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The Trump transition team has built a Hollywood-worthy stage set so Cabinet nominees can practice confirmation hearings, which begin tomorrow and will dominate Washington's week.

A chandelier hangs above the wood-paneled rostrum. Photos of the real senators are tacked beneath the volunteers who play questioners during the "murder boards" — 30 so far, lasting a total of 70 hours, with an average of 120 questions apiece. Fake "Code Pink" demonstrators occasionally interrupt a "hearing."

  • Trump's nominees face an unusual hurdle: They don't just have to defend themselves — they'll be barraged with questions about their boss's tweets and campaign statements. The hearings are the highest profile chance Democrats have had to bash the president-elect, and they plan to take advantage.
  • People prepping the nominees tell me that the strategy is to answer the topic not the question, and let Trump fight his own fights. On the border wall, for example, nominees are coached to say they understand the role Congress has to play, "and we look forward to working with you."
  • The one absolute rule: Don't say anything bad about Trump.
  • Republicans are proudly "flooding the zone" — two hearings tomorrow and four on Wednesday, when coverage of Trump's news conference in New York will distract from the hearings. "You can't kill four people in one day," a transition team member said. Democrats can't stop the hurry-up hearings, but say they'll drag their feet when the nominees are ready for a floor vote.
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Go deeper

Dave Lawler, author of World
31 mins ago - World

China's Xi Jinping congratulates Biden on election win

Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a message to President-elect Biden on Wednesday to congratulate him on his election victory, according to the Xinhua state news agency.

Why it matters: China's foreign ministry offered Biden a belated, and tentative, congratulations on Nov. 13, but Xi had not personally acknowledged Biden's win. The leaders of Brazil, Mexico and Russia are among the very few leaders still declining to congratulate Biden.

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
1 hour ago - Sports

College basketball is back

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new season of college basketball begins Wednesday, and the goal is clear: March Madness must be played.

Why it matters: On March 12, 2020, the lights went out on college basketball, depriving teams like Baylor (who won our tournament simulation), Dayton, San Diego State and Florida State of perhaps their best chance to win a national championship.

1 hour ago - World

Scoop: Israeli military prepares for possibility Trump will strike Iran

Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a cabinet meeting. Photo: Abir Sultan/POOL/AFP via Getty

The Israel Defense Forces have in recent weeks been instructed to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. will conduct a military strike against Iran before President Trump leaves office, senior Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: The Israeli government instructed the IDF to undertake the preparations not because of any intelligence or assessment that Trump will order such a strike, but because senior Israeli officials anticipate “a very sensitive period” ahead of Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20.

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