Vermont Gov.-elect Phil Scott (R) waves to supporters at the Sheraton in South Burlington on election night. (Andy Duback/AP)

THE BIG IDEA: 

BOSTON—Republican governors will lead Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine next month – a remarkable feat considering how much the GOP has struggled in New England for more than a generation.

Phil Scott, the governor-elect in Vermont, defeated his Democratic opponent by nine points, even as Donald Trump got wiped out by 29 points. (The president-elect garnered less than one-third of the vote in the Green Mountain State.)

Scott owns a construction business and has been a champion stock car racer. He spoke to me in between conversations with the state troopers who will provide his security about whether he will be able to continue competing professionally at the race track on weekends. They worry about his safety.

“I am negotiating,” he said by phone from Montpelier. “I am really hoping. In the beginning, I said I’d probably have to retire. But I’m thinking that I could at least do a couple of races a year. That’s my goal at this point, anyway.”

This is the kind of Republican who prevails in a place like Vermont. The outgoing Democratic governor is regarded by many as an ineffective failure, and Scott’s opponent had been his transportation secretary. After serving as a state senator for a decade, Scott spent the last six years as lieutenant governor (a part-time position which Vermont elects independent of the chief executive).

The 58-year-old got involved in politics because the state is such an unfriendly place to do business. “I was so frustrated by the obstacles and barriers, and I got so tired of hearing myself complain about it,” the governor-elect explained.

Because the population is so small, Scott has been able to build personal relationships with many voters in the 16 years since he first got involved with politics. That made it hard for Democrats to caricature him as some kind of mini-Trump. He fondly recalls seeing houses with yard signs for him – and Bernie Sanders.

“I am very much a fiscal conservative. But not unlike most Republicans in the Northeast, I’m probably more on the left of center from a social standpoint,” Scott explained. “I am a pro-choice Republican. But there are some areas – late-term abortions and parental notification – I’d be open minded to. They tried to capitalize on that. The Democratic Governors Association funneled like half a million bucks through Planned Parenthood to run ads against me saying that I am going to take away your ability to choose, even though I’ve always been pro-choice! … I had to listen to that every single night. … Maybe 350k doesn’t sound like a lot to you, but in Vermont you can buy a lot of airtime for that! And they did!”

Chris Sununu, right, answers a question during a debate with Democrat Colin Van Ostern at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, N.H., on the eve of last month's election. (Thomas Roy/The Union Leader via AP, Pool)

-- New Hampshire was much closer. Trump lost by just half a percentage point. While Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte went down by fewer than one thousand votes, Chris Sununu won the governor’s race by just over 12,000 ballots – out of 629,000. One key factor might have been Chris’s decision to stand by Trump after the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape came out, while Kelly rescinded her endorsement. (Some Trump supporters did not check the box for her.)

Speaking by phone from Concord in between meetings about the state budget on Wednesday afternoon, Sununu explained that he pulled it out by focusing on mobilizing the grassroots and talking about local issues. “We really, really tried to run the campaign in the New Hampshire fashion,” he said. “Trump was doing his thing, and we were doing our thing. … We clearly differentiated ourselves.”

Sununu is an iconic name in the Granite State, and Chris is the scion of a storied political family. His dad (John H.) was governor in the 1980s before becoming George H.W. Bush’s White House chief of staff. His brother (John E.) was a U.S. senator. Chris, 42, has spent six years as a member of the powerful New Hampshire Executive Council, which has veto power over most state spending. He’s also an MIT-educated civil engineer who has been CEO of a ski resort in Waterville.

“Virtually every word out of my opponent’s mouth was about my family, my business or Donald Trump,” the younger Sununu said. “But voters in New Hampshire are very astute. … People want to get stuff done. People also want to talk about issues.”

-- All three of New Hampshire’s neighbors will now be governed by Republicans, and Sununu has sat down with each of his counterparts for one-on-one meetings about what they can accomplish together. “There’s a terrific opportunity here. Now we can have blunt conversations about energy, opioids and transportation,” he said, adding that he’s the only one lucky enough to have Republican control of both branches of the legislature.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich endorses Chris Sununu, right, to be New Hampshire's governor in August during an event in Concord. (Jim Cole/AP)

-- While Sununu voted for Trump, Scott wrote in John Kasich for president. But he has several hilarious stories about how daunting it was to run with an “R” after his name. Barack Obama cut an ad for Sue Minter, his rival. Joe Biden flew up to stump with her. Sanders opened up his email list to help her fundraise. “I called it the killer B’s: Barack, Biden and Bernie,” he quips.

Several other high-wattage surrogates also descended, including Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken. On the day that the Minnesota senator and former “SNL” star was in town, Scott happened to stop for lunch at a place called “Al’s French Fries,” a Burlington fixture. And he recalls thinking to himself that, while she had Al Franken on her side, he had the blue-collar folks who eat at Al’s French Fries on his. That, looking back, is when he knew that he’d win.

-- Ticket splitting has become increasingly uncommon in congressional contests, but voters are perhaps more willing than ever to vote for a governor and president of different parties. Democrats note that they won in West Virginia and Montana last month, and they picked up an open seat in Louisiana last year. Trump carried those states by 42 points, 21 points and 20 points, respectively.

-- Just as there are not many national Democrats who can help out Gov.-elect Jim Justice in the Mountaineer State, neither are there many Republicans who can assist a GOP candidate in Vermont.

Charlie Baker volunteers on Tuesday to be a Bell Ringer for the Salvation Army in Boston's Downtown Crossing. (CJ Gunther/EPA)

-- Charlie Baker is the exception. The Massachusetts governor did events for both Scott and Sununu. “I think New Hampshire is purple. Maine actually goes back and forth quite a bit too. Vermont’s obviously pretty blue, so is Massachusetts,” Baker said. “Part of what made both of those guys interesting to me was the fact that they’re people who would be really hard for someone to stereotype.”

Baker has a 70 percent approval rating in the deep-blue Bay State, making him one of – if not the most – popular governor in America. He’s viewed as a pragmatist and admired for his effective managerial abilities, even though many of his priorities have been blocked by liberals in the legislature.

The 60-year-old’s competence is beyond reproach. He went to Harvard for undergrad and earned an MBA from Northwestern, then served as the health and human services secretary for Republican Gov. William Weld in the early 1990s. He was the secretary of finance under Weld’s successor, Paul Cellucci. Afterward, he became CEO of a non-profit health benefits firm. Baker lost when he ran in 2010 but won when he tried again in 2014.

Massachusetts has one of the prettiest and most historic capitols in the country. But Baker eschewed the traditional governor’s office – which is large and ornate – because he felt he could be more productive working in a smaller, more modern office. That fits his style. “People appreciate the no-muss, no-fuss approach that we’ve tried to take here,” the governor said during a sit-down in his third-floor space, with papers strewn about. “Most people are a combination of points of view. They look for that in people they elect. If you’re able to demonstrate that you’re a good listener and you’re going to be driven by facts, data and information … people find that appealing.”

Charlie Baker celebrates with Lt. Gov. Karen Polito, left, and Dorothy Simonelli, right, after he signed a bill into law this summer requiring that men and women be paid equally for comparable work in Massachusetts. Simonelli fought for equal pay as a cafeteria worker starting in the late 1980s. (Elise Amendola/AP)

-- Asked what the national GOP can learn from his success on Beacon Hill, Baker answered: “Collaborate where it makes sense to collaborate with people. If you’re going to get into a debate or an argument, be soft on the people and hard on the issue. Make clear to people why you’re taking the position you’re taking. And if you can find room to compromise, don’t ignore the opportunity. Because most people want to see their governments actually work!”

He cited a transportation bill that passed last year, which let Uber and Lyft operate in the commonwealth. “It had some stuff in it that we really liked. It had some stuff that the Senate liked, and it had some stuff that the House liked,” Baker explained. “That bill was a good example of a mish-mash of a bunch of different points of view, but in the end I think it’s among the better pieces of legislation that have passed in the country around those issues.”

Baker prides himself on being a check against liberal overreach. Democrats control all 11 slots in the federal delegation. In the Senate, there are 34 of them and six Republicans. In the House, there are 126 Democrats and 34 Republicans. “The fiscal discipline issue is for real, and so is the ability to be part of the constructive friction that people like to see,” Baker said, reflecting on his popularity. “Politics benefits from competition the same way everything else does. Most people think competition is a good thing and creates an urgency and a tension that works for the so-called consumer, which in this case is the taxpayer or the person who relies on government. I believe in that, but I also believe you need to do that in a way that’s civil and issue driven. Maybe that’s because I am not a big personality.”

Former Massachusetts Governors William Weld and Mitt Romney pose for a photo at the Statehouse in Boston before Baker's inauguration in Jan. 2015. (Elise Amendola/AP)

-- Mitt Romney probably could have become really popular here if he had followed this playbook, but he was always so fixated and obsessed with trying to become president that it often felt like he cared more about what folks in Bettendorf, Iowa, thought than what his constituents in Boston did. Within months of taking office in 2003, his advisers were already meeting to plot out strategy so he could run in 2008. He opted not to seek a second term so that he could keep tacking farther to the right. His signature achievement – Romneycare – wound up being a liability when he was the GOP nominee on his second try in 2012 because it included an individual mandate.

Baker does not act like a guy who wants to run for president, and that makes Democrats more willing to work with him. “There’s definitely a lot of people in public life these days that like to create wedges, but our job is to focus on what matters most to people,” he said. “Is my neighborhood safe? Do I have a good job? Are the schools I send my kids to going to prepare them for the future?”

One of Baker’s top priorities has been economic development west of Route 128, the partial beltway around the thriving metropolis of Boston. “We can talk all we want about what the unemployment rate is in Massachusetts generally, but if Lowell and Springfield and Pittsfield really feel like they’re not going anywhere, then that’s cold comfort for them," he said.

Still, the governor is trying to build up the Massachusetts Republican Party. He lights up as he tells me, “For the first time since 1984 in a presidential year, we held all of our incumbents and we won an open seat (in the state legislature). And we had some other ones that were actually pretty competitive. Part of it is definitely a validation of the idea that two teams on the field is a good thing.” He and his lieutenant governor appeared at more than 100 events to help GOP candidates, and Baker’s been raising money to help the state GOP build up field and analytics programs.

This fall, Baker announced that he would leave his ballot blank and vote for no presidential candidates. You might recall that his former boss, Bill Weld, was the libertarian nominee for vice president. “I made pretty clear that I was not a fan of Trump or Clinton,” Baker said. “And I took a fair amount of grief for that, but I wasn’t going to lie.” He called the president-elect the day before Thanksgiving to congratulate and wish him luck. They talked for five minutes. “It was a very cordial, very polite conversation,” Baker said.

Before his victory two years ago, he lost a  messy three-way race against then-Gov. Deval Patrick (D) in 2010. “If you’ve run and lost, you really respect people who find a way to run and win,” Baker told me, referring to Trump. “It’s a lot harder than it looks!”

Maine Gov. Paul LePage arrives for work at the State House in Augusta on Monday. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

-- Paul LePage, the Republican governor of Maine, is in a league of his own. He was catapulted into office amidst the tea party wave of 2010 and got reelected in 2014 with a plurality because an independent siphoned away Democratic votes. He’s polarizing and profoundly ideological. He’s also term limited and will be gone in two years.

The Post’s Editorial Board, calling on him to resign and “seek help” this fall, outlined some of the more memorable illustrations of his “unhinged racism” and “wild-eyed ramblings.” Among other things, LePage declared in October that a Trump presidency is necessary because he will exercise “authoritarian power” to pull us back from “slipping into anarchy.”

-- Republicans will need to defend the three other governorships in 2018, as well. Vermont and New Hampshire are the only two states in the country with two-year terms. And Baker is in cycle.

Massachusetts native Phil Cox, the former executive director of the Republican Governors Association, explained that GOP candidates will succeed in New England when they run on kitchen table issues and then follow through by governing as non-ideological, problem-solving technocrats. “Unlike their counterparts in the South or Midwest, they have demonstrated an ability to win GOP nominations while espousing more moderate views on social issues,” said Cox, a founder of the consulting firm 50 State. “In the process, they take the Democrats' most effective attack line off the table and align themselves with the vast majority of their state's general election voters.” (Baker, for instance, had an openly-gay running mate the first time he ran for governor in 2010.)

Cox ran the super PAC earlier this cycle for another Northeastern Republican, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and he was in charge of the RGA when Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan won his upset. “Our success is situational,” he explained. “It has more to do with great candidates, campaigns and a favorable political environment than any overarching trend.”

-- HOLIDAY HIATUS: The Daily 202 will not come out next week. We’ll return after New Year’s Day. We’re looking forward to celebrating Christmas, enjoying some egg nog, sleeping in and reading a stack of books. January is going to be intense, and the 100 days after Trump’s inauguration will be a sprint. Hopefully you, too, can get some quality down time. Thank you so much for welcoming us into your inbox this year, for the thoughtful feedback and the constructive criticism. It’s an honor and a pleasure to write for you. Hopefully you’ll keep reading in 2017! – JPH

Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning newsletter.
With contributions from Breanne Deppisch (@breanne_dep) and Elise Viebeck (@eliseviebeck).

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

Donald Trump gazes into the distance after a meeting with military leadership at Mar-a-Lago on Wednesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

-- How Mr. Trump stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb:

This is not a drill: Asked to clarify his comments about expanding U.S. nuclear weapons capability, Donald Trump this morning told MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski, "Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all."

Damage control: Sean Spicer, after his boss called Mika, tried to walk back his comments. “He's going to ensure that other countries get the message that he's not going to sit back and allow that," the incoming White House press secretary told NBC. "And what's going to happen is they will come to their senses, and we will all be just fine."

How CNBC is covering it: “Shares of uranium producers and a nuclear fuel technology company have jumped on Trump's comments with Uranium Resources, Uranium Energy, Cameco, and Lightbridge all trading higher on Friday.”

Italian police inspect the body of Anis Amri after they killed him in a gunfight. (Reuters)

-- The Tunisian national suspected of driving a truck into a Berlin Christmas market was shot dead in Milan, Italy. From Anthony Faiola, Souad Mekhennet and Stefano Pitrelli: "Anis Amri was killed following a dramatic encounter in the Piazza I Maggio in the Sesto San Giovanni area outside Milan, after a two-man patrol stopped him for questioning around after 3 a.m. on suspicion of burglary. One of the officers requested his identification. Amri responded by pulling a gun, shooting one officer in the shoulder. The second patrolmen — trainee Luca Scatà — fired back, killing Amri, according to Italian officials. ‘He was the most-wanted man in Europe,’ said Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti. ‘There is absolutely no doubt that the person killed is Anis Amri.’”

An image grab taken from a propaganda video bearing the logo of ISIS that appears to show Berlin truck attacker Anis Amri. (AFP)

Hours after the shootout, the Islamic State-linked news agency, Amaq, released a video the purports to show Amri swearing allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State. “Speaking in black-hooded windbreaker on Berlin bridge, only 1.5 miles from the German chancellery, he called on Muslims in Europe to rise up and strike at ‘crusaders.’ ‘God willing, we will slaughter you like pigs,’ he said in the video, whose date and location was not given but looked like it was filmed in winter weather. He added, ‘To my brothers everywhere, fight for the sake of Allah. Protect our religion. Everyone can do this in their own way. People who can fight should fight, even in Europe.’ The authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed, but previous material released by Amaq has been credible.”

One of the hijackers of a Libyan Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 waves a Gaddafi-era Libyan flag at the Malta Airport. (Darrin Zammit-Lupi/Reuters)

-- Two hijackers of Libyan plane surrendered after diverting the flight to Malta with 118 people aboard, touching off an hours-long standoff that included the safe release of all passengers and crew. From Griff Witte: "The hijackers had threatened to use hand grenades to blow up the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 as they made demands that included political asylum. Just over two hours later, passengers began disembarking as women and children were permitted to leave the plane, which was on a domestic flight in Libya when it was commandeered to Malta. Later, further waves of passengers who included men were also allowed to depart the plane. The Maltese prime minister, Joseph Muscat, sent a tweet saying the last crew members, including the pilot, were leaving the aircraft with the hijackers — where were then led away in handcuffs. Many of the passengers appeared relaxed as they came off the plane."

Family members of one of the five men accused of planning a terror plot leave the court house in Melbourne. (Mal Fairclough/EPA)

-- Australian police arrested seven suspects they say were plotting a series of Christmas Day bombings in Melbourne. Police say the suspects are loyal to the Islamic State and were targeting Melbourne’s Flinders Street train station, Federation Square and St. Paul’s Cathedral. (Associated Press)

Vladimir Putin holds his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

-- Russian President Vladimir Putin essentially accused Democrats of being sore losers during his year-end press conference. The Russian president told the audience: “Democrats are losing on every front and looking for people to blame everywhere. They need to learn to lose with dignity." He pointed to the fact that Republicans kept the Senate and House, asking: “Did we do that, too?” He added, “'Trump understood the mood of the people and kept going until the end, when nobody believed in him. Except for you and me!” (David Filipov)

Putin also sent a letter to Trump about mutual cooperation:

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. The Syrian military says it has retaken full control of Aleppo. Once the largest rebel stronghold, President Bashar al-Assad's victory there is a major blow to the opposition aiming to unseat him. (Hugh Naylor)
  2. An ISIS-planted bomb in Mosul killed 23, including eight policeman. It's part of a pattern of attacks by ISIS seeking to destabilize portions of Iraq that have recently been "liberated" by the army. (Associated Press)
  3. Scientists announced a major breakthrough in the fight against Ebola, with a major trial showing a new vaccine to be "highly protective" against the deadly disease. Although the recent outbreak of Ebola seems to have been contained, health officials fear it could return. (Ariana Eunjung Cha)
  4. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that hundreds of death-row inmates could get new trials and sentences, potentially avoiding the death penalty in a state that ranks behind only California with the largest number of inmates on death row. ( Mark Berman)
  5. Deutsche Bank paid $7.2 billion to settle a major mortgage-abuse case with the Justice Department. The settlement needs to be approved but would be a relief for Trump, who borrowed more than $300 billion for his business ventures from the troubled bank. (Drew Harwell and Tom Hamburger)
  6. Uber is taking its self-driving cars to Arizona after a California court ruled that the company could no longer operate in the Golden State. So far, 12 states have passed laws regulating the use of driverless cars. (Steven Overly)
  7. More than 600 flights out of LAX have been canceled or delayed because of rainstorms. (Los Angeles Times)

  8. The Treasury Department is refusing to stop taxing canceled student debt of severely-disabled people as income. The Education Department helps those in this category navigate the byzantine process of discharging their student loans if they can't pay them -- but any additional income is considered taxable by the Treasury.  (Danielle Douglas-Gabriel)
  9. With homeownership hovering around a 50-year low, the American dream of owning a home seems like an unattainable goal to some, as prices are rising, supply is dwindling and mortgage rates have climbed to heights not seen in more than two years. New data from Freddie Mac shows the 30-year, fixed-rate average jumped to 4.3 percent. The most popular mortgage product hasn’t been this high since the start of 2014. (Kathy Orton)
  10. Labor Secretary Tom Perez rolled out endorsements from four governors in his bid for DNC chair: Virginia's Terry McAuliffe, Colorado's John Hickenlooper, Rhode Island's Gina Raimondo and Louisiana's John Bel Edwards. (CNN's Eric Bradner)
  11. Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce  Rauner put $50 million of his own money into his 2018 campaign fund, a signal that his reelection fight could be one of the most expensive elections ever. A Rauner operative told the Chicago Sun-Times that the money is just “a first installment.”
  12. Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who never endorsed Trump, said he has reached out more than once to the president-elect since the election, but he has yet to hear back. "I’ve put in messages, but I know he’s very busy," Snyder told the Detroit Free Press.

TRUMP TAKES OVER:

-- A WITCH HUNT? Trump's transition team instructed the State Department to turn over all information about “gender-related staffing, programming, and funding,” setting off alarm bells among those who fear that the new administration is going to purge programs that promote women’s equality along with the people who work on them. Josh Rogin broke the story: “Only a week after being embroiled in a controversy over collecting information on Energy Department climate change officials, the Trump team seems to be at it again. On Wednesday morning, the State Department leadership sent out what’s called a ‘Flash Transition Tasker’ to a long list of offices and bureaus. This official request mandated that all State Department offices provide to the Trump team by 5 p.m. Wednesday full reports on the positions and programs at the State Department dedicated to promoting a range of women’s and gender issues around the world.”

-- The Obama administration yesterday took the unprecedented step of creating obstacles to a widely-anticipated but poorly understood plan by Trump to establish a Muslim ban or registry — by dismantling the registry system that already exists. From Abigail Hauslohner and Ellen Nakahima: “The Department of Homeland Security issued a ‘final rule’ to formally dismantle the regulatory framework for the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), a preexisting government program that was used to register and monitor visitors from ‘high-risk’ countries from 2002 to 2011. Civil rights advocates, who have been calling for such action, say the program, enacted under former president George W. Bush, already amounted to a registry for Muslims through discriminatory targeting. Obama shelved the program in 2011, but the regulations that allow it to function were never dismantled. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped the Bush administration create the program after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and now advises Trump, has been photographed holding a proposal for NSEERS’s reinstatement while meeting with Trump. The move is the latest in a string of recent efforts by the Obama administration to safeguard current policies and Democratic values that they expect Trump to target.”

Paul Ryan shares a laugh with Republican members of Congress after signing legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood in January. Obama vetoed the measure. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

-- Trump’s pick to run the Health and Human Services Department traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies over the past four years while sponsoring and advocating legislation that potentially could affect those companies’ stocks. From the Wall Street Journal’s James Grimaldi and Michelle Hackman: “Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, bought and sold stock in about 40 health-care, pharmaceutical and biomedical companies since 2012, including a dozen in the current congressional session, according to a Wall Street Journal review of hundreds of pages of stock trades he filed with Congress. In the same two-year period, he has sponsored nine and co-sponsored 35 health-related bills in the House. His stock trades included Amgen Inc., Bristol Meyers Squibb Co., Eli Lilly & Co., Pfizer Inc. and Aetna Inc. His largest single stock buy was an August 2016 purchase of between $50,000 and $100,000 of an Australian biomedical firm, Innate Immunotherapeutics Inc., whose largest shareholder is a GOP congressman on the Trump transition team, according to the filings, which list price ranges. The stock has since doubled in price. … Price declined to answer detailed questions.”

-- “Two sources close to the Trump transition process” told the conservative Daily Caller reports that Bob Corker’s short stature was a trait that the president-elect did not want in his top diplomat, and that this hurt the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the secretary of state selection process.

SPY GAMES:

-- A newly declassified House Intelligence Committee report states that Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who passed secrets to journalists, “has had, and continues to have, contact with Russian intelligence services” — but says the evidence is classified. Snowden, 33, has been in Moscow since June 2013, when he left the country to avoid prosecution for sharing classified information about NSA and other intelligence-agency programs. (Ellen Nakashima)

-- Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, partnered this year with a controversial technology company co-run by a man once convicted of trying to sell stolen biotech material to the Russian KGB espionage agency. From Bloomberg: “Subu Kota, who pleaded guilty in 1996 to selling the material to an FBI agent posing as a Russian spy, is one of two board directors at the company, Boston-based Brainwave Science. During years of federal court proceedings, prosecutors presented evidence they said showed that between 1985 and 1990 Kota met repeatedly with a KGB agent and was part of a spy ring that made hundreds of thousands of dollars selling U.S. missile defense technology to Russian spies. Kota denied being part of a spy ring, reached a plea agreement in the biotech case and admitted to selling a sketch of a military helicopter to his co-defendant, who was later convicted of being a KGB operative.”

-- A federal board responsible for protecting Americans against abuses by spy agencies is in disarray just weeks before Trump takes office. From the AP’s Tami Abdollah:The five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board will have only two remaining members as of Jan. 7 — and zero Democrats, even though it is required to operate as an independent, bipartisan agency. The vacancies mean it will lack the minimum three members required to conduct business and can work only on ongoing projects. Trump would have to nominate new members who would have to be confirmed by the Senate. The board was revitalized after … Snowden’s disclosures on the scope of U.S. spying in 2013. It notably concluded that the NSA’s phone surveillance program was illegal. Since then, it has been crucial in ensuring members of Congress and the public have a window into the highly secretive and classified world of intelligence agencies. But it’s unclear whether Trump will support robust intelligence oversight.”

Why this matters: “Already in limbo is a public oversight report on the use of a Reagan-era executive order that since 1981 has authorized sweeping powers by intelligence agencies like the NSA to spy even on innocent Americans abroad and never has been subject to meaningful oversight from Congress or courts. The senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein of California, has said her committee has not been able to sufficiently oversee programs operated under the order. The privacy panel’s report on the order is stalled and there’s no work being done on it…”

A construction site is seen yesterday in the Israeli settlement of Beitar Ilit, in the West Bank. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

TWITTER DIPLOMACY:

-- Trump appeared yesterday to chart a dramatic new course for U.S. foreign policy on nuclear weapons and Israel -- all through 140 character messages to his 17.7 million followers.

-- It started when the president-elect tweeted that the U.S. should veto a United Nations resolution that would declare Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be illegal. Trump first communicated his feelings on the matter to the Obama administration, which was thinking about abstaining from the vote at the U.N. Security Council. The resolution also calls for Palestinians and Israelis to negotiate a two-state solution. The vote was postponed by Egypt until Friday after the ensuing controversy. 

Trump's tweet closely echoed an earlier post from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

Karen DeYoung has the backstory: "The resolution, promoted by liberal Jewish groups in the United States, has been the subject of intense debate in recent days within the Obama administration. Secretary of State John F. Kerry has pushed for a clear statement of position before the administration leaves office. A Kerry speech outlining the U.S. stance that was tentatively scheduled for Thursday morning appeared to have been canceled within two hours of its planned delivery. ... The resolution calls for the U.N. secretary general to report on implementation of the resolution within three months. [If] the resolution passes with a U.S. abstention, that would allow the Trump administration to veto any subsequent action to impose its terms."

-- Then, a few hours later, Trump tweeted that the U.S. needs to expand its nuclear arsenal, reversing decades of American foreign policy:

-- What prompted this? Trump had met with several high-ranking generals the night before, including an Air Force general charged with part of the nuclear program. The Fiscal Times notes that the president-elect did not skip his presidential daily briefing on Thursday, and he was likely told during that session that Vladimir Putin told the Kremlin's Defense Ministry Board: “We need to enhance the combat capability of strategic nuclear forces, primarily by strengthening missile complexes that will be guaranteed to penetrate existing and future missile defense systems."

-- Under the new START treaty negotiated between the Obama administration and Russia, and ratified by the Senate in 2010, each country's nuke count is supposed to be down to 1,550 by February 2018. While there is always talk of modernizing the current arsenal, no one had been discussing expanding it. State Department reporter Carol Morello has more:

  • "If he means what he says, this could be the end of the arms-control process that reduced 80 percent of our Cold War arsenal," said Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a Washington-based security foundation.
  • Former congressman John Tierney (D-Mass.), executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said: "It is dangerous for the President-elect to use just 140 characters and announce a major change in U.S. nuclear weapons policy, which is nuanced, complex, and affects every single person on this planet."

-- A visualization of America's standing on the nuclear front, via Philip Bump:

-- Foreign Policy's Brian McCleary puts the saber rattling in context: "The unexpected comments from [Putin and Trump] ... show how tough it may be to overcome great-power rivalries, driven both by Moscow’s desire to reclaim its place and a nervous NATO bulking up against a perceived threat. Putin’s speech at the defense ministry’s headquarters in Moscow comes weeks before NATO is slated to deploy thousands of new troops to Eastern Europe and the Baltic states in an effort to reassure alliance members looking nervously over their borders at their Russian neighbors, who are themselves moving troops and tanks to the border region. But questions remain over the ultimate fate of the new deployments, as Obama’s $3.4 billion European Reassurance Initiative — which would put more U.S. troops in Europe — could run up against Trump’s campaign promises to cut spending on stationing U.S. troops abroad."

-- Late last night, incoming White House communications director Jason Miller sought to walk back his boss's tweet a little. Rather than calling for more nuclear weapons, Miller told Yahoo News, he was referring to 'the threat of nuclear proliferation' and “the need to improve and modernize our deterrent capability.”

-- If you're hankering for a deeper exploration of why the collapse of the Soviet Union produced such unexpected consequences, from which the world is still reeling, Foreign Policy asked six experts to opine:

  1. "The collapse of the Soviet Union, like the disintegration of past empires, is a process rather than an event," says Harvard Professor Serhii Plokhy.
  2.  "Unfortunately, while the West was ignoring Russia, it was quietly mutating into something far more dangerous than the Soviet Union," commented CEO of Hermitage Capital Management Bill Browder.
  3.  "Twenty-five years later, as it seeks to rebuild itself as a global great power, Russia is realizing that founding an empire under a different name is not in the cards," argues Dmitri Trenin, director of Carnegie's Moscow Center.
  4.  "As Russia became less democratic and more nostalgic about Soviet glory in the late 1990s, Moscow began to show interest again in Central Asia," writes Nargis Kassenova,  associate professor and director of the Central Asian Studies Center at the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research.
  5.  "By overlooking how regimes strategically used offshore vehicles, bank accounts, and financial intermediaries, the West has ignored its own complicity in fostering the global networks that supported autocracies in Central Asia and around the former Soviet world," says Alexander Cooley, director of Columbia University’s Harriman Institute.
  6. Investigative journalist Andre Soldatov explains, "Like the Soviet Union before it, the Russian government and its security services are aiming to restrict innovation for fear of the social and political upheavals it could bring."
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II takes part in a flying display outside London this summer. (Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

-- But, wait, there's more! Trump wasn't done for the day: He said in a third tweet that he asked Boeing to "price out" a stealth fighter to replace one being developed by Lockheed Martin because of "tremendous cost and cost overruns."

-- The backstory, via Missy Ryan and Aaron Gregg: "The Super Hornet is a fighter jet that began flying in the 1990s. While the F-35 has been declared combat-capable, the United States has yet to fly it in combat missions. Trump has blasted the F-35 before, saying the cost is 'out of control' and promising that his administration would find savings in military hardware purchases. ... Even before Trump launched his public assault, the F-35, the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program, has come in for widespread criticism for design flaws and spiraling costs. While the current price for the various F-35 variants is at least $100 million per plane, the company has said that it will fall to $85 million each in four or five years. This fall, Pentagon and officials from Lockheed Martin failed to agree on a mutually acceptable price for the latest batch of planes. And last month, Canada said it might buy Super Hornets until it decides whether to go ahead with planned F-35 purchases. A number of U.S. allies, including Israel, are buying F-35s. While some lawmakers have criticized the program, the jet’s supply chain touches virtually every state, giving it many defenders in Congress. Lockheed Martin estimates the program accounts for 38,900 jobs in Texas alone, and close to 10,000 in Connecticut."

Jimmy Carter delivers a lecture at the House of Lords in London. (Neil Hall/Pool Photo via AP, File)

-- One month out, Jimmy Carter is the only former president to RSVP to Trump’s inauguration, while Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are putting off their decision until the new year. From Politico’s Tara Palmeri: “The Clintons have been keeping a low profile since the election and have made no decisions about whether to attend, according to a person familiar with the planning. Angel Urena, a spokesman for Bill Clinton, declined to comment. Bush’s spokesman, Freddy Ford, (said) that the most recent Republican president will not announce whether he will attend until the new year, while a source familiar with the matter said Bush is also still weighing whether to show up. … George H.W. Bush has confirmed that he will not be at the inauguration, according to his spokesman, Jim McGrath, who cited the 41st president’s age, 92, as the reason why he will skip.”

-- The Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir confirmed they will perform at Trump’s inaugural. (Daily News)

Steven Mnuchin, who will be Treasury secretary, will be in the driver's seat on tax reform negotiations. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

-- With the fight over tax reform looming, Kelsey Snell outlines the five biggest obstacles standing in the president-elect's waylarge cuts for individuals and businesses that will likely balloon the deficit; selling a plan that will benefit the uber-rich, getting Democrats on board, beating the business lobby, and figuring out the right way to do international tax reform. It may be the second coming of The Showdown Over Gucci Gulch, as the 1986 tax wars are remembered, or it could fail spectacularly.

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

A sobering change in downtown Washington:

Twitter blew up with responses to Trump's tweet about nuclear weapons:

Here's a tweetstorm from our colleage Dan Zak, an expert on nuclear weapons:

Want to better understand nuclear procedure? Tom Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, walked through it with gifs from Friends:

Trump is having trouble accepting that almost no one wants to perform at his inauguration:

Most big names are reacting like this:

Trump subtly rebuked Newt Gingrich for claiming he no longer wanted to use the catchphrase "drain the swamp":

Here's Gingrich's mea culpa (click to watch):

Two reflections on Gingrich's video:

Here's a sampling of Twitter reaction to the airline passenger who confronted Ivanka Trump:

Scott Walker has -- count 'em -- at least three Christmas trees:

Here's a look at how lawmakers are marking the holiday on Instagram:

Hamilton's Rory O'Malley, who plays King George, met a special guest backstage:

Anthony Bourdain explained why he'll never eat in a Trump restaurant:

Former NAACP president Ben Jealous is calling for a boycott of North Carolina:

And by the way, no matter what Trump might think, John Bolton is definitely not giving up his mustache:

Finally, in case you haven't seen it, this Bolton gif is one of the best of the year:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“I don’t play golf and I don’t have a mistress, so I have a lot of time that these other men don’t.” – Kellyanne Conway, asked on Fox Business about taking a top White House job while having four children

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

--Welcome to a...warm Christmas: "Not white and snowy (sorry!), but mild and slightly above our average high temperatures this holiday weekend. Good for travelling, at least! Each day has a different weather story to keep things interesting. Even tomorrow’s rain won’t be a washout," the Capital Weather Gang forecasts.

Forecast for Christmas Day: "Looking good, with sunshine and mild air in the mid-40s to near 50 degrees. So, maybe not the most occasion-appropriate weather — and definitely not white — but it does make our travels stress-free. At least from a weather standpoint."

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Charlie Baker, along with several other Massachusetts politicians, did a sing along to "Jingle Bell Rock." Watch it here.

Caroline Kennedy, and her staff in the U.S. embassy, showed off their dance moves by doing a rendition of the "Koi Dance" (Love Dance) from one of the most popular TV shows in Japan:

A Trump supporter is trying to get under Bryan Cranston's skin:

Seth Meyers hosted Rachel Maddow:

And looked at what Trump's presidency could mean for the environment:

SNL took viewers behind the scenes to show how the crew handles a fast set change:

And finally, in honor of the holidays, here are five classic sketches from the show, starting with the Hanukkah Song:

And we'll sign off for 2016 with this sketch from last Christmas:

From our families to yours, happy holidays!