MERRY CHRISTMAS — WaPo profiles the town in Tenn. which never stopped saying Merry Christmas — BEHIND THE SCENES of Hariri’s strange sojourn to S. Arabia — B’DAYS: Karl Rove and Irene Sherman

politico 150x150 - MERRY CHRISTMAS -- WaPo profiles the town in Tenn. which never stopped saying Merry Christmas -- BEHIND THE SCENES of Hariri’s strange sojourn to S. Arabia -- B’DAYS: Karl Rove and Irene Sherman

Merry Christmas! MESSAGE FROM MAR-A-LAGO at 6:56 p.m. on Christmas Eve (@realDonaldTrump): “People are proud to be saying Merry Christmas again. I am proud to have led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!”

PALM BEACH POST: “A family tradition endured Sunday night as President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump attended the late Christmas Eve service at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach. …

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“During the greeting, several people gathered around the president to shake his hand. As Communion was offered, people who lined up next to Trump — who was seated on the center aisle — paused to say, ‘Merry Christmas,’ offer words of encouragement or, as one woman did, mouth, ‘Thank you.’

“‘The Rev. James Harlan’s homily focused on the power of words, and the differences between God’s word and the words used by people. ‘The word of God is more powerful and more transforming than any word you or I could utter,’ he said, noting the ‘destructive potential’ words can have. ‘God’s word is pure light,’ he added.”

MEANWHILE, AT THE VATICAN: AP/VATICAN CITY: “Pope laments ‘winds of war’ blowing around the world”: “‘The winds of war are blowing in our world and an outdated model of development continues to produce human, societal and environmental decline,’ the pope said in his traditional ‘Urbi et Orbi’ (‘to the city and to the world’) Christmas message and blessing from the central balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square. …

“He asked for peace for Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and prayed ‘that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders.’ Francis also prayed for an end to confrontation on the Korean Peninsula and that ‘mutual trust may increase.’” of his Christmas day message

A WHITE CHRISTMAS FOR MANY — AP/CHICAGO: “White Christmas on its way for Northeast, Midwest” — “If you live in the Northeast or Midwest, you’re not dreaming: It’s probably going to be a white Christmas … Out west, the Rocky Mountains have been pounded this weekend. The storm system attacking the Mississippi River and to the east started in Nebraska, swept across Iowa and will dump several inches of snow on Chicago. …

“New England could get up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow. Forecasters say the storm will sweep across the region late Sunday until midday on Christmas. Strong winds are predicted for Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island with gusts up to 65 mph … Mountain areas in parts of Colorado, Montana and Wyoming received more than 1 foot (30 centimeters) of snow, which started Saturday. It was good news for holiday skiers and resorts which have struggled with a slow start this season.”

FACT CHECK — JENNA JOHNSON in the WASHINGTON POST from LINDEN, TENNESSEE: “In a pro-Trump town, they never stopped saying ‘Merry Christmas’”: “In this rural Trump-supporting town, home to barely 1,000 people and at least 10 Christian churches, the word ‘holiday’ doesn’t seem to exist.

“Outside the county courthouse there’s an evergreen tree covered with colored lights and ornaments made by local students, along with a sign that reads: ‘Welcome to our Christmas tree.’ Light poles along Main Street are decorated with banners featuring Santa Claus and a greeting of ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS.’ The beauty shop window has a sign reading, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season.’At the town’s Christmas parade earlier this month, children scurried to scoop up candy, and adults shouted to one another, ‘Merry Christmas!’

“‘We’ve always said ‘Merry Christmas,’ said Melissa Cobb, 48, a local hairstylist wearing dangling cross earrings, who voted for President Trump and gathered before the parade with fellow church members and clients in the beauty salon where she works. She added that no one in the town has ever been offended by her saying the phrase.”

THE NYT A1 TREATMENT: “In Congress, G.O.P. Makes Its Mark,” by Sheryl Stolberg: “After a halting start, the Republican-controlled 115th Congress — sometimes in collaboration with President Trump, often despite him — has enacted surprisingly far-reaching conservative achievements in its first year, among them a long-promised rewrite of the tax code, oil drilling in the Arctic and a series of lifetime appointments to the judiciary.

“For the new year, Republican leaders in the House have their sights on decades-old programs for the poor that they say are too easily exploited by those who do not need them. Mr. Trump is expected to move forward with a long-promised program to rebuild roads, bridges and other infrastructure. And Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, is speaking gamely of bipartisanship, especially on legislation to protect young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, whose Obama-era protection from deportation will run out in March.

“Mr. Trump will host Mr. McConnell and Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin at Camp David in the first weekend of January to align on an agenda for 2018, beginning with infrastructure, his legislative director, Marc Short, said on ‘Fox News Sunday.’”

WHAT TRUMP IS HAPPY ABOUT — “No longer a ‘lonely battle’: How the campaign against the Mueller probe has taken hold,” by WaPo’s Michael Kranish, Devlin Barrett and Karoun Demirjian: “For months, efforts to discredit special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign flickered at the fringes of political debate. Now, the allegation that FBI and Justice Department officials are part of a broad conspiracy against President Trump is suddenly center stage, amplified by conservative activists, GOP lawmakers, right-leaning media and the president himself. The clamor has become a sustained backdrop to the special counsel investigation, with congressional committees grilling a parade of law enforcement officials in recent days. … The partisan atmosphere is a sharp departure from the near-universal support that greeted Mueller’s selection as special counsel in May — and threatens to shadow his investigation’s eventual findings.”

****** A message from Google Year in Search 2017: In 2017, the world asked “how…?” From “how to move forward” to “how to make a difference,” the questions we asked showed our shared desire to understand our experiences. Watch the film and see top trending lists from around the world at ******

GOOD LUCK WITH THAT! — “Putin opponent Alexei Navalny launches presidential bid,” by WaPo’s Andrew Roth in Moscow: “As a presidential campaign with predictable results kicks off in Russia, opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Sunday announced his dark-horse bid despite the government’s warnings that he will be disqualified before the ballots are printed for the March election.

“In a small forest and dacha community in the outer reaches of Moscow, exactly 742 supporters raised small red voting cards in support of the whistleblower turned opposition leader, who over the past half-decade has become the most dogged foe of President Vladimir Putin. Navalny needed at least 500 people to formally nominate him.

“‘Vladimir Putin, you should not be president anymore,’ he said during the meeting of an ‘initiative group’ to register his bid. ‘You are a bad president. You have no positive platform. We are sending you a message in these elections and are ready to win.’”

AP/GUATEMALA CITY: “Guatemala says it is moving embassy in Israel to Jerusalem”: “Guatemala was one of nine nations that voted with the United States and Israel on Thursday when the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a non-binding resolution denouncing Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Trump didn’t set any timetable for moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and neither did Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales.”

— LA TIMES: “There’s a sharp split among Christians over Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” by Noga Tarnopolsky in Jerusalem: “For many Holy Land Christians, Trump’s declaration was about as welcome as a biblical curse. For American evangelical Christians, it has largely been welcomed as an auspicious sign from on high. Hours before the declaration on Dec. 6, Jerusalem’s Orthodox Christian patriarchs and heads of local churches sent Trump a letter predicting that ‘such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.’”

FASCINATING READ — “Why Saad Hariri Had That Strange Sojourn in Saudi Arabia,” by NYT’s Anne Barnard and Maria Abi-Habib in Beirut: “Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, was summoned at 8:30 a.m. to the Saudi royal offices — unseemly early, by the kingdom’s standards — on the second day of a visit that was already far from what he had expected.

“Mr. Hariri, long an ally of the Saudis, dressed that morning in jeans and a T-shirt, thinking he was going camping in the desert with the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. But instead he was stripped of his cellphones, separated from all but one of his usual cluster of bodyguards, and shoved and insulted by Saudi security officers.

“Then came the ultimate indignity: He was handed a prewritten resignation speech and forced to read it on Saudi television. This, it seemed, was the real reason he had been beckoned to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, a day earlier: to resign under pressure and publicly blame Iran, as if he were an employee and not a sovereign leader. Before going on TV, he was not even allowed to go to the house he owns there; he had to ask guards to bring him a suit.

“As bizarre as the episode was, it was just one chapter in the storyof Prince Mohammed, the ambitious young heir apparent determined to shake up the power structure not just of his own country but of the entire region. At home, he has jailed hundreds of fellow princes and businessmen in what he casts as an anticorruption drive. Abroad, he has waged war in Yemen and confronted Qatar. The day Mr. Hariri was ordered to report to Riyadh, he was just a pawn in the crown prince’s overall battle: to rein in the regional ambitions of Saudi Arabia’s longtime rival, Iran.”

LET THE TALKS BEGIN! — AP/SEOUL: “N. Korea says it’s a ‘pipe dream’ that it will give up nukes”: “North Korea said it is a ‘pipe dream’ for the United States to think it will give up its nuclear weapons, and called the latest U.N. sanctions to target the country ‘an act of war’ that violates its sovereignty. …

“‘We define this ‘sanctions resolution’ rigged up by the U.S. and its followers as a grave infringement upon the sovereignty of our Republic, as an act of war violating peace and stability in the Korean peninsula and the region and categorically reject the ’resolution,’’ North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday. The ministry said the sanctions are tantamount to a ‘complete economic blockade’ of North Korea.

“‘If the U.S. wishes to live safely, it must abandon its hostile policy towards the DPRK and learn to co-exist with the country that has nuclear weapons and should wake up from its pipe dream of our country giving up nuclear weapons which we have developed and completed through all kinds of hardships,’ said the statement, carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.”

–“For North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, 2017 has been a very good year,” by WaPo’s Anna Fifield in Seoul: “As 2017 draws to a close, Kim can reflect on a year in which he’s not only kept his resolutions, he’s exceeded them: A missile that can fly 8,000 miles to reach Washington, D.C.? Check. A hydrogen bomb 17 times the size of the one the United States dropped on Hiroshima? Check. The whole world paying attention to him and taking him seriously? Double check. For good measure, Kim had his half brother and potential rival murdered in a gruesome chemical weapons attack, and dispensed with a bunch of top apparatchiks who might have had different ideas about how to run the country. And he’s done it all while facing a new and unconventional adversary in Donald Trump, a president who has mocked Kim as ‘Little Rocket Man’ and has repeatedly threatened military action.”

SPOTTED: Chelsea Clinton at Eataly in New York Sunday

CLICKERS – “Best political photos of 2017: Protests, big trucks and sheets of money,” curated by Kristen East 52 pix “Drawing Trump: Eight of the nation’s top cartoonists show us how they lampoon the president,” by Matt Wuerker:

LAWRENCE WRIGHT in The New Yorker, “The Dark Bounty of Texas Oil: Will the booms and busts of the energy industry always dominate the state?”: “Between January, 2015, and December, 2016, more than a hundred U.S. oil and gas producers declared bankruptcy, nearly half of them in Texas. This figure doesn’t count the financial impact on the pipeline, storage, servicing, and shipping companies that depend on the energy business, or the seventy-four billion dollars’ worth of debt that these bankruptcies left behind … Now that oil prices have stabilized, Texas’s economy is robust again. In recent years, it has finally begun to diversify, and now tops that of California in exporting technology, from semiconductors to communications equipment.”

2018 WATCH – “Democrats Leave Few Seats Unchallenged in Quest for House Control,” by NYT’s Rachel Shorey and Lilia Chang: “Representative Pete Sessions, a veteran Republican, was re-elected to his affluent Dallas-area House seat in 2016 with 71 percent of the vote, the remaining 29 percent split between the Libertarian and Green Party candidates. Hillary Clinton won the district by three percentage points, but no Democratic candidate even showed up to ride her coattails. In 2018, there will be 10.

“Federal Election Commission filings show that if a wave crasheson the Republican House majority in November, as many have predicted, Democratic surfers will be on their boards to catch it. Nearly a year out from the election, Democratic candidates have filed in all but 20 House districts held by Republicans. By comparison, Democrats in 80 districts do not have a Republican opponent for their seat. The Democrats are not just filing to run in districts where Mrs. Clinton performed well. They are also running for conservative seats that were uncontested in 2016 and where Republicans remain heavy favorites, in states like Texas, Arkansas and Nebraska.”

— “The top 10 House races to watch in 2018,” by Elena Schneider: “Illinois’ 6th District: Revenge of the suburbs (GOP Rep. Peter Roskam) … Utah’s 4th District: The reach seats (GOP Rep. Mia Love) … Virginia’s 10th District: Enormous Democratic primaries (GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock) … California’s 39th District: The most expensive race of 2018? (GOP Rep. Ed Royce) … Florida’s 26th District: Can a moderate Hispanic Republican survive Trump? (GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo) … Minnesota’s 8th District: Democrats in Trumpland (Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan) … Texas’ 7th District: Are you awake yet? (GOP Rep. John Culberson) … Nevada’s 4th District: Sexual harassment in 2018 (Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen) … New York’s 24th District: Who’s afraid of John Katko? … Iowa’s 1st District: Democrats’ old path meets their new campaigns (GOP Rep. Rod Blum)”.

THE (BATON ROUGE) ADVOCATE — “‘I’ve had an extraordinarily full life:’ Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco at peace with whatever lies ahead in terminal cancer diagnosis,” by Tyler Bridges: “There have been good days and bad days lately for former Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco. And she knows she is likely to have more bad ones than good ones in the days ahead. As Blanco announced two weeks ago, she is suffering from a rare type of liver cancer for which no cure exists. She may have only six months to live. Blanco, 75, a devout Catholic, says she is at peace with her fate, whatever it might be.

“‘I’ve had an extraordinarily full life,’ she told The Advocate during a four-hour visit to her Lafayette home that included dinner. She was elected twice to the state Legislature, twice to the Public Service Commission and twice as lieutenant governor. She made history when she was elected as the first female governor in Louisiana’s history in 2003. Though she’s at peace, she added: ‘I don’t want to leave this Earth. I don’t want to leave my family.’”

****** A message from Google Year in Search 2017: As this year draws to a close, Google analyzed Search Trends data to see what the world was searching for. The data showed that 2017 was the year we asked “how…?” How do wildfires start? How to calm a dog during a storm? How to make a protest sign? These questions show our shared desire to understand our experiences and come to each other’s aid. Watch the Year in Search 2017 and see top trending lists from around the world at ******

FOR YOUR RADAR — “Trump administration moves to boost homeland missile defense system despite multiple flaws,” by LA Times’ David Willman: “Citing North Korea’s growing nuclear and ballistic missile threat, the Trump administration is moving to vastly expand the problem-plagued homeland missile defense system despite warnings that the planned upgrades may not succeed. Immediate plans call for building two $1-billion radar installations and adding 20 rocket interceptors to the 44 already deployed in underground silos at Ft. Greely in Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. … But government reports and interviews with technical experts suggest the planned upgrades, including a redesigned kill vehicle, are unlikely to protect the United States from a limited-scale ballistic missile attack, the system’s stated mission.”

MEDIAWATCH — @JoeTrippi: “After 7 years, today on @MediaBuzzFNC was my last as a FOX contributor. All the best to friends I made and to viewers, some who called me their favorite Democrat & to others who are probably happy I decided it was time to move on. Merry Christmas! Wishing all a Happy New Year.”


–“Why Mata Hari Wasn’t a Cunning Spy After All,” by Pat Shipman in NatGeo – per’s description: “Sympathetic and engaging account of the life of the Dutch-born Margaretha Zelle, alias Mata Hari, who was ruined in youth by a syphillitic husband in the Dutch East Indies, recovered her fortunes by exotic dancing in Paris, thrived as a courtesan, dabbled in espionage hoping to aid the Allied cause in World War I, but was betrayed and abandoned by her French paymaster, who was himself a double-agent. She was executed secretly by a French firing-squad in October 1917.”

–“A New History of the First Peoples in the Americas,” by Adam Rutherford in The Atlantic: “The miracle of modern genetics has revolutionized the story anthropologists tell about how humans spread out across the Earth.”

–“The Forgotten Man,” by John Ganz in The Baffler: “On Murray Rothbard, philosophical harbinger of Trump and the alt-right.”

–“The Life and Times of a Teenage Oxycodone Dealer,” by Joe Eaton in Pacific Standard Magazine: “The high comes on fast, a euphoric feeling of life itself slowing down, a calm feeling of absolute contentment. But the feeling is fleeting. Thirty minutes later, an addict will be itching for more.”

–“The Mate Selection Trapdoor,” by Michael J. Ryan in Nautilus Magazine: “Tracing the evolution of hidden sexual preferences.”

–“Hitler at Home,” by Despina Stratigakos in Places: “Associating Hitler with Alpine scenery made him seem vibrant and tapped into the popularity of nature sports in Germany. Moreover such a stance seemed to be safely removed from his controversial ideological platform. While many voters found Hitler’s racism distasteful, it was difficult to be against hiking or nature. Likewise, photographs of Hitler with his dogs conveyed a love of animals.”

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Karl Rove is 67. His assessment of the Trump presidency so far: “A frothy mixture of the good (tax cut, deregulation, energy, good judges), the bad (the Obamacare debacle and the chaotic West Wing), the ugly (the President’s intemperate actions, divisive rhetoric and missed opportunities) and the inexplicable (a more internationalist foreign policy than expected) and the dangerous (threats to kill NAFTA or set off a trade war with China).” Read his Playbook Plus Q&A:

BIRTHDAYS: Jesus (manger tip: Luke) … Irene Sherman … Meredith Brokaw … Tim Miller, partner at Definers Public Affairs, is 36 (antler tip: Katie Packer Beeson) … Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is 46 … High 10 Media CEO Lisa Dallos … Hilary Krieger, Washington editor for FiveThirtyEight … Christina Romer, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers now at Berkeley, is 59 … Bill Bailey, VP of gov’t relations at Walt Disney Co., is 5-0 (stocking stuffer: Stewart Verdery) … Michelle Altman … Bob Mitchell … Gracey Jide … Stephanie O’Keefe, CEO of International Women’s Forum … Sophia Lalani, foreign policy and defense adviser to Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) (read a profile of Sophie: (tinsel tips: Jon Haber) … Visa’s Grace Maumbe … Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, is 51 … N.Y. Assemblyman Michael A. Blake, a former W.H. aide to Obama … Andrew Mulvey, the pride of De Pere, Wis., is 27 (holly boughs: Davis Manoushagian) … Kristen Glover (reindeer games: sisters Juleanna and Becca) … Piper Adams …

… Rachael Slobodien, comms director for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) … writer Chris Beam is 33 … Shengxiao Yu … Miranda Margowsky, press secretary for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) … Hans Morris, managing partner at VC and advisory firm Nyca Partners, part-owner of the Berkshire Eagle and former president of Visa … Steven Luckett … Jan Correa … Peter Kauffmann, a Hillary alum … Cat Cohen … Lynda Youngman … Jonathan Block … Elisabeth Hire … PR strategist Zachary Hastings Hooper … Amanda Munger of Melwood Global … Anne Wall, VP of the Duberstein Group … Sarah Levin … Scott Cottington … Robert Jameson … Michael Roston, senior staff editor for science at the NYT, is 4-0 … Rebecca Pilar Buckwalter-Poza … Christopher Connell … Daniel LeDuc is 57 … Carol Preston … Cheryl Moore … Kristen Shatynski … Murphie Barrett Koonce … James Fitzella … Christina Cornell … Dominic Gabello … Garrett Bess … John Tanner … Madhu Chugh … Cassie Goodwin … Elisabeth Hire (h/ts Teresa Vilmain)

****** A message from Google Year in Search 2017: As this year draws to a close, Google analyzed Search Trends data to see what the world was searching for. The data showed that 2017 was the year we asked “how…?” How do wildfires start? How to calm a dog during a storm? How to make a protest sign? All of the “how” searches featured in the Year in Search film were searched at least 10 times more this year than ever before. These questions show our shared desire to understand our experiences and come to each other’s aid.

From “how to watch the eclipse” and “how to shoot like Curry,” to “how to move forward” and “how to make a difference,” here’s to this Year in Search. Watch the film and see top trending lists from around the world at ******

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