Iraq Vet to Trump: I Didn't Get My Purple Heart 'the Easy Way'

An Iraq veteran who nearly died in a burning Humvee has penned a powerful letter to Donald Trump after the GOP nominee joked he "always wanted" to get a Purple Heart and having one handed to him was "much easier."

"I can tell you without equivocation that the one award I did not want to receive was a Purple Heart, but I got one anyway. And I'll tell you now, I didn't get mine the easy way," J.R. Martinez wrote on Mic.com, a news site aimed at millennials.

Martinez got third-degree burns over a third of his body when he ran over a roadside bomb in 2003 and was trapped inside his vehicle for five minutes. He has since gained fame as a motivational speaker, actor, and winner on "Dancing With the Stars."

His letter came days after a campaign event in Virginia in which Trump received a Purple Heart replica from a veteran. Trump then told the audience, "I said, 'Man, that's, like, big stuff. I've always wanted to get the real Purple Heart.' This was much easier."

It was the latest in a string of remarks that haven't sat well among many U.S. military service members, including attacks by the Republican presidential nominee on Khizr Khan, the Muslim father of a fallen war hero who gave an emotional speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Martinez, 33, questioned why he has "continually attempted to dishonor" Khan's son and wrote: "You assert that you have made sacrifices on par with the Khan family. I must ask you; do you truly understand the fundamental difference between investments and sacrifice?" 

He added that his four-year-old daughter "has a better sense of human empathy" than Trump.

"When I take her to the park and other children stare at the scars that cover my face and arms, she takes my hand and encourages me to talk to those young children and explain why I look the way I look," Martinez wrote. 

He concluded with a plea: "These are the people who will defend you. These are their families you are talking about. These are not the people you want to continue to carry out your petty grievances and personal attacks with."

"I respectfully suggest you get a primer on the word sacrifice, as well as a lesson in human decency."

Trump's Inaugural Committee Yet to on Decide Lobbyist Ban

While President-elect Donald Trump's transition has placed restrictions on some lobbyists from serving in the transition, the inaugural committee has not yet made such determinations

Three members of the inaugural committee, which is stacked with Trump's and Vice Preisdent-elect Mike Pence's top donors and fundraisers, told NBC News that a decision hasn't yet been made on whether restrictions will be placed on the amount a person could give to or if a ban on lobbyists or corporations would be instituted. 

An announcement could come out as early as tomorrow but more likely next week the sources said. 

The inaugural committee is tasked with raising money for the inauguration beyond what the government allows. It also pays for balls, parties and events surrounding the event. 

In 2008, President-elect Barack Obama placed a $50,000 limit on individual donors and banned contributions from lobbyists, corporations and super PACs. The committee also entertained no sponsorship agreements.  

In 2012, President Obama loosened those restrictions and allowed for contributions from corporations but not from lobbyists or super PACs

The law allows unlimited contributions from corporations and U.S. permanent residents. 

Romney and Trump to Meet This Weekend

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will meet with President-elect Donald Trump this weekend, NBC News confirms.  

Romney delivered a blistering takedown of Trump in a speech in March, calling the then-candidate “a phony” and “a fraud.” Trump has called Romney a loser and said he “choked like a dog” during his 2012 bid against President Obama.

A source close to Trump with direct knowledge of the president-elect's thinking confirms the meeting is to discuss the position of Secretary of State. 

Trump endorsed Romney during his campaign four years ago. The former Massachusetts governor began to repair the relationship last week by calling to congratulate Trump on his surprise win.   

Obama 'Cautiously Optimistic' About Trump Presidency

President Obama on Thursday said he is “cautiously optimistic” about Donald Trump’s presidency once the reality of his immense responsibilities sets in. 

“There's something about the solemn responsibilities of that office, the extraordinary demands that are placed on the United States, not just by its own people, but by people around the world that forces you to focus,” Obama said during a press conference in Germany on Thursday.

“If you're not serious about the job, then you probably won't be there very long because it will expose problems,” Obama added.

The president added that he “wouldn’t advise” those opposed to Trump to be silent or stop protesting, but said the election should be an important reminder about the importance of voting.

Trump Considering Mike Flynn to Be National Security Adviser

President-elect Donald Trump is considering retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn to be his national security adviser, a source familiar with the transition process told NBC News on Wednesday.

The source said the decision shouldn't be considered final until and unless Trump, himself, announces it. The appointment wouldn't require confirmation by the Senate.

Flynn — a controversial figure in his own right who has been known to eschew "political correctness" — is a Trump loyalist who stayed by the GOP candidate's side even as other national security experts sharply criticized him during the campaign. NBC News reported in July that Trump's team vetted Flynn as a possible vice presidential running mate.

Flynn, 57, was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014, but his tenure was reportedly cut short over clashes with top Obama administration officials.

In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" in August, Flynn said that NATO needs to be "modernized" and called the Obama administration's announcement ahead of time of the operation to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS "just insane."

Effort to Bring Back Congressional Earmarks Blocked

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan blocked an amendment that would have brought back earmarks - the mechanism to add specific funding items to federal spending bills. 
Earmarks came under fire for contributing to corruption in Washington. But proponents of earmarks say that it's better that elected officials decide how money is spent at federal agencies instead of the executive branch, which determines how funds are spent if not directed by Congress. 
But Speaker Ryan said allowing earmarks would be a slap in the face to President-elect Donald Trump's "drain the swamp" win. 
Members of the conservative Freedom Caucus said they wanted reforms added to any effort to bring back earmarks, something that wasn't part of the proposed plan.
Ryan didn't discount a vote on earmarks early next year. 
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid defended earmarks Wednesday. 
I'm one of the kings of earmarks," Reid said. "I think it was a terrible disservice to America to come up with this stupid idea ... to stop congressional-directed spending."

Joe Biden Welcomes Mike Pence to VP Residence

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio Visits Trump Tower

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio visited Trump Tower on Wednesday for what he described as a “candid and substantive dialogue” with President-elect Donald Trump.

“I let him know that so many New Yorkers were fearful, and that more has to be done to show that this country can heal and that people be respected,” de Blasio told reporters following the meeting.

The Democratic mayor, who supported Hillary Clinton, said he and Trump discussed topics like immigration, Wall Street reform, taxes and the Republican’s rhetoric. De Blasio also said he expressed concerns over Trump’s decision to appoint former Breitbart News head Steve Bannon to a top White House post.  

“The balls in his court, people in this city and all over the country are looking to see what he’s going to do,” de Blasio said.  

Sens. Schumer and McConnell Elected Senate Leaders

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer was easily elected by his caucus to lead Senate Democrats for the next two years and Republicans unanimously re-elected Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to serve as Majority Leader.

Schumer, who is set to replace retiring Sen. Harry Reid, will spearhead the party's messaging and policy priorities in the first two years of a Donald Trump administration.

Read more here. 

Martin O'Malley Withdraws From DNC Race

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley pulled himself out of contention to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee Wednesday, days after he said he was considering a bid.

"While I'm grateful to the supportive friends who have urged me to consider running for DNC Chair, I will not be seeking our Party's Chairmanship. The DNC needs a Chair who can do the job fully and with total impartiality. The national interest must come first," O'Malley said in an email to supporters.

Read more here.

McCain Warns Against Russian Reset

Republican Sen. John McCain on Tuesday warned against any attempt to reboot U.S.-Russia relations under Donald Trump’s presidency.

“With the U.S. presidential transition underway, Vladimir Putin has said in recent days that he wants to improve relations with the United States. We should place as much faith in such statements as any other made by a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America’s allies, and attempted to undermine America’s elections,” the Arizona senator said in a statement.

Russia on Tuesday launched a major military offensive in Syria where Putin is backing Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Throughout the campaign, Trump spoke highly of Russian President Vladimir Putin and said he would improve relations between the two countries. Putin and Trump spoke after his victory last week.

“The Obama Administration’s last attempt at resetting relations with Russia culminated in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and military intervention in the Middle East,” McCain said. “At the very least, the price of another ‘reset’ would be complicity in Putin and Assad’s butchery of the Syrian people.”

Trump, Pence Expected To Receive Daily Briefing Tuesday

President-elect Donald Trump and Mike Pence are expected to receive their first President’s Daily Briefing on Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York, sources tell NBC News.

President Barack Obama has authorized that the same briefing given to him each day be prepared for Trump and Pence. It contains more sensitive information than the briefings provided to the candidates during the presidential campaign.

Trump has designated retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and son-in-law Jared Kushner as his staff level companions for such briefings, however, Kushner does not have any clearance.