WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – Thanksgiving dinner invariably presents unlimited opportunities for two things: caloric sins and painfully uncomfortable political talk.
The trick is to know the facts and stick to the basics.
To get you ready, here are the five stories you need to know about before sitting down to dinner.
No. 1: Syrian refugees
President Obama plans to admit 10,000 refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war and ISIS.
Following the ISIS terror attacks in Paris that killed 129 people, more than 30 U.S. governors began asking the federal government to avoid sending Syrian refugees to their states for fear that ISIS adherents could slip through the screening cracks and into their communities.
Congress is also debating a change to the refugee screening process. This would not be a permanent halt to refugee resettlement, but rather pause the program until certain new standards are met.
The House of Representatives passed the SAFE Act, which would require the heads of the FBI, Homeland Security and National Intelligence agencies to personally certify that each refugee poses no security risk to the nation.
The Senate will consider the SAFE Act at a later date.
In the meantime, a bipartisan effort by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) proposed a measure to close an existing loophole, which allow visitors from certain countries to avoid a strenuous background check before receiving a visa to visit the United States.
The bill would require more thorough checks for anyone who has visited Iraq or Syria in the past few years.
No. 2: Trump tackles Islam
Donald Trump sits comfortably atop the GOP 2016 field, on a big cushion of base support.
That’s not to say he’s had a smooth month leading up to Thanksgiving. In the past week, he’s drawn major heat for statements about Muslim Americans.
Trump seemingly endorsed the idea of a national registry of Muslims. That didn’t go over so well and the leading Republican backed away slowly, saying his words were misconstrued and that his list would only require certain Muslims to register.
On Sunday, the billionaire candidate also pushed his plan to keep tabs on certain American mosques for terror activity. In the same ABC News interview, Trump insisted that despite numerous reports to the contrary, a large group of Muslims in New Jersey “cheered” as the twin towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001.
No. 3: Clinton still leads
Hillary Clinton still holds a commanding lead in the 2016 Democratic race for the nomination.
The former secretary of state has been pushed left by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), but has kept a firm first place spot as Democrats’ preferred candidate nationwide.
Clinton made it through an 11-hour hearing about Benghazi, largely dodging conservative lines of questioning without suffering in the polls.
Meanwhile, recent reports indicate the FBI is expanding its probe of Clinton’s private email setup during her tenure at the State Department. Some of her close aides shared addresses on the former first family’s private server.
Clinton maintains that she’s been fully transparent throughout the process and that her technology arrangement was legally permissible.
No. 4: Speaker Paul Ryan
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is the new Speaker of the House of Representatives.
That means the 45-year-old congressman is now in charge of leading the House’s fractious and unpredictable Republican conference, which frayed under John Boehner’s speakership.
Speaker Ryan initially turned down the nomination, preferring to spend time with his family on weekends and keep his chairmanship of the Budget Committee.
He eventually relented and sailed to the House’s top spot.
Ryan is considering major changes to the way powerful committee chairmen are selected and who pulls the strings in the party, and the House as a whole.
The former running mate of Mitt Romney passed major budget items in his first month as speaker.
So far, goodwill abounds for the youngest speaker since 1869.
No. 5: Obama Pardons Turkey
President Obama is a lame duck showing love to some real turkeys.
Obama pardoned two turkeys in the annual White House ceremony that saves the gobblers from becoming lunch and sends them to live on a farm with a nice family.
This year’s lucky birds come from California.
You might remember a Republican congressional communications director got the axe last year after criticizing the Obama daughters’ appearance at the event.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter @ChanceSeales.