Fox News Halftime Report -- Trump, Manning and Obama’s leveraged legacy

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FOX News Halftime Report
By Chris Stirewalt

Jan. 18, 2017

On the roster: Trump, Manning and Obama's leveraged legacy - I'll Tell You What: Fish n' Polls - Heavy lifting on the Hill for Health, EPA, UN and Commerce - Audible: When you put it like that… - Bagged his limit


TRUMP, MANNING AND OBAMA'S LEVERAGED LEGACY
In his final press conference, President Obama will predictably face many questions about his decision to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of espionage in 2013.

Obama's decision to cut short Manning's 35-year sentence has garnered so much attention for two reasons. First, it intersects directly with the closing act of Obama's presidential story: implicating Russia in the election of his successor, Donald Trump. Second, because it involves sex and sexuality at the vanguard of the culture wars.

Manning was convicted as a man known as Bradley, but will be freed as a woman. In her defense for stealing and releasing an astonishing trove of state secrets from his post as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, Manning's defense team argued that her gender issues left her an outcast in the Army and adrift in a "hyper-masculine" environment.

In that way, as Bradley became Chelsea, the issue ceased to be as much about espionage and its consequences and more about American's perennial favorite: the culture wars.

It wasn't exactly that Manning claimed she committed the crimes because of the Army's failure to deal with her gender issues, but it was strongly intimated. As the military came to embrace new thinking on sex reassignment surgeries and transgenderism, Manning was cited as an example of negative outcomes of the status quo, basically: "You wouldn't have had this problem if the military was trans-friendly."

Whatever one thinks of the transgender acceptance movement or military policies, this doesn't add up to a lot when it comes to national security and statecraft. That's where Donald Trump and Russia come into the play.

Back when Manning was on trial, many on the left celebrated the publisher of his stolen documents, WikiLeaks, as speaking truth to the power of the corrupt former Bush administration and its militaristic foreign policy. Much as they would with intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, many Americans debated whether espionage was really treason if the American regime was truly unjust.

Dangling out over this moral precipice proved uncomfortable for some when Obama's policies were at issue. Many Democrats who had previously denounced Bush's Patriot Act and its contributions to a "surveillance state" felt a little queasy when it was their guy at the head of the government.

These debates substantially fell to the wayside as typically more hawkish Republicans weren't inclined to press the issue and Democrats were only too happy to see the controversies fade.

But unfinished business has a way of reasserting itself at the worst times. WikiLeaks, the once heroic publisher of state secrets about Bush's Iraq War became the prover of other material embarrassing to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. We may never know if Obama's reluctance to call out WikiLeaks and its patrons at the Kremlin was in part due to a desire to avoid revisiting the cases of Manning and Snowden, but it seems likely.

So after years of seemingly intention neglect, Obama found himself pushing the issue hard as he tried to convince the American people that Russia had a heavy hand in defeating his designated successor, Clinton. It took two months, but Obama and the intelligence community eventually wore down Trump and most of his supporters, forcing them to admit that the leaks of embarrassing Clinton documents was not the work of some heroic staffer bent on justice, but that of Russian agents looking to disrupt their old adversary system.

But just as that awareness was settling down on the national consciousness like a blanket of fresh snow, Obama comes tromping along carrying the Manning commutation and confusing the matter again.

If WikiLeaks is the handmaiden of the Kremlin, then what Manning did in providing it with state secrets is even more alarming.

Outgoing White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest went so far as to compare what Manning did to Trump's successful exploitation of Kremlin-hacked information. That's very bold talk. Earnest's complained of "astonishing…intellectual dishonesty" among Republicans for supporting Trump but opposing Manning's commutation may give us a hint at the thinking of the Obama administration.

Certainly, transgender issues are a part of the discussion, as is a post-facto effort to clean up a pretty rotten record on press freedom and transparency, but one wonders if this commutation isn't part of the overall effort to leave the mark of the Kremlin on Trump.

THE RULEBOOK: CALL HIM "MISTER"
"Could any further proof be required of the republican complexion of this system, the most decisive one might be found in its absolute prohibition of titles of nobility, both under the federal and the State governments; and in its express guaranty of the republican form to each of the latter." – James MadisonFederalist No. 39

TIME OUT: THE BEST $2,500 WE EVER SPENT
On this day in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson took the first official step towards exploring the West. History: "Jefferson had been trying to mount a western expedition of exploration since the 1790s, and his determination to do so had only grown since he became president in 1801. In summer 1802, Jefferson began actively preparing for the mission, recruiting his young personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to be its leader…Lewis carefully added up the costs for provisions, weapons, gunpowder, scientific instruments, and a large boat. The final tally came to $2,500. The largest item was $696, earmarked for gifts to Indians…Despite some mild resistance from Federalists who never saw any point in spending money on the West, Jefferson's carefully worded request prevailed…Lewis immediately began preparing for the expedition. Recruiting his old military friend, William Clark, to be his co-captain, the Corps of Discovery departed on their epic exploration of the uncharted regions in spring 1804."

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

I'LL TELL YOU WHAT: FISH N' POLLS
Polling, tweeting and the fawning over outgoing President Barack Obama takes the week's news. Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt give you their take on the busiest week since the election ended, and of course, talk which foods they would eat…from McDonald's. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE.

HEAVY LIFTING ON HILL FOR HEALTH, EPA, UN AND COMMERCE
Confirmation hearings backed up on Capitol Hill today like the tour buses on the 14th Street Bridge trying to bring visitors to the inauguration. Set to testify today are  President-elect Donald Trump's picks to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Georgia Rep. Tom Price; the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt; the U.S. delegation to the United Nations, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley; and the Department of Commerce, businessman, Wilbur Ross.

--Price explained that states will be in charge of the GOP's new ObamaCare replacement plan, and that the goal will be "insurance for everybody." He argued that financial assistance and accessibility to insurance will be part of helping states achieve this.

--Pruitt, who in the past has said global warming was a "hoax," changed his tune today saying, "Science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change." He also said he'd recuse himself from any cases involving his past, and a few still active, lawsuits against the EPA.

--Haley acknowledge that Russia committed war crimes in Syria by bombing civilians contrasting herself from secretary of state designee Rex Tillerson's hearing when he refused to say whether he felt Russia had committed such crimes.

--Ross says the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement will be "a very, very early topic" with the Trump administration. He also explained that he is pro-trade and pro-union.

Trump says he won't move the briefing room, but some won't have access to it - Reuters: "Trump's team had discussed moving news conferences out of the small West Wing briefing room to the Old Executive Office Building, which is part of the White House complex, incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday on ABC. 'The press went crazy, so I said, 'Let's not move it.' But some people in the press will not be able to get in,' Trump told Fox in the interview broadcast on Wednesday. 'We have so many people that want to go in so we'll have to just have to pick the people to go into the room - I'm sure other people will be thrilled about that,' he said. "But we offered a much larger room because we need a much larger room and we offered to do that, but they went crazy.' The current press room has about 49 seats, which are assigned by the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA)."

[Watch Fox: Bret Baier sits down with Vice President-elect Mike Pence ahead of Friday's inauguration. Watch "Special Report with Bret Baier" tonight at 6 p.m. ET]
 
PLAY-BY-PLAY
Trump's choices for budget director didn't pay taxes for household employee for years - NYT
a
Trump tells the tale of how he came up with his campaign slogan -
WaPo

And he's already got its successor for 2020… - WaPo

Creative differences: Screenwriter Rob Long explains why Hollywood should already know how to handle Trump - Variety

Former "Apprentice" contestant sues Trump for defamation - NYT

Nearly half of Americans disapprove of how Trump is handling the transition - CBS News

Obama approval rating stands at 60 percent at the end of his term - CNN

David Drucker reports that potential GOP Senate candidates advised to get Trump's blessing before running - WashEx

Sessions confirmation vote set for Tuesday - The Hill

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, made a secret trip to Syria, opposing her party's platform on the issue - Foreign Policy

AUDIBLE: INDOOR VOICES
"My doctor says if I sit outside in January, it likely will put me six feet under." Former President George H.W. Bush, 92, in a letter to President-elect Donald Trump offering his regrets for not being able to attend Trump's inauguration.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
"Of course 'The Donald' is viewed unfavorably by most Americans. Most of us are decent, considerate people. The persona he chooses to project is an arrogant, crude, braggart…How can he expect many of us - some of whom voted for him - to like that image? I'm prepared to judge his presidency based on the record. I hope it's a good one, because I did vote for him, but unless he drops the angry Tweets and shows some humility I'll never like him." – Mike Elvir, Fredericksburg, Texas

[Ed. note: You are not alone! Consider the WaPo/ABC News poll that showed that while most Americans took an unfavorable view of Trump the man, large majorities were optimistic about his ability to address economic and national security issues. In time, we would expect to see Trump's job approval and personal favorability numbers marry up. But for now, as so many voters have taken the same wait-and-see approach that you have, the two measures appear dissonant. Check back in April or so and you will find that attitudes about the man and his presidency have aligned one way or the other.]

"Yikes! Another analysis of polling. Is it the public's need to simplify and quantify complex processes without any predicative certainty that has driven us to these incessant polls and polls about polls or is it a full employment program for statisticians? Does the public really yearn for these statistical projections or has this polling cottage industry convinced us that they have value beyond an etch-a sketch picture?" – Ira B. Korman, Dallas

[Ed. note: We are social animals, Mr. Korman, and as such we want to know what the rest of the heard is doing. Sometimes we want to fit in and on other occasions take pleasure in iconoclasty .But no, I doubt, Americans will ever tire of knowing what their countrymen think. That is mostly harmless fun. The real issue is how politicians and people in power use polls. As we discussed Tuesday, some leaders become vassals to public opinion. A select few are able to use the polls to shape their strategies without being subsumed by them. My trade involves using polls to forecast political outcomes, and sometimes the shape of policy debates. And for that reason, I want more good polling, less bad polling and, probably vainly, a better understanding of how they work by the press and the public. Maybe next time…]

"Chris, always a huge fan of yours (and Dana too of course). How does the future of polling look when Donald Trump is still saying that they are rigged? Even when the election polls were actually pretty close considering the popular vote. I may not be from WV, but I spent one summer working in and around Charleston, so I always love the references. Keep up the good work." – Alex Andrews, Minneapolis

[Ed. Note: Cell phones are a bigger threat to polling than Donald Trump. Politicians have long taken umbrage at polls and still rely on them. What pollsters are wrestling with now is how to do predictive surveys in limited geographic areas. One reason so many state polls were off is because of the portability of telephone numbers. I could be the subject of a national poll, but am unavailable for state-level polling because I have a West Virginia phone number but haven't been eligible to vote in my beloved Mountain State for a decade. Online polls offer a potential solution, but are still limited by access and trust issues. The midterm polls in 2014 were deeply dissatisfying and may prove so again next year. I can tell by your thoughtful question that your time in Kanawha County did you well!]

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

BAGGED HIS LIMIT
WHNT: "LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala. - After a giant mix-up, a missing hunter was located safely.  He was in the Limestone County Jail. The Limestone County Sheriff's Department told WHNT News 19 that 50-year-old Randy Keith Holt was arrested for public intoxication just after 2 p.m. on Monday. Officials said that family members were unaware that Holt had been arrested and reported him missing. Once officers were made aware of the missing man's last name, they located him and called off the search. The Limestone County Sheriff's Department, ALEA, and multiple fire crews [searched for the] missing hunter…Authorities [coordinated] with Huntsville Air Traffic Control to bring in a low flying helicopter to do searches from the air…[and also used] dogs…to look for the missing man."

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

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