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First Read’s Morning Clips

OBAMA AGENDA: Looking like Ashton Carter to lead the Pentagon

Former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is the likely choice for the next Pentagon chief, NBC News reports.

The AP profiles Carter: "No household name, Ashton Carter has earned his stripes in the national security trenches the quiet way. For decades he has toiled as a defense thinker and strategist, nuclear expert, three-time Pentagon executive, budget guru and academician. He never served in the military or in Congress, unlike many defense secretaries, including the man he would replace if President Barack Obama nominates him as Chuck Hagel's successor. But he spent a lot of time with troops during his 2011-2013 stint as deputy defense secretary and has built relationships with an entire generation of military leaders during his years in the Pentagon."

"As House Republicans mull another round of fiscal brinkmanship with President Obama, a dark cloud is threatening to return to otherwise clearing economic skies: fiscal and political uncertainty," writes the New York Times, noting that December 11 is only the first of a set of fiscal hurdles.

Former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says she never met with Jonathan Gruber, via an interview with USA Today.

Noted: A Staten Island grand jury could decide as early as today whether to indict a police officer in the chokehold death of a black man.

Reuters: "Leaders of Hong Kong's Occupy Central movement surrendered to police on Wednesday for their role in democracy protests that the government has deemed illegal, the latest sign that the civil disobedience campaign may be running out of steam."

CONGRESS: The GOP two-step

From NBC's Luke Russert and one of us (!): House Republicans are floating a two-step plan to allow frustrated members to voice opposition to the president's immigration action while also keeping the government open.

Early signs for the plan were good, but POLITICO reports that there are growing "headwinds" from hardline conservatives opposed to the idea, so House Speaker John Boehner may need to court some Democratic votes. (Uh, oh. Folks, we’ve seen this movie before….)

Still, writes Reuters, Tea Party members in Congress are taking a much more pragmatic approach to the conflict.

Bloomberg: "U.S. lawmakers, about to pass a short-term deal to extend dozens of targeted tax breaks, know what they’re doing is bad policy. And they’re doing it anyway."

"GOP congressional leaders said they plan to pursue targeted agreements with the White House on tax and trade policy next year, but they played down prospects for more sweeping measures in part because of fractured relations between both sides," writes the Wall Street Journal of its sit-downs with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.

The Senate tussled over the qualifications of two major Obama donors who were narrowly confirmed as ambassadors Tuesday.

And here’s Roll Call: “Former congressional staffer Donny Ray Williams Jr. pleaded guilty in D.C. Superior Court Tuesday to four charges of sexual assault in a plea deal that could keep him out of jail. The Washington Post first reported the news Tuesday night. The guilty plea is the latest development in a case that has been ongoing for more than two years. In 2012, Williams was indicted on 10 counts of sexual assault for allegedly assaulting four women after drugging their drinks between July and December 2010. At the time he pled not guilty.”

OFF TO THE RACES: When what was conservative in ‘94 no longer seems that conservative now

POLITICO publishes a long Jeb Bush take from NPR's S.V. Date: "Jeb Bush. Not conservative enough. Try as I might, it remains impossible to see these two concepts as even remotely related. John Ellis Bush, the second son of George Herbert Walker Bush and Barbara Bush, who during his first run for Florida governor in 1994 cheerfully called himself a head-banging conservative, a hang-’em-by-the-neck conservative … who during his second run for Florida governor in 1998 had to craft for himself a more compassionate persona so as not to scare off independent voters … that Jeb Bush has come to be viewed with suspicion by the uber-conservative, Tea Party wing of his Republican Party?"

(Then again, what was conservative back in the late 1990s and early 2000s doesn’t seem all that conservative now.

The Miami Herald's Marc Caputo looks at the "Jeb Bush Doctrine," writing that his foreign policy precepts "closely mirror that of his brother, former President George W. Bush." (Also noted: those positions are “well within the Republican mainstream.”)

Here's what Rand Paul said about John McCain yesterday at a Wall Street Journal event, via NBC's Andrew Rafferty: ""I want less, McCain wants more [military intervention]. "He wants 15 countries more, 15 wars more."

Gov. Chris Christie's decision to veto a ban on pig "gestation crates" is kicking up criticism for its possible link to politics in Iowa, where the hog industry is worth an estimated $7 billion. Here's what New York Times food guru Mark Bittman has to say: "Christie is cravenly flouting the reality that animal welfare matters to the public, and that welfare activists have developed a bit of clout."

The group Stand With MainStreet: “7 Ways Ted Cruz’s Support for Alibaba Puts Him Out Of Touch With Texas.”

Former Maryland Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich says he’s thinking about a 2016 run, per the Baltimore Sun.

LOUISIANA: Mary Landrieu's hammering hard at Bill Cassidy over accusations of payroll fraud during Cassidy's work for LSU health services.

Landrieu says that she’s “extremely disappointed” with the DSCC, saying the committee “just walked away from this race.”

Edwin Edwards and Garret Graves are still duking it out before Saturday's runoff election.

PROGRAMMING NOTES.

*** Wednesday’s “The Rundown with Jose Diaz-Balart” line-up: Jose Diaz-Balart interviewsRep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), Washington Post’s Congressional Reporter Ed O’Keefe, MSNBC’s Irin Carmon, MSNBC Contributor Steven Clemons, Latino Decisions’ Founding Principal Matt Barreto, Presente’s Executive Director Arturo Carmona, Gov. Jack Markell (D-Delaware), MSNBC’s Trymaine Lee, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), Mexican Congressman Agustín Barrios Gómez, National Organization for Women’s President Terry O’Neill, Democratic Pollster Margie Omero, Republican Strategist Joe Watkins, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, and MSNBC’s Ari Melber.

*** Wednesday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Tamron Hall interviews Attorney Eric Guster on the impending grand jury decision in the Eric Garner chokehold death case; USA Today’s Yamiche Alcindor on the probe into Michael Brown’s stepfather’s statement; Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO and President of GLAAD on the FDA hearing to consider using blood donations from gay men; and Conservationist and Explorer Paul Rosolie on Discovery’s “Eaten Alive” special and his anaconda encounter.

*** Wednesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews New America Foundation Director Liza Mundy, NBC’s Pete Williams, Jacob Rascon and Gabe Gutierrez, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, Bloomberg Deputy Managing Editor Jeanne Cummings, MSNBC’s Trymaine Lee, the New York Times’ Mark Landler and America’s Promise Co-chair Alma Powell.