trump to put his preferred policies in place. If those policies are successful, then Trump could be returned for a second term, but this time with a mandate to enact even more of his agenda. I have never seen any political organization in possession of such a self-destructive, self-loathing as today’s Republican Party. Its own members are ashamed of it. Its leaders are constantly attacking each other. And rank-and-file voters are obviously getting turned off. They’re just lucky that Democrats are so terrible at politics!] 

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TO BE FAIR, FAJITAS ARE DELICIOUS
AP: “A former South Texas juvenile justice department employee has been arrested for felony theft after authorities say he acknowledged stealing $1.2 million worth of fajitas over nine years. Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz tells The Brownsville Herald that Gilberto Escaramilla was fired in August and arrested after authorities obtained a search warrant and found packages of the Tex-Mex food in his refrigerator. Investigators subsequently checked vendor invoices and determined he would intercept county-funded food deliveries and deliver them to his own customers. The scheme imploded when he missed work one day in August for a medical appointment and a delivery driver showed up with 800 pounds of fajitas, but officials said the juvenile department didn’t serve fajitas. Escaramilla was arrested last week on the more serious felony theft charge.”

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. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I’ll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.