By SHUSHANNAH WALSHE ( @shushwalshe )
ABC's JEFF ZELENY: As the world pauses to remember the legacy of Nelson Mandela, a period of reflection will also fall over Washington in the coming days. It's one of those rare times in the capital where partisan divisions ease and a spirit of unity comes alive, with President Obama leading a delegation of living American presidents to South Africa for a celebration of Mandela's life. But even as tributes pour in, this extraordinary moment in history is unlikely to change any of the critical end-of-year issues facing Congress. It will take some attention away from health care and budget battles, perhaps giving negotiators a bit more latitude to reach consensus, but the challenges still remain and the days to solve them are winding down.
ABC's RICK KLEIN: As official Washington pauses to remember an icon of the last century, Mandela's legacy will be used to inspire and justify all manner of issues he was nowhere near. His passing has the impact of making our differences feel small, even petty and often close to pointless. It happens that, in the domestic politics of the moment, we're close to some modest but not unimportant bipartisan breakthroughs. At the very least, the real possibility exists that we can break out of the cycle of brinkmanship and confrontation on budget matters, if only temporarily. There are worse tributes to Mandela's legacy than to enter this holiday season with a touch of peace, and peace of mind.
DEMOCRATS: NO BUDGET DEAL WITHOUT UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE EXTENSION. The White House and its Democratic allies are pushing to continue a jobless benefits program set to expire for over a million long-term unemployed without congressional intervention, ABC'S MATTHEW LAROTONDA reports. And while whispers persisted this week that Congress could be close to a budget deal before their holiday break, today Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said her party's negotiators were insistent on an extension as a bargaining chip. "Yes, indeed, we are making a very clear statement that we cannot, cannot support a budget agreement that does not include unemployment insurance in the budget or as a sidebar in order to move it all along," she said at a Democrats-only hearing on the uninsured. "It would undermine who we are as a country." … Congressional Republicans have resisted an extension against a backdrop of ongoing budget negotiations. If a deal was close, the EUC's $25 billion price tag could worry some lawmakers over taking on the added cost. Similarly, $5 billion in expanded food stamps assistance was allowed to expire last week - a further indication of the climate surrounding the talks. Responding to reporters today, House Speaker Boehner told press he didn't rule out an extension. "If the president has a plan for extending unemployment benefits, I'd surely entertain taking a looking at it. But I would argue the president's real focus ought to be creating a better environment for our economy and creating more jobs for the American people," Boehner said. "That's where the focus is, not more government programs." But on Tuesday one of the Republican negotiators working on a deal said he didn't see movement coming from his party. http://abcn.ws/IHoycb
WH CONFIRMS RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN OBAMA AND UNDOCUMENTED UNCLE. Two days after an immigration judge ruled that President Obama's Kenyan uncle could stay in the United States, the White House today acknowledged that the president lived briefly with Onyango "Omar" Obama, despite having previously claimed there was no record of their ever meeting. "The president first met Omar Obama when he moved to Cambridge for law school. The president did stay with him for a brief period of time until his apartment was ready. After that, they saw each other once every few months, but after law school they fell out of touch. The president has not seen him in 20 years, has not spoken with him in 10," White House spokesman Eric Schultz told ABC. ABC's MARY BRUCE notes, Last year, the White House claimed their records showed Omar Obama and the president had never met. At his deportation hearing in Boston earlier this week, however, Omar Obama, who has lived in the U.S. for 50 years, reportedly revealed that his nephew stayed with him in Cambridge for roughly three weeks. It turns out, the White House never directly asked the president about his previous relationship with Omar Obama, who is his father's half-brother. http://abcn.ws/IGpjSN
BOEHNER'S RX FOR GOP'S WOMEN WOES: BE MORE SENSITIVE. Some Republican lawmakers have a sensitivity problem that hurts them with women voters, House Speaker John Boehner acknowledged in a press conference today. "You know, when you look around the Congress, there are a lot more females in the Democratic caucus than there are in the Republican caucus," Boehner said. "And you know, some of our members just aren't as sensitive as they ought to be." ABC's ABBY PHILLIP notes, The comments come after a report in Politico today indicating that the National Republican Congressional Committee is holding sensitivity training sessions to try to teach lawmakers how to avoid more of the headline-making and insensitive comments about women that hurt them in 2012. In particular, Todd Akin, a former Congressman from Minnesota, lost his bid to oust incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill in the 2012 Senate race, in part due to the controversy stemming from his comments that pregnancy rarely occurs after "legitimate rape." http://abcn.ws/ISrDHx
¿COMPRENDE? CAPITOL COP BERATES IMMIGRATION CAROLERS. The Capitol Grinch was on full display today when a group of immigration activists, including several children, sang outside House Speaker John Boehner's congressional office in the Longworth House Office Building. ABC's JOHN PARKINSON writes, Singing to the melody of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" the group altered the familiar refrain to "We pray for Speaker Boehner, we pray for Speaker Boehner, we pray for Speaker Boehner …" In an exchange captured on-camera and posted on YouTube, an officer with the U.S. Capitol Police, apparently not in the Christmas mood, expressed his annoyance at the frequent protests, leveling a direct warning to the demonstrators to stop singing. "Not going to have it. Warning number one. That's all you get," the officer boomed. "This is getting old real fast. I'm not going to tolerate it. This is a place of business, and we do not sing in the hallways. ¿Comprende?" The children looked frightened as one activist assured them they were safe. "We got it, sir," the activist answered the officer in English. "We're going to pray quietly. We're not going to sing." The officer indicated he was going to stick around before reiterating his irritation: "This is getting old real fast. Every day," the officer complains. "I'm done. I'm going to start making arrests." http://abcn.ws/1bKVMEv
OBAMA DROPS HINTS ABOUT POST-PRESIDENCY LIFE. John Quincy Adams once proclaimed: "There is nothing more pathetic in life than a former president." It may not be leader of the free world, but life after the U.S. presidency is hardly bleak. Many former commanders-in-chief have used their ample amount of free time to build up lucrative speaking careers, delve into philanthropic causes and even take up new hobbies - like painting, ABC'S ANNETA KONSTANTINIDES writes It's now that time in a president's second term when questions are being asked about what President Obama's second act will be. During a Nov. 26 visit to Jeffery Katzenberg's DreamWorks Animation campus in Glendale, Calif., Obama revealed he's set his sights on his dream job post-presidency. "At least I know what I want to do when I retire … host ESPN's SportsCenter's Top 10 List," he said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. http://abcn.ws/18HLowY
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
US PREPARES TO DESTROY SYRIAN CHEMICAL WEAPONS AT SEA. A U.S. cargo vessel equipped with special gear could be neutralizing some of Syria's most dangerous chemical weapons at sea come January. Once started, the process of neutralizing 500 tons of the chemical components used to make mustard gas and sarin gas could be completed within 45 to 90 days, Pentagon officials said today. No final decisions have been made yet by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), but it appears increasingly likely that the agency will accept an offer from the United States to destroy the dangerous chemicals at sea. The reserve merchant vessel MV Cape Ray, currently in Norfolk, Va., is in the process of being equipped with two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems, Pentagon officials said in a press briefing. These systems add water and bleach to dangerous chemicals, converting them into an inert liquid byproduct. Though this process has never been carried out at sea, the officials said hydrolysis is "a proven technology" that will result in "a very low risk operation." About 100 personnel will be aboard the ship, 60 of them Defense Department civilians working with the hydrolysis systems, officials said. The rest will include security contractors and OPCW inspectors to verify that the chemicals are being neutralized. The Cape Ray will undergo sea trials in a few weeks so the hydrolysis systems can undergo operational testing, officials said, with the expectation that it will be ready to sail in January. However, there are still gaps in the OPCW's plans for where the neutralization of the Syrian chemicals will actually take place. The OPCW's timeline calls for the 500 metric tons of "priority one" chemicals to be removed from Syria by Dec. 31. An additional 800 metric tons of less dangerous chemical precursors will be destroyed by one of 35 companies that have bid for the contract, officials said. http://abcn.ws/18Gwozy
WHAT WE'RE READING
"NELSON MANDELA'S PRISON ADVENTURES," by NPR'S GREG MYRE. On Christmas Eve 1986, a South Africa prison commander responsible for watching over Nelson Mandela casually asked the world's most famous prisoner, "Mandela, would you like to see the city? Mandela was completely surprised, but agreed. The prison commander, Lt. Col. Gawie Marx, promptly put Mandela in his car for a leisurely drive around Cape Town, one of the world's most scenic cities. They traveled the stunning cliff-side road overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. They meandered around the city for several hours, watching white South Africans go shopping, walk their dogs, or just enjoy the sun. At one point, Marx pulled into a convenience store to buy cold drinks, leaving Mandela alone in the car for several minutes. "For the first time in 22 years, I was out in the world and unguarded," Mandela wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. "I had a vision of opening the door, jumping out and running and running until I was out of sight. Something inside was urging me to do just that." But he didn't. And Marx soon returned with two Coca-Colas. Mandela's 27 years in prison were dominated by tremendous hardship. There were freezing winter nights, suffocating summer days, poor food and back-breaking labor. He slept on a thin mat on a stone floor for most of his time behind bars. For many years, his wife was allowed to visit only rarely and his children not at all But there were also moments of high drama along the way, including aborted escape plans. And in the final years, the white government began treating Mandela almost like an honored guest in preparation for his release in 1990. http://n.pr/1kiPuex
"REMEMBERING AN ICON OF FREEDOM," BY TIME'S RICK STENGEL. Nelson Mandela was always uncomfortable talking about his own death. But not because he was afraid or in doubt. He was uncomfortable because he understood that people wanted him to offer homilies about death and he had none to give. He was an utterly unsentimental man. I once asked him about his mortality while we were out walking one morning in the Transkei, the remote area of South Africa where he was born. He looked around at the green and tranquil landscape and said something about how he would be joining his "ancestors." "Men come and men go," he later said. "I have come and I will go when my time comes." And he seemed satisfied by that. I never once heard him mention God or heaven or any kind of afterlife. Nelson Mandela believed in justice in this lifetime. http://ti.me/ILxHRn
@FLOTUS: We will forever draw strength and inspiration from Nelson Mandela's extraordinary example of moral courage, kindness, and humility. -mo
@PRyan: Nelson Mandela changed the world for the better. I was honored to meet him in 2000, and like many, I was moved by his dedication to freedom