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First Read's Morning Clips

A roundup of the most important political news stories of the day


On Cuba, from the New York Times: "The deal that freed an American jailed in Cuba and ended 53 years of diplomatic estrangement between the United States and Cuba was blessed at the highest levels of the Holy See but cut in the shadowy netherworld of espionage. A personal appeal from Pope Francis, American officials said, was critical in persuading Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, to agree to a prisoner swap and the freeing of the American aid worker Alan P. Gross. The pope, officials said, acted as a “guarantor” that both sides would live up to the terms of a deal reached in secret."

The NYT editorial board: "Mr. Obama could have taken modest, gradual steps toward a thaw. Instead, he has courageously gone as far as he can, within the constraints of an outmoded 1996 law that imposes stiff sanctions on Cuba in the pursuit of regime change."

And the Washington Post editorial board: "President Obama granted the regime everything on its wish list that was within his power to grant; a full lifting of the trade embargo requires congressional action. Full diplomatic relations will be established, Cuba’s place on the list of terrorism sponsors reviewed and restrictions lifted on U.S. investment and most travel to Cuba. That liberalization will provide Havana with a fresh source of desperately needed hard currency and eliminate U.S. leverage for political reforms."

The AP notes: "President Barack Obama's decision to pursue new relations with Cuba was driven in part by a stinging realization: Longstanding U.S. policies aimed at isolating Cuba had instead put Washington at odds with the rest of the world."

Politico on “Obama Libre”: If President Barack Obama’s year ended in November, it would have been one of the worst of his presidency. Good thing he had the last five weeks. Obama feels liberated, aides say, and sees the recent flurry of aggressive executive action and deal-making as a pivot for him to spend the last two years being more of the president he always wanted to be.”

The Miami Herald sums up the reaction among Cuban Americans in Florida.

Marco Rubio, writing in the Wall Street Journal: "The announcement by President Obama on Wednesday giving the Castro regime diplomatic legitimacy and access to American dollars isn’t just bad for the oppressed Cuban people, or for the millions who live in exile and lost everything at the hands of the dictatorship. Mr. Obama’s new Cuba policy is a victory for oppressive governments the world over and will have real, negative consequences for the American people."

From one of us(!): "President Barack Obama's approval rating with Latinos has jumped 10 points since he announced a new policy of deportation relief for millions of undocumented immigrants, a new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll shows. The new survey of 250 Latino adults shows that 57 percent now say they approve of the job that Obama is doing, compared with 47 percent of Latino voters who said the same in September, before the immigration announcement."

From "U.S. officials have concluded that the North Korean government ordered the hacking attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment — a breach that led to the studio cancelling the planned release of "The Interview" — and a U.S. official told NBC News that the country "can't let this go unanswered." The officials told NBC News the hacking attack originated outside North Korea, but they believe the individuals behind it were acting on orders from the North Koreans."

Filmmaker Judd Apatow tells the LA Times: "Our community is based on freedom of expression. Are we going to suppress ourselves every time someone posts something online? It’s a dark future."

Putin held his annual marathon press conference in Moscow. Via the New York Times: "President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Thursday delivered an acidic message of defiance and anger at the West at an annual news conference in Moscow, showing no sign of softening his position on Ukraine despite the financial turmoil that has gripped Russia. Mr. Putin blamed “external factors,” including Western sanctions and falling oil prices, for the collapse of the Russian currency, the ruble. But he played down the severity of the economic crisis, saying that it would last a maximum of two years before a return of growth."

CONGRESS: Boehner’s Christmas message

House Speaker John Boehner’s office releases this Christmas video:

Twas the end of the 113th when the countdown began.

The new American Congress would soon be at hand.

Time to take on the tough issues, like taxes and spending.

The gridlock in the Senate may finally be ending.

Reform is needed, from home in Ohio to here on Capitol Hill,

But not by executive order. But instead, by bill.

The American people have spoken. They expect real solutions:

More freedom and less Washington, as defined by the Constitution.

For now, we celebrate God’s gift to us: His glory and Light.

So Happy Christmas to all, And to all a good night.

OFF TO THE RACES: Jeb is leaving Barclays

The Financial Times reports that Jeb Bush will leave his advisory position at Barclays on December 31, a sign that he’s extracting himself from potentially controversial business dealings before officially mounting a 2016 run.

From one of us(!): Also in that NBC/WSJ Latino poll: "Sixty one percent of Latino voters said that they could see themselves supporting Hillary Clinton for president, versus 33 percent who disagreed. But the scores for Republicans with ties to the Latino community -- Jeb Bush (28%-48%), Marco Rubio (21%-37%), and Ted Cruz (17%-40%) -- are net negatives."

Warren backers are trying to rev up Iowa activists, reports the Des Moines Register.

Speaking of Warren… A press release from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee: At 11:00 am ET, "PCCC, Zephyr Teachout, WFP, and Allies Gather at Citigroup Headquarters to Amplify Elizabeth Warren's Message: Break Up the Big Banks."

The New York Times Magazine looks at how liberal Zionists are trying to determine whether Hillary Clinton is on their side.

ARIZONA: After a recount, Martha McSally has beaten Ron Barber, setting up the largest GOP majority in the House in 83 years.

KENTUCKY: Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes says if Rand Paul tries to run for the Senate and for president at the same time, she will challenge him in court.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: From John DiStaso: "Ayotte gets heat from conservatives for opposing Cruz immigration move"

And Democrats are plotting their next move against Ayotte too, reports Roll Call.


*** Thursday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Craig Melvin interviews Entertainment lawyer & USC professor Jonathan Handel and Variety’s Senior Editor Ramin Setoodeh on the Sony hacking; Attorney and NBC contributor Raul Reyes, Fmr. US Dept of State P.J. Crowley, VP and Chief legal counsel for Cuban American National Foundation George Fowler, and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) on the new Cuba/U.S. relations; and Patrick Dehaan from Gas on the low gas prices.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johson, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Robert Menendez, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Fmr. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Council on Foreign Relations’ Julia Sweig, AP’s Julie Pace, Financial Times’ Assistant Editor Gillian Tett and NBC’s Keir Simmons.