Fox News Halftime Report -- Trump thumps House GOP

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FOX NEWS HALFTIME REPORT
Jan. 3, 2016
By Chris Stirewalt

On the roster: Trump thumps House GOP
- Fight on ObamaCare replacement heats up - Trump jacks up GM with tweet - Ford demonstrates towing capacity - Red eye, indeed

TRUMP THUMPS HOUSE GOP
It was probably never a good idea for House Republicans to use a procedural gimmick to change ethics rules. It was definitely foolish to do it as their first order of business in the new Congress.

House Speaker Paul Ryan told them so, but his lieutenants were not interested in optics as they prepared to clamp down on the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

Two tweets from President-elect Donald Trump, however, were enough. In a sharp turn, lawmakers dropped their gambit today.

Trump was understandably miffed at the ham-fisted move by the new Congress to make disempowering watchdogs the first order of business. Not only is it a distraction from his preferred narratives, it also called attention to vast and unresolved questions about Trump's own ethical quandaries.

What was surprising, though, was that Trump would take on his own party so directly and so publicly.

As Trump acknowledged in his tweets, critics of the ethics office have a point to make. Instituted by Democrats in the wake of the shameful scandals that helped end the previous GOP House majority, the office gives considerable power to anonymous accusers.

It's not unreasonable for lawmakers to be uncomfortable with the idea that their reputations and careers might be undone in a secret process. As we saw with Wisconsin's nameless "John Doe" prosecutions, the possibilities for political mischief are real.

But taking on the office as the first order of business and doing so in a way that smacks of procedural shenanigans was foolish.

Perhaps Ryan encouraged Trump to launch the tweets, and is gratified by the result. More likely, however, Trump saw another news story sweeping in that was unhelpful to him and decided that he would change the course of the storm.

That seems more likely to be the case since House members told Fox News that the measure was being killed even before Trump tweeted. But now, rather than doing so on their own, House members appear to have done it at the demand of the incoming president.

That will make Trump look good but it will cause resentments.

Barack Obama's presidency suffered because of his inability to engage with Congress directly. Standoffish and uninterested in the backslapping that comes with presidential vote wrangling, Obama was aloof.

Trump seems to be going quite the opposite direction. As he watches the legislative sausage making that will take place for the next 17 days until he is inaugurated, one imagines he will be tempted to engage even more.

But he could end up with the same sense from his party that Obama suffered with among Democrats: It's all about him.

Style should perhaps not matter so much when it comes to making of laws. But it does. There will be a grace period for Trump, perhaps even more than for most presidents given his unfamiliarity with the process.

But the long-term denizens of official Washington will eventually bite back. And they have ways to frustrate any president's agenda and cause frustrations and embarrassments as yet unseen.

Presidents build loyalty in their parties by delivering donations and victories to its members. But the first step is deference.

So far, Congress hasn't mattered to Trump's sudden, astonishing success. That's going to change a great deal in the coming days. How he manages this relationship will be key to his success or failure.

FIGHT ON OBAMACARE REPLACEMENT HEATS UP
As Donald Trump pointed out in a couple of tweets today, ObamaCare is not anyone's favorite federal entitlement program. Congressional Republicans are banking on broad dissatisfaction with the 2010 law as they move to swiftly start dismantling President Obama's signature initiative.

Certainly the repeal is the fun and easy part. Doing so means not only pleasing the Republican base, but also has other niceties like a massive tax cut. The current plan in Congress calls for eating dessert first: repeal the law now, but work out its replacement over the next few years.

Conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and liberals like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are crying foul, albeit for different reasons. The concern on the right is that whatever comes next will be too expensive, too intrusive and not focused on free-market solutions. On the left, the concerns are about throwing the $20 million people covered under the law off of their health insurance.

What Republicans are trying to do now is shift the focus away from the question of health insurance and on to health care. If the standard is how many people have coverage, any disruption, no matter how gradual, could turn the change into the liability. If the focus becomes the cost of care as it was prior to ObamaCare, then the GOP has a shot at selling a replacement plan.

Either way, Republicans seem unlikely to be able to agree on a replacement before the promised repeal comes due. The question for both conservatives and liberals: can they effectively threaten to block the repeal until the replacement is laid out.

President Obama heads to the Hill Wednesday, as does Vice President-elect Mike Pence and they're both expected to talk about ObamaCare with members of their parties.

That's a good reflection of how dominant this fight is likely to become.

THE RULEBOOK: THE UNSOCIAL NETWORK
"This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties." – John JayFederalist No. 2

TIME OUT: THE FIRE AND THE FLOOD
NatGeo: "'Late in the autumn of 1680 the good people of Manhattan were overcome with terror at a sight in the heavens such as has seldom greeted human eyes,' history tells us. That terrible sight was a comet so bright that it could be seen in daytime. But…the Great Comet of 1680 was not a portent of doom but a scientific blessing. Sir Isaac Newton observed the comet, and his calculations of its trajectory confirmed his universal theory of gravitation…The comet of 1680 would likewise inspire one of Newton's closest colleagues and friends: the mathematician William Whiston, whose intricate calculations would bring him fame in Europe. This comet, he declared, had passed close to Earth thousands of years ago…In short, Whiston concluded, the same comet seen by incredulous sky-watchers in the 17th century also unleashed the epic rainfall and great Flood that had cleansed the Earth of sinners in Biblical times."

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

TEAM TRUMP PROMISES PRESSER… SOON
President-elect Donald Trump's team says he will hold his first press conference since July on or about Jan. 11. The original date was Dec. 15, but Trump called it off while his team formulated an approach to untangling Trump from his businesses. After going nearly half a year without a press conference, what are the big issues he'll have to address?

--Conflicts of interest: Trump made a special New Year's Eve shout out to his business partner, Emirati billionaire Hussain Sajwani, with whom Trump built one golf course in Dubai and is in the process of building another. The celebratory toast highlights again the complexities of having a developer for a president. Could foreign governments threaten or try to bribe him by doing or cancelling deals with his company even if he is not running it on a day-to-day basis?

--Russia: Also at his New Year's Eve party, Trump told assembled reporters that he knew "things that other people don't know" about Russia's involvement in the presidential election. Trump claimed he would make his information public today or Wednesday, but if he doesn't this will be a key point, especially as Republican lawmakers intend to have their committees look further into the matter. As WSJ's Bret Stephens observes, politicizing intelligence has serious consequences. The only claim out so far this week is one from Julian Assange, who published some of the stolen documents. Assange, who formerly hosted a show on Russian state television, told Sean Hannity that Russia was not the source.

--Anxious electorate: A new Gallup survey shows less than half of Americans think Trump is capable of handling his duties, a dramatic decrease from President Obama or George W. Bush when they entered office.

TRUMP JACKS UP GM WITH TWEET
The Detroit News: "President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened General Motors Co. with a 'big border tax' on Chevy Cruze cars built in Mexico and imported for sale in the United States. The Republican businessman has proposed a 35 percent import tariff on Mexican-made vehicles and often targeted Ford Motor Co. during his hard-fought campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton. He turned his focus on General Motors in a Tuesday morning tweet. 'General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to U.S. car dealers-tax free across border,' he wrote. 'Make in U.S.A. or pay big border tax!'"

Ford demonstrates towing capacity - Reuters: "Ford Motor Co said Tuesday it will cancel a planned $1.6 billion factory in Mexico and will invest $700 million at a Michigan factory as it expands its electric vehicle and hybrid offerings. The second largest U.S. automaker had come under harsh criticism from President-elect Donald Trump for its Mexican investment plans."

SUBSTITUTIONS
--Robert Lighthizer, former deputy trade representative under Ronald Reagan, is Trump's pick for U.S. trade representative.

--Marc Short, a top adviser to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, is set as director of legislative affairs for the Trump White House, reports Politico.

AUDIBLE: BUT YOU CAN DENOUNCE IT IN JUST 72!
"'Making America Great Again' requires more than 140 characters per issue." – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in his address today on the floor.

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Obama to give farewell address in Chicago next week, likely last trip outside Washington as president - Fox News

Pitched battle between Keith Ellison, Tom Perez for DNC chairmanship -  The Hill

Trump transition team asks Homeland Security for documents on assets relating to border wall, barrier construction - Reuters

Oops: WaPo walks back report about Russia hacking Vermont utility - WaPo

Michael Knox Beran mediates on what happens in a world of alienated hyperconnectivity -
NRO

FROM THE BLEACHERS
"Your assertion 'Kellyanne Conway…the best Trump-to-English translator in the business' brought a chuckle.  Your media colleagues and the political establishment may need a translator, but most of us Trump voters (proud to be Hillary's 'deplorables') understand Donald Trump himself.  We have since the early days of the primaries.  The voters get it, the elites do not." – Phil Reberger, Boise, Idaho

[Ed. note: Like any good contractor, Trump knows to put in plenty of exits. The most politically useful thing about Trump's linguistic somersaults is that meanings change with the moment. We've seen the course play out many times. Trump says something dramatic but vague. The media freaks out, shifting the debate to Trump's topic and, sometimes, his terms. Trump then clarifies and re-clarifies and re-clarifies again until he ends up with a position that he likes and is politically sustainable. Watching him throw a verbal asterisk on what had sounded like an absolute ban on Muslims entering the United States in December 2015 was a perfect example. Trump was talking, reading from his script and then he seemed to realize he would need some more wiggle room in this policy. As if it had just come to him, Trump added the phrase, "…until our countries' representatives can figure out what the hell is going on." It's about to get harder, though. Candidates have one job: win the election. Presidents have thousands of jobs and things can get complicated quickly. As his pronouncements turn in to policies, Trump will be well served by having a communications consigliere as skilled as Conway. She understands the limits of language, but also knows her boss' style and strategy. The new president's success or failure could depend a great deal on her ability to translate Trump.]

"I was not a Trump supporter at the beginning but I appreciate how he made it through the primaries. He may not be a policy wonk but he knows how to get things done and hire people who are doers not thinkers. Hillary's and the Democratic supporters' self-righteousness, arrogance and self-entitlement was their downfall.  Too bad they are not taking the high road that they preach about." – Brian Repsher, Arlington Heights, Ill.

[Ed. note: One of the minor miracles of Trump's election has been the sudden embrace of federalism and the division of powers by liberals. It has been odd to see the American left fall in love with Alexander Hamilton over the last two years. The Broadway musical that bears his name is really good, but not so good, I wouldn't have thought, to make the founding federalist attractive to populist-leaning Democrats. We may have unwittingly been witnessing the acceleration of a shift as the Republicans become a party of the masses and the Democrats become the party of the elites. If that's the case, then handing off Hamilton was perhaps a natural progression of things. Whatever the case, liberals' new love for the limitations on government power bear out what Hamilton and his fellows knew: faction is helpful when put to the cause of restraining the Leviathan.]

"Hollywood didn't support the President-Elect before the election so why ask them to be involved following it. Trump's movement was by the common man so I suggest all the performers be 'common people' - nobody with any big name.  There are LOTS of extremely talented folks in the USA who would jump at the chance to be a part of the activities. Start the whole thing off with Copland's 'Fanfare for the Common Man.' There would be no more fitting piece of music." – Robert Holcomb, San Antonio

[Ed. note: There would be some real resonance to what you suggest, Mr. Holcomb. But a couple of things to bear in mind: adding the responsibilities of talent scout to the already over-burdened Trump transition team seems like a bit of excess, and inaugurations are moments to celebrate and fit for fanfare. Perhaps a better solution would be to simply return to the days when marching bands provided the entertainment, save a special rendition of a patriotic anthem by a great singer for the ceremony, and cut out the star search. The newly inaugurated president needs a band for the inaugural ball he hosts, but the rest of the festivities can be handled by the individual states and organizations that put them on. Let 2017 be John Philip Souza's revenge!]

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

RED EYE, INDEED
WUSA9: "A baggage handler was locked in with the luggage on a flight from Charlotte, North Carolina to the D.C. area. United Airlines confirmed the airline's worker survived the flight in the plane's cargo area on New Year's Day. Workers discovered the employee when the plane landed at Dulles. Police told the CBS affiliate in Charlotte the man's name is Reginald Gaskin. The airline said United Express flight 6060 was operated by Mesa Airlines out of the Charlotte Douglas Airport. The airline is investigating how Gaskin became locked in the luggage area."

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES
"I think their case that this is largely political on the part of Obama is true. But that doesn't mean that the Russians weren't behind it and that the U.S. ought to make a strong response." – Charles Krauthammer on "Special Report with Bret Baier."

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

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