THE BIG IDEA:

— Sen. Timothy M. Kaine is frustrated at leaders in both parties for not making time to consider a formal authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State.

“The British Parliament, the French National Assembly, the German Bundesrat and even the Duma in Russia, for God’s sake, are having a debate and having a vote,” the Democratic senator from Virginia said in an extended interview. “The spotlight is getting bigger and bigger on congressional inaction and indifference.”

A week ago Sunday, President Obama used his Oval Office address to call on the legislative branch to “vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists.” While some members signaled support, the latest push is basically dead on arrival.

Sitting on a yellow couch in his office, the former governor ticked off events that should have prompted lawmakers to, well, get off their couches: the beheadings of American hostages, the downing of a Russian airliner over Egypt, the coordinated attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, including a U.S. student, and now the massacre in San Bernardino, Calif.

Instead, he fumed, “It’s been crickets over here. And, in the House, even more so.”

This has been Kaine’s crusade for 18 months now. Starting with a June 2014 letter in The Post — two months before Obama started bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq — he’s pressed for Congress to assert its constitutional prerogative and define the scope of the mission. This June, Kaine and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) proposed language that would authorize the use of force for three years with certain limitations. They have not even gotten a hearing in committee.

Still burned by the messiness of the 2013 deliberations about intervening in Syria, congressional leaders are eager to avoid a vote that could haunt members facing tough reelection campaigns. They say a debate is moot because the far-reaching war authorization that passed Congress soon after the 9/11 attacks gives Obama the justification he needs to let them off the hook. Hawks on the right worry about tying the president’s hands with limitations, such as restricting the number of ground troops. Doves on the left worry about giving a blank check for another open-ended conflict in the Middle East.

“They want to criticize the president, but if they can avoid voting to authorize or stop him . . . then they feel they can be completely scot-free, and they’re not going to be held accountable,” Kaine said.

What really set Kaine off was the speed with which the House passed a bill to severely restrict the U.S. government from admitting Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks last month. The measure, which proponents say is necessary to stop Islamic State plants from sneaking into the homeland, was labeled the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act. SAFE, for short. “The title of the bill really made me mad,” said Kaine, who took a year off during Harvard Law School to work as a Catholic missionary in Honduras.

Recounting visits with Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, he called it “the worst humanitarian atrocity since World War II”: “I know what these people are fleeing from. We have an enemy, and the enemy is ISIL. And Congress won’t call ISIL an enemy. . . . “The incongruity between it taking us two days to label the wrong people ‘enemies’ when, for 17 months, we don’t have the backbone to call the right people enemies, it made me so mad.” The Islamic State, a radical al-Qaeda offshoot, is also known as ISIS and ISIL.

Kaine pledges not to give up the fight. Congress will vote this week on a still-being-negotiated omnibus spending bill. Then both chambers will leave town for more than three weeks of recess, punting the issue — at the very least — into next year. “Congress really wants to avoid this, but it’s getting harder and harder to avoid it as the threat is getting closer to closer home,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it will be next week, as opposed to next month, or next month, as opposed to March, but I just think that Congress is going to get dragged into this.”

— Against this backdrop, the first-term senator has been generating more and more buzz as a potential Hillary Clinton vice presidential pick next summer. He’s all the rage among Democratic insiders on the Christmas party circuit.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said in a video interview with the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party that posted last week, “If she gave me her short list, I would give an endorsement to Tim Kaine like she’s never heard. I’ve served with him; I have a reverence for him that’s incredible.”

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), a close confidant of the Clintons, says he’s lobbied Hillary to pick either Kaine or fellow Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.

Asked about Booker floating him, Kaine sounded like an old pro: “He was trying to deflect attention away from himself. That’s what you do. Cory is one of the few kind of rock stars we have on our side. He was getting asked about it, so he said, ‘I think Kaine is fantastic.’ Not insincere, I don’t believe.”

“I was speculated about in 2008,” he added. “I always kind of had the feeling that, ‘I think I am going to be governor of Virginia, that that was my highest and best use.’ … And I have the same kind of feeling now. I’ve got this ability in the Senate to make a difference on issues I care about.”

THE LATEST ON THE FIGHT AGAINST ISIS: 

French anti-terrorism authorities are investigating an attack earlier this morning on a preschool teacher in a Paris suburb by a masked assailant with a box-cutter and scissors who was yelling about ISIS. A manhunt is underway. (AP)

John Kerry spent yesterday in Rome trying to subvert the rise of ISIS in North Africa. “Diplomats fearful of advances by Islamic militants in the chaos of Libya endorsed a plan Sunday for a cease-fire and a national unity government,” Carol Morello reports from the scene. “Kerry joined 20 other diplomats from Europe, Africa and the Middle East to address mounting concern that Libya is about to become, as Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi recently said, ‘the next emergency’ after Syria. Increasingly, Europeans worry that Libya could become a new breeding ground for fighters escaping the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. From there, they could plot attacks against Western capitals. According to a recent U.N. report, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Islamic State fighters are now in Libya. The Islamic State already controls the city of Sirte, Gaddafi’s home town.”

President Obama is making a rare trip to the Pentagon today to meet with his national security team and to try reassuring the country ahead of the holidays. It’s his first trip there since July. “Obama will travel to the National Counterterrorism Center on Thursday for a threat briefing just before leaving Washington for his annual two-week Hawaii vacation,” Greg Jaffe reports.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

— Two new polls show Hillary solidifying her lead in the Democratic race. 

A Des Moines Register-Bloomberg survey shows Clinton up 9 points in Iowa among likely Democratic caucus-goers. She scores 48 percent to Bernie Sanders’s 39 percent. She’s up four points from the poll in early October, and he’s up two. Martin O’Malley, who has worked Iowa hard, doubled his support — but to just 4 percent. Other tidbits:

  • 82 percent of likely caucus-goers have a favorable image of Clinton, compared to 80 percent for Bernie.
  • There’s a generational, gender and income divide among Dems. Hillary wins among older (64 percent), female (54 percent) and wealthier (55 percent) voters.
  • Clinton leads Sanders on who is best to fight “Islamic terrorism” and on the economy, while Sanders leads on who can best rein in Wall Street and is most “honest and trustworthy.”
  • One bright spot for Sanders: he leads among first-time caucus-goers, 49 to 40 percent. But those are the hardest people to get to turn out.

An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll that went off embargo at midnight has Hillary leading Bernie by 19 points nationally (56-37). Clinton beats Donald Trump in a head-to-head matchup by 10 points (50-40) and Ted Cruz by 3 points (48-45), but she trails Ben Carson (47-46) and Marco Rubio (48-45). For everyone but Trump, that’s within the margin of error.

The establishment strikes back in France to beat back xenophobia. “Voters turned out in droves Sunday to prevent a surging anti-establishment, anti-immigration party from capturing regional office, a week after the once-fringe group shocked many by leading the nationwide vote in the first round of elections,” Michael Birnbaum reports from Calais. “As the votes were counted, the initial results made clear that the National Front had been barred from office…. The group, which has campaigned to stop immigration, slash benefits to non-citizens and restrict France’s ties to the European Union, has already shifted France’s debate around immigration, pushing mainstream leaders to take a harder line against refugees and non-citizens.” National Front leader Marine Le Pen, considered by some to be Europe’s Donald Trump, delivered a defiant concession speech.

GET SMART FAST:

  1. Journalists who are accredited by federal agencies likely had their personal information hacked by the Chinese, and the OPM is now notifying the victims. (Lisa Rein)
  2. Houston elected Democratic state representative Sylvester Turner as mayor. (Houston Chronicle)
  3. At least 19 women won seats in Saudi Arabian municipal elections, the first time that females were allowed to vote and be candidates in the kingdom. (Sheika Aldosary)
  4. A 23-year-old man was charged with arson and is being investigated for a hate crime in connection with a fire that was set at a mosque in Palm Springs. Two other mosques in Hawthorne, California, were also vandalized, with the word “Jesus” spray-painted onto one. (Los Angeles Times)
  5. Planned Parenthood sued Ohio in U.S. District Court to “protect abortion access in Ohio” in response to the state attorney general claiming the clinic improperly disposed of fetal remains, allegations Planned Parenthood called defamatory. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
  6. A Tennessee woman has been charged with attempted murder after she unsuccessfully tried to give herself an abortion with a clothes hanger. (Sarah Kaplan)
  7. Hundreds of newborns and their mothers were exposed to tuberculosis from a nurse at a hospital in San Jose. Every infant born at the facility between August and November will now need to take antibiotics for months as a precaution. (San Jose Mercury News)
  8. Russia fired warning shots at a Turkish boat after it got close to a Russian ship in the Aegean Sea. (New York Times)
  9. Turkey’s president said Europe would be better off if his country mended its relationship with Israel. The expression of interest comes five years after an Israeli naval raid killed eight Turkish citizens. (AP)
  10. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, worried about shoring up her base ahead of an important party convention, announced that she now wants to “drastically decrease” the number of refugees entering Germany. (AP)
  11. A video appears to show a Los Angeles cop fatally shooting a man as he walked away. (Peter Holley)
  12. Police shot and killed a University of North Texas student who was wielding an ax and approached an officer near campus. (Dallas Morning News)
  13. The mayor of Clarkesville, Ga., Terry Greene, was fatally shot last night after a domestic dispute. Details are sketchy, and it’s not clear if it was self-inflicted. (WSMV)
  14. About 725,000 people in the Philippines have evacuated their homes because of a typhoon about to make landfall. (AP)

POWER PLAYERS IN THE NEWS:

  1. Bernie pulled negative web ads that attacked Hillary for receiving funding from big banks and other “big money interests.” (John Wagner)
  2. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) will endorse Hillary today. (Chicago Sun Times)
  3. Trump’s Turnberry golf club in Scotland, a course that hosted four Open Championships before The Donald bought it, will no longer be in contention to host the storied tournament because of his controversial comments. (U.K. Independent)
  4. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) today becomes the longest-serving governor in U.S. history, passing New York’s George Clinton, who held the office for 20 years, 11 months and 3 days. (Smart Politics posted a list of the 50 longest-ever serving governors.)
  5. Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan dined together privately for two hours in the speaker’s office Friday night. They ate steak and fries from Medium Rare, and a GOP aide said the two mostly focused on getting to know each other, with only a little bit of omnibus talk. (Politico)
  6. DHS chief of staff Christian Marrone is leaving for a job in the private sector. (He reflects on his tenure in an exit interview with Carol D. Leonnig.)
  7. Alabama running back Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy. (Marissa Payne)

ANOTHER GOP DEBATE TOMORROW NIGHT: 

— CNN announced that Rand Paul will stay on the main stage but Mike Huckabee is getting bumped to the undercard. (David Weigel)

— Two new polls over the weekend brought great news for Cruz. He’s second nationally, and he is now the undisputed Iowa front-runner. Des Moines Register/Bloomberg survey showed Cruz jumping into the GOP lead with a huge 21-point boost to 31 percent in the Hawkeye State. He was at 10 percent among likely GOP caucus-goers in their October poll. Trump falls to 2nd, with 21 percent compared to 13 percent for Carson and 10 percent for Rubio. Other nuggets:

  • Cruz’s support might not have peaked: 20 percent of Republicans identify him as their 2nd choice, for a combined total of 51 percent if first and second choices are considered. Jeb Bush is at 6 percent.
  • Most of Carson’s support transferred to Cruz: Carson dropped 23 percent among “very conservative” voters, while Cruz rose an equal amount.
  • Jeb Bush garnered 7 percent, neck-and-neck with Carly Fiorina at 5 percent.
  • No other Republican broke 3 percent.

— Cruz and Trump will be standing next to each other on stage, which could make for great fireworks. While Cruz has publicly refrained from attacking the billionaire businessman, The Donald made clear over the weekend that he won’t hesitate to go after him. If attacked, will Cruz respond?

A taste of tomorrow? Trump said on Fox News Sunday that Cruz has acted like a “maniac” in the Senate, and that he doesn’t have the “right judgment” to be president. Then he tweeted a series of attacks:

Cruz tried to have fun with it, invoking “Flashdance”:

— New ad: Rubio will go on TV ahead of the debate with a commercial that seeks to tap into the frustration that Trump has capitalized on while also targeting social conservatives. “This election is about the essence of America,” the Florida senator says straight to camera. “About all of us who feel out of place in our own country. A government incredibly out of touch and millions with traditional values branded bigots and haters. This is about wages growing slower than the cost of living. A generation drowning in debt, and a president humiliated by Putin, Iran, and Islamic jihadists. I’m Marco Rubio. I approve this message because this is about the greatest country in the world and acting like it.” Watch here.

— Rubio could join a Cruz pile-on tomorrow night. He told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that Cruz voting against the Defense Authorization Act and the Iron Dome for Israel makes Cruz akin to an isolationist. (NBC News)

— Whither Ben Carson? He’s collapsed in Iowa and nationally. If Ben Carson is on a learning curve, Tuesday’s GOP debate is test day,” writes Jose A. DelReal. The retired neurosurgeon reiterated yesterday that he will bolt the Republican Party if leaders continue to make “back-room deals,” citing The Post’s report that leaders of the establishment are planning for the possibility of a brokered GOP convention. (ABC News)

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

— “Cruz campaign credits psychological data and analytics for its rising success,” by Tom Hamburger: “Cruz has largely built his program out of his Houston headquarters, where a team of statisticians and behavioral psychologists who subscribe to the ­burgeoning practice of ‘psycho­graphic targeting’ built their own version of a Myers-Briggs personality test. The test data is supplemented by recent issue surveys, and together they are used to categorize supporters, who then receive specially tailored messages, phone calls and visits. Micro-targeting of voters has been around for well over a decade, but the Cruz operation has deepened the intensity of the effort and the use of psychological data. Cruz, a critic of excessive government data collection, has been notably aggressive about gathering personal information for his campaign. Some of the data comes from typical sources, such as voters’ consumer habits and Facebook posts. Some is homegrown, such as a new smartphone app that keeps supporters in touch while giving the campaign the ability to scrape their phones for additional contacts. Another emerging tactic that the campaign has employed is ‘geo-fencing,’ a technique that allows people to send messages to digital devices in narrow areas, such as a city block or a single building.”

The Paris tick tock — Anatomy of a deal: How the climate accord was won — and nearly lost,” by Joby Warrick: “The formal adoption of the accord late Saturday was greeted with applause and cheers by thousands of weary delegates to the climate talks here. But the happy conclusion was preceded by days and weeks of tough bargaining, along with occasional flashes of drama. Over the 13 days of the climate talks, and for months prior to it, negotiators faced the daunting task of forging consensus among government officials from nearly 200 countries — some of whom had been initially skeptical or even hostile to parts of the proposal. U.S. and European officials prepared the ground for an agreement during months of heavy lobbying and deal-making in scattered capitals around the globe. But while the talks were far calmer than past climate negotiations, closing the deal was at times a diplomatic high-wire act, the success of which was never assured until the final moments.” Kerry touted the deal in a round robin on Sunday show appearances. The secretary of state said on ABC that the agreement is very transparent because the United States knows what each of the countries will do to reduce carbon emissions.

— “Friend of San Bernardino shooter is at center of FBI investigation,” by Joel Achenbach, Sari Horwitz and Adam Goldman: As they question Enrique Marquez, investigators are ‘running to ground’ everything they are hearing, aware that just because Marquez is telling them something doesn’t make it true.… Marquez’s whereabouts are unknown.… He appears to be in legal limbo. Authorities expect to file charges against him but have not detailed what they would be. There is no sign Marquez has retained an attorney. Officials say there is no urgency to arrest him as long as he is cooperating and they are verifying what he is saying.… The FBI announced Sunday that material retrieved by divers from a lake near the massacre site is being analyzed as possible evidence. The FBI had been tipped that the shooters had possibly discarded something — authorities think it was a computer hard drive or other electronics — on the day of the attack. There are no plans to search the lake further.”

— Iraqi armed forces see chance for redemption as they close in on Ramadi,” by Loveday Morris: “Buoyed by advances over the past week, Iraqi commanders say they expect to regain all of Ramadi by the end of the year. For Iraq’s armed forces, and the Americans who are training and backing them, this is a particularly important fight. Here, the country’s Shiite militias are not taking part, and that gives the regular Iraqi military a chance to repair its image. The fall of Ramadi seven months ago struck a blow to the already tattered reputation of the security forces, and it highlighted flaws in the U.S. approach to supporting them. On Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Ismail al-Mahlawi’s soldiers retook control of the Anbar Operations Command compound, in northern Ramadi. For his men, who were once based here, it was a poignant win, and aside from the U.S.-led airstrikes, it was solely theirs.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

— ZIGNAL VISUAL: TV still isn’t feeling the Bern. The Democratic race for president continues to look very different on social media than it is on television. Whereas the Republican race is dominated by Trump across all forms of media, Hillary Clinton dominates the number of mentions of television, while Bernie Sanders receives more attention on Twitter. This bolsters the Vermont senator’s complaint, which he voiced in his stump speech this weekend, that the corporate media is ignoring him. The graphics below, from our analytics partners at Zignal Labs, show the share of voice in each medium since November 1:

On social media: 

On television:

— Pictures of the day:

CNN and the RNC are getting ready for tomorrow night’s debate in Vegas:

Veterans were honored Saturday in cemeteries around the country by Wreaths Across America:

D.C. journalists enjoyed a Donald Trump ice luge at a Christmas party:

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) watched an old holiday favorite:

— Tweets of the day:

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) rallied for tougher gun laws with Julianne Moore:

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) had a blunt answer for a tweeted question:

— Instagrams of the day:

Hillary Clinton snapped a photo on the set of “Broad City”:

Mitt Romney and John McCain, 2008 foes, spent the afternoon campaigning together in Mesa, Ariz.:

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) prepared for the Tulsa Christmas parade. “Come join us in celebrating the reason for the season, Jesus Christ,” he wrote:

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) caught dinner:

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) saw Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith in concert:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

— Wall Street Journal, “Ben Carson’s ties to Mannatech are many,” by Mark Maremont and Christopher S. Stewart: “During a campaign that has made him a top GOP contender, Carson has tried to distance himself from Mannatech, which has battled regulators’ accusations that it made deceptive health claims for its products. ‘It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship’ with Mannatech, Carson said when asked about those ties during an October GOP debate. He said at the debate that he gave ‘a couple of speeches’ for the company and believes its supplements helped him personally. Mannatech, based in Coppell, Texas, said Carson has never been a paid endorser or spokesman. A closer review, however, reveals previously undisclosed ties and a tighter relationship between the famed physician and the company. In a 2009 letter to Mannatech’s then-CEO, Carson thanked the company for a $25,000 donation to help fund an endowed professorship Carson had been awarded by Johns Hopkins.”

— Center for Public Integrity, “Inside Ben Carson’s small-dollar fundraising machine,” by Carrie Levine: “Three-fourths of Carson contributors who gave $200 or more to his campaign — 18,475 people — have not donated to any other federal political candidate since at least 2007 …The success can also be credited to the Carson campaign’s expensive and ambitious fundraising strategy. The campaign has paid millions of dollars this year to telemarketers and fundraising firms to identify and cultivate the kinds of potential donors … who are now largely bankrolling his campaign … The strategy has paid off. The Carson campaign has now received more than a million contributions from roughly 570,000 people…. The average contribution: a modest $50.”

— Wall Street Journal, “Sen. Bob Corker failed to properly disclose millions of dollars in income,” by Brody Mullins: Sen. Bob Corker failed to properly disclose millions of dollars in income from real estate, hedge funds and other investments since entering the Senate in 2007, according to new financial reports filed by the Tennessee Republican. Corker late Friday filed a series of amendments showing that his personal financial reports as originally filed included dozens of errors and omissions. The new filings came after The Wall Street Journal asked the senator’s office about some irregularities in his prior financial reports. The new forms show that Corker had failed to properly disclose at least $2 million in income from investments in three small hedge funds based in his home state. He also didn’t properly report millions of dollars in income from commercial real-estate investments due to an accounting error. And he didn’t disclose millions of dollars in other assets and income from other financial transactions.”

— Yahoo News, “Obama wants to meet with dissidents in Cuba,” by Olivier Knox: Obama “very much” hopes to visit Cuba during his last year in office, but only if he can meet with pro-Democracy dissidents there. ‘If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody,’ Obama said. ‘I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President [Raul] Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba’ … Obama strongly hinted that he would make a decision “over the next several months … White House aides privately describe an Obama visit – under the right circumstances – as the logical culmination of the new policy direction that he announced almost exactly one year ago.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

Implementation will make or break the climate agreement. From The Washington Post: “Even if everyone plays by the rules, the standards and goals set out by the Paris agreement may not be enough to prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change. New science suggests that forces already set in motion — the melting of glaciers, the release of carbon dioxide from thawing permafrost — could unleash considerable impacts that this new deal is unable to prevent.”

HOT ON THE RIGHT

Conservative group calls for federal inquiry into Clinton son-in-law’s request. From Time: “A conservative watchdog group [accuses] Clinton of giving special government access to an investor in a deep-sea mining company because of his connections to Clinton’s son-in-law. The group, called the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), plans to file a complaint with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics on Monday. … The complaint comes two weeks after emails released by the State Department show that Clinton followed up on a special request from Marc Mezvinsky, Chelsea Clinton’s husband.”

DAYBOOK:

— What’s happening today on the campaign trail: Hillary Clinton speaks at the National Immigration Conference in Brooklyn, N.Y. Bernie Sanders is in Nashua and Hollis, N.H. Donald Trump and Marco Rubio hold pre-debate rallies in Las Vegas. Chris Christie is in South Carolina for a town hall. 

— On the Hill: The Senate meets at 3 p.m. No votes are expected in the House.

— At the White House: President Obama holds a National Security Council meeting on the effort to counter the Islamic State before delivering a statement from the Pentagon. Vice President Biden speaks at the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Event.

— Coming attractions: The Supreme Court has agreed to review state laws that make it a crime to refuse to take a blood alcohol test if the officer does not have a warrant. “The court took cases from North Dakota and Minnesota to consider whether laws that criminalize the refusal to take a test are constitutional. Those are among 13 — including Virginia — in the country with such a requirement,” writes SCOTUS reporter Robert Barnes. “The challengers say such laws violate the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and do not fit within the Supreme Court’s requirements about what police may do without a warrant.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“I don’t believe he’s hateful and I don’t believe he’s a bigot,” Chris Christie told a voter in New Hampshire who asked about his pledge to support Trump if he’s the nominee. “I’ve disagreed with him on a number of different things.… But I’ve known him for 13 years, and I don’t believe he is those things.” (CBS)

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

— “You can leave the heavy jackets at home today,” the Capital Weather Gang forecasts. “Many of us start the day at or above 50 degrees. Then, depending on the amount of sunshine and the exact timing of showers moving into the region, highs reach the mid-60s to around 70 degrees. The chance of showers varies from about 20 percent early this afternoon to 60 percent by late afternoon. Winds are from the south around 10 mph.”

— The Redskins beat the Chicago Bears 24-21 to stay atop the NFC East. (Liz Clarke)

— Virginia is Ground Zero for the GOP’s civil war at the non-presidential level. The divisions were on display this weekend at the Homestead resort, where the state GOP held its annual gathering known as “The Advance.” Two takeaways:

U.S. Rep. Robert Wittman (R) jumped into the 2017 race for governor, meaning that Ed Gillespie does NOT have the GOP nomination sewn up. The former RNC chair and high-powered lobbyist, who barely lost a Senate race to Mark Warner last year, raised $400,000 at two fundraisers last week. But the nominee will be decided by a convention of conservative activists and not in a primary, which is bad news for such a paragon of the establishment.

Ken Cuccinelli, the 2013 nominee, also said that he’s seriously considering another run. “I’d love to, but a lot of things have to fall into place, and we’ll see,” he told my colleagues Laura Vozzella and Jenna Portnoy, adding that he won’t make a decision until after the presidential election.

Rep. Dave Brat, who toppled Eric Cantor last year, is likely to face a serious primary challenge from the establishment. Mike Wade, the longtime sheriff in the Richmond suburb of Henrico County says he’s “strongly considering” a run against the freshman. “Cantor’s longtime chief of staff, Kristi Way, ran Wade’s first election,” Laura and Jenna report from Hot Springs. “In that vein, the Virginia Conservative Network — a group formed by Cantor allies to embrace party faithful who feel alienated by the rise of the tea-party influenced Conservative Fellowship within the state party — held a competing event on what party leaders see as their turf this weekend.” The state party chairman reacted bitterly to what he perceived as a slight.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Will Ferrell was back on “SNL” as George W. Bush, mocking the 2016 GOP field:

The show also spoofed “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren,” along with Cruz:

Watch an epic brawl break out on the floor of the Ukrainian parliament: