By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's RICK KLEIN: Two minutes of "MITT" might show more of Mitt Romney than we saw in six years on the national stage. Tossing aside trite commentary about how "this Mitt" might have been president, the trailer for the Romney documentary set for a Netflix debut next month looks remarkably revealing. His family's glassy eyes on election night, ironing his own sleeve in a hotel room, asking his sons what he should say in conceding defeat - these are human moments that don't get revealed despite the focus on the humanity of our candidates. Here's hoping a few hours of "MITT" can redraw some caricatures.
ABC's JEFF ZELENY: President Obama's decision to nominate Sen. Max Baucus as the next ambassador to China is a timely reminder that the White House often has an unexpected card to play. Not only does it get Baucus out of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's hair going into next year - the two are famously not close - it also could help reshape the mid-term election field. While Democrats still have an uphill battle holding onto the Senate seat in Montana, this at least gives them a more of a fighting chance because the remainder of Baucus' term is likely to be filled by John Walsh, the state's lieutenant governor, who is already running for the Senate. But this development, along with the House retirements earlier this week, is a lesson that the 2014 field isn't fully set.
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: A conservative group led by former Kansas Rep. Jim Ryun, The Madison Project made its latest endorsement today backing a Republican challenger, Dr. Milton Wolf, over incumbent GOP Sen. Pat Roberts. Roberts has served for three terms in the Senate after eight terms in the House and his new opponent is not only a physician who has been campaigning against Obamacare he says he is a distant relative of President Barack Obama. The Madison Project's biggest priority this cycle is ousting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for Matt Bevin in Kentucky, but they are steadily backing other conservative challengers around the country. "We've interviewed dozens of candidates this cycle, but few are as passionate and articulate in defense of restoring our Republic as Dr. Milton Wolf," Ryun said in a statement. "Even though he has never held public office, Dr. Wolf has exhibited a command of the issues and a dedication to conservative values that is lacking among most individuals in Washington. Senator Roberts has served admirably for a number of decades, but if we ever hope to rebuild the Senate majority on a solid conservative foundation, we need fewer career politicians and more citizen leaders like Milton Wolf."
WHAT WE'RE WATCHING
NORTHERN EXPOSURE: ALASKA TEA PARTY CANDIDATE JOE MILLER BACK IN THE FIGHT. Joe Miller is back in the fray. The Tea Party Republican, who made a name for himself by beating incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska's Republican primary in 2010, now has his sights set on another Alaska challenge in 2014. This time, he'll be trying to defeat Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. "The reason why I'm at it again, despite the punishment that brutal campaign up in Alaska has for us, the fact is, we can only do the fight," said Miller, who ultimately lost to Murkowski in the 2010 general election after she ran a successful write-in campaign. Miller praised the recent efforts of Sens. Ted Cruz, R- Texas, and Mike Lee, R- Utah, to stall the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and told "Top Line's" RICK KLEIN and MICHAEL FALCONE that he would join forces with them on future efforts to unseat Begich. "I would absolutely be hand-in-hand with both he and Mike Lee, Rand Paul and the work that they're doing," Miller said. "And I think we're going to have greater numbers than just Joe Miller added to that liberty caucus, if you will." WATCH: http://yhoo.it/1klqbLR
OBAMAS COURT MOMS IN HEALTH CARE PUSH. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama teamed up yesterday to enlist the help of a unique force to urge families and young people to sign up for health care coverage: Moms. "There's something about moms," the president told reporters, after sitting down at the White House with a group of mothers, according to ABC's MARY BRUCE. "Number one, they got credibility generally; number two, women oftentimes are the ones who are making the health care decisions in the family; number three, moms can tell young people who think they're invincible that they're not and prod them to at least get information." As HealthCare.gov recovers from its "rocky start," the president said he's "absolutely confident that the demand is there, the need is there." Making a rare joint appearance in the Oval Office, the First Lady said "it's our job as mothers to make sure that our young people are informed about their 'invincibility,' to make sure that other moms and families out there really understand what this law provides and that they can take advantage of it."
TODAY ON CAPITOL HILL: Today the Senate will vote on final passage of the National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate invoked cloture yesterday, but no final vote has been scheduled yet and it might not come until late tonight, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ notes. The Senate then still has to work through ten nominations, which if all time is used, could have the Senate working through the weekend.
WHITE HOUSE TO NOMINATE MAX BAUCUS AS AMBASSADOR TO CHINA. Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat who has served in the Senate for more than three decades, is President Obama's choice to be the next U.S. ambassador to China, ABC's JEFF ZELENY and ARLETTE SAENZ report. Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, had already announced his plans to step down from the Senate next year. When he announced his decision not to run in 2014, Baucus, 72, said he looked forward to returning to "the Montana public lands we've fought hard to keep open and untarnished." While Baucus and Obama have never been particularly close, they share a key aide: Jim Messina, who helped broker the deal. Messina, the 2012 campaign manager for Obama, was a former chief of staff to Baucus and considers him his closest friend. If confirmed, Baucus would replace Gary Locke, who has served as ambassador to China since 2011 and announced he plans to step down in early 2014. Baucus was one of the key Senate advocates who helped pass Obama's health care law, and he has been a lead voice on taxes and trade in his nearly 36 years in the Senate. http://abcn.ws/19eUx0o
-MEANWHILE IN MONTANA: If Sen. Baucus leaves his seat before his term expires, Montana rules would allow for Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to appoint a replacement, who would fill Baucus' seat until the next general election in November. This would allow Bullock to appoint a fellow Democrat, who could then run as the incumbent in 2014.
TOP U.S. OFFICIALS FLY TO CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC. Two top U.S. diplomatic officials flew to the war-torn Central African Republic this morning, marking the highest-level U.S. visit there since the country devolved into chaos that has left hundreds dead in the past weeks, reports ABC's CHRIS GOOD. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield landed in the Central African Republic (CAR) capital of Bangui this morning. The two will meet with government and religious leaders to press for peace and security as international troops confront an alarming situation, with Muslim and Christian militias engaged in widespread religious reprisal killings. "President Obama, Secretary [of State John] Kerry and I have all been deeply disturbed by reports of ongoing brutality in the Central African Republic," Power told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. Media outlets agreed not to publish her comments until her scheduled landing in the country. "Mobs have been going door to door," Power said. "Urgent action is required to save lives." Last week alone, over 600 people were killed across CAR and 159,000 driven from their homes in Bangui, the United Nations office of the high commissioner for human rights said on Friday. http://abcn.ws/JFfVQ2
'TWAS THE WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS ON CAPITOL HILL… An original poem by ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ:
Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the Senate, 65 senators exchanged gifts, including Cruz and Bennet.
Al Franken set up the Secret Santa exchange, For senators to trade presents in the fifteen dollar range
Hatch gave Elizabeth Warren donuts, Gillibrand gave Manchin a bottle of whiskey Manchin gave Rubio a coal statue - in the shape of an elephant and donkey!
Now the Senate must vote on the budget, defense money and Janet Yellen But some in the GOP don't like what the Democrats are sellin'
So soon we shall see if Republicans will put up a year-end fight, Before the Senate says "Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!"
-BACKSTORY: On Tuesday night, the Senate turned from its bickering and dysfunction to a Secret Santa exchange to spread some holiday cheer on Capitol Hill. For the third year in a row, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., organized the official Senate Secret Santa exchange, where 23 Republicans and 42 Democrats swapped small gifts. Senators had a gift limit of $15 and kept their gifts and recipients a secret until Tuesday night. Franken picked Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and gave him a hand drawn map that highlighted states which were important in Donnelly's life. Many of the gifts were tied to senators' home states. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., bought chocolates from Pennsylvania's Gertrude Hawk Chocolates, which he gave to Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska. Casey, in turn, received chocolates and coffee from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, gave Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., donuts and coffee from Massachusetts-based Dunkin Donuts. Warren purchased her favorite lotion from Plum Island Soap Company in Massachusetts for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., while Gillibrand selected a bottle of whiskey from her home state of New York to give to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V. Manchin likely had the most creative twist on his gift to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. The West Virginia senator, who comes from a coal producing state, gave Rubio a statue made of coal that was in the bipartisan shape of an elephant and donkey. http://abcn.ws/J699SV
OBAMACARE HIPSTER IN P.J.S LURES YOUNG, HEALTHY. Just days before the first major Obamacare enrollment deadline, it's an all-out battle to attract the young and healthy, ABC's DEVIN DWYER notes. Yesterday Organizing for Action, President Obama's independent advocacy group, launched a social media blitz urging uninsured millennials to "have the talk" about health care. An image graphic - featuring a young man wearing flannel, checkered pajamas - circulated widely on Twitter and Facebook with the slogan, "Wear pajamas. Drink hot chocolate. Talk about getting health insurance." It was also parodied by critics of Obamacare. Video ad campaigns across the country are also underway: Paul Bunyan on water skis makes the pitch in Minnesota; in Oregon, a guitar-strumming hipster sells Obamacare with a catchy tune; frat boys doing keg stands try to capture attention in Colorado; and then, a dancing Obama impersonator spoofs Snoop to tell kids, Sign up 'cause it's hot." http://abcn.ws/1eqylCv
GOV. NIKKI HALEY BREAKS WOOD WITH BARE HANDS. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is apparently not to be messed with, ABC's ABBY PHILLIP notes. Haley's office Wednesday posted a video of the Republican governor demonstrating her hand-breaking- skills in the statehouse yesterday. Haley, not actually a tae kwon do master, was also awarded an honorary fourth-degree black belt by representatives from the state's largest tae kwon do tournament. The governor, 41, had previously declared the last Saturday of September as Tae Kwon Do Day in South Carolina. Her black belt is emblazoned with her name in both English and Korean. http://abcn.ws/1i3P8vy
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
GEORGE BUSH 'FACE SOCKS' RAISE HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS FOR CHARITY. The self-declared "sock man," former President George H. W. Bush, is putting his love of eccentric socks to good use this holiday season, according to ABC's NICKI ROSSOLL. The 41 st president recently gave his red-striped socks featuring his own face on them to the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce in Maine, according to HuffPost Impact. The unique socks were auctioned last week and sold to the highest bidder for $535. Jim McGrath, Bush's spokesman and speechwriter, tweeted about the successful sock auction yesterday. Bush , 89, caught lots of attention when he wore the socks earlier this month to accept a service award from the Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation. http://abcn.ws/1i2mPO4
@ruthreichl: Radiant morning. Bright. Clear. Sunny. Christmas tea: fruit, nuts, vanilla. Gingerbread. Warm applesauce. Icy tangerines. Winter!
@SenJohnMcCain: Speaking @AtlanticCouncil later this AM on my trip to #Ukraine, the crisis there & path fwd. Watch live: http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/events/webcasts/webcast-ukraine-s-infection-point-us-strategy-toward-europe-s-east-with-senator-john-mccain … #ACUkraine