The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson—Getty Images
By Zeke J Miller
December 21, 2015

Saturday’s Democratic debate proved to be another winner for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. whose command of the issues was on clear display. Her Democratic rivals, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, struggled to land an attack in the substance-focused debate. But Clinton was her own worst enemy, appearing perhaps too confident and offering Republican rivals a gift when she suggested that with respect to the nation’s ISIS strategy, “We now finally are where we need to be.” Her Republican rivals will use the line against her next fall, even if Democrats can’t.

In what be the most unanticipated story of the cycle, Donald Trump is defending his endorsement from Vladimir Putin, suggesting that the Russian leader has only been accused of killing dissidents and journalists and deserves the benefit of the doubt, while claiming his rivals are just jealous that Putin’s backing him. The issue is likely a bridge too far for many in the GOP who may have been willing to give Trump that same benefit, as they view Putin as a prime geopolitical threat to the nation. Jeb Bush continues his Trump bashing in a new video, highlighting his new campaign strategy of taking on the billionaire front-runner head-on. The spot also hits rivals Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and Ted Cruz for remaining silent on Trump.

Rubio’s frequent absences from the trail draw new scrutiny. The backstory to why Clinton was late after that commercial break. And President Obama’s struggles to reassure a fearful nation overshadow his accomplishments.

Here are your must-reads:

Must Reads

Paul Ryan Also Has a ‘Road Map’ to Governing
The new Speaker talks to TIME’s Jay Newton-Small

2015 Made History for LGBT Rights. Why Few Are Optimistic About 2016
TIME’s Philip Elliott on the year ahead

How Hillary Clinton Won the Debate Months Ago
It was no contest on stage [TIME]

Bernie Sanders Campaign Wins Back Access to DNC Voter File
TIME’s Sam Frizell on the campaign scandal

As Obama Checks Off List of Goals Met, a Nervous Nation Dwells on Terror
Obama makes progress, but struggles to reassure the nation [New York Times]

Smart Strategy or Overconfidence? Rubio Plays Hard-to-Get With Voters
There’s only one way to find out [Washington Post]

Sound Off

“Nobody has proven that he’s killed anyone. He’s always denied it. It’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody.” — Donald Trump on ABC defending Vladimir Putin from charges that he killed journalists and dissidents

“Now, they’re jealous as hell because he’s not mentioning these people. He’s not going to mention them, so they’re jealous as hell.” — Trump at a rally in Iowa on Saturday on his GOP rivals and Putin

Bits and Bites

Nancy Pelosi Hints Broadly at Hillary Clinton Endorsement [TIME]

Obama Planning New Gun Restrictions in ‘Weeks, Not Months’ [TIME]

Hillary Clinton Hits Bernie Sanders on Libya Vote [TIME]

Hillary Clinton: Donald Trump Is ‘ISIS’s Best Recruiter’ [TIME]

Clinton’s Brief Absence at the Democratic Debate Explained [Boston Globe]

AP Fact Check: Glossed-Over Realities in Democratic Debate [Associated Press]

 

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