☕ Good Wednesday morning. U.S. oil prices are down nearly 40% from the four-year highs reached in October. (WSJ)
Join me this morning for the last Axios event of the year! We'll have a breaking news breakfast at 8 a.m. in downtown D.C. (1011 4th St. NW, at L St.) to unpack last night's Senate passage of a sentencing reform bill.
What's new ... A Trump-backed bipartisan criminal justice bill passed the Senate last night by a margin of 87-12, despite ongoing efforts by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and other hardline conservatives to sink it.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
The Supreme Court has been quiet in the months since Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s wildly polarizing confirmation. And that’s how Chief Justice John Roberts seems to want it, Axios health and legal expert Sam Baker writes:
Our thought bubble: With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement this summer, Roberts is more in control of the court’s direction than he has ever been.
It would be hard to review the federal judge's ruling Friday that struck down the ACA in a low-profile way. But a status-quo ruling that overturns the judge, and leaves the ACA in place, would be a sign that the new conservative majority really is interested in a light footprint.
Be smart: The ugly spectacle of the Kavanaugh hearings embodied everything Roberts doesn’t want for the court, with one exception: It gave him a solid five-seat conservative majority that may well last for the rest of his life.
"For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules," the N.Y. Times' Gabriel J.X. Dance, Michael LaForgia and Nick Confessore report.
"Yahoo, The Times and others could still get Facebook users’ personal information in 2017."
Be smart, from Axios chief tech correspondent Ina Fried: Silicon Valley insiders have a pretty thick skin when it comes to how much tech companies know about their users and how much they share with partners. Even still, Tuesday's revelations were a shock.
Elon Musk unveils his Boring Co. test tunnel in Hawthorne, Calif., allowing guests to take some of the first rides on the tech entrepreneur's solution to "soul-destroying traffic."
"Almost daily, reality deals another blow to the alternative narrative that President Donald Trump has constructed around his scandal-plagued presidency, campaign and business legacy," CNN's Stephen Collinson writes.
Why it matters: "Such events would provoke immense uproar in any other presidency and might rank as the most dramatic scandals of a commander in chief's term."
P.S. ... CNN: "A newly obtained document [dated Oct. 28, 2015] shows ... Trump signed a letter of intent to move forward with negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Russia, despite his attorney Rudy Giuliani claiming on Sunday the document was never signed." See the letter.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
There has never been a Federal Reserve interest-rate decision quite like today's, with the central bank facing public criticism from the president and a whipsawing stock market, Axios' Courtenay Brown writes.
With a 2 p.m. statement and 2:30 p.m. news conference, Fed chair Jerome Powell — nominated by Trump 13 months ago — will likely announce the fourth rate hike since he took over the Fed in February.
Flashback: Trump slammed Powell hours after the Fed announced a rate hike in September.
The odds: There is a roughly 31% chance that the Fed doesn't raise rates at all.
The bottom line: No other Fed chairman has faced a challenge like this.
"The number of journalists killed worldwide in retaliation for their work nearly doubled this year, according to an annual report by the Committee to Protect Journalists," AP's Verena Dobnik reports.
"Media freedom group Reporters Without Borders said ... the U.S. made it into the top five deadliest countries for journalists this year for the first time, with six dying, including four who were among five people killed by a gunman who opened fire in the offices of Maryland newspaper Capital Gazette."
"Dana McClintock, a CBS spokesman, confirmed that the company had been paying [Les] Moonves’s legal fees and related costs at least until Monday, when he was fired for cause," denying him $120 million in severance, the N.Y. Times' James Stewart reports.
"The Moonves legal team 'could easily run up $20 million in fees for an arbitration at this level,' said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University and an expert on executive compensation ... 'I’d say that’s the low end. I could see it getting to the $40-$50 million range.'"
"Nevada became the first state ... with an overall female majority in the Legislature ... when county officials in Las Vegas appointed two women to fill vacancies in the state Assembly," AP's Michelle Price reports from Vegas.
"No state has previously had a female-majority or even a 50 percent-female Legislature, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University."
Women will make up 28.6% of state legislators nationwide when new legislators are sworn into office in 2019 — up from 24.3% a decade ago.
After President Trump "tried to explain away his legal troubles as the work of a 'deep state' of Obama supporters" entrenched in government, "junior officials and others accused of wrongdoing" are now blaming the "deep state," the N.Y. Times' Julian E. Barnes, Adam Goldman and Charlie Savage report.
Sean Bigley, a lawyer for a Pentagon analyst who made that claim when he appealed the loss of his security clearance in a closed hearing last week, said:
"How to Make a Times Crossword Puzzle ... The New York Times crossword editors reveal their process for evaluating and editing a puzzle submission" — Will Shortz, The Times' crossword editor since 1993, and Joel Fagliano:
P.S. ... The Times, which now pays crossword constructors $300 to $450 for weekday puzzles and $1,000 to $1,200 for Sundays, is raising those rates Jan. 1.