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McCain is missing as shutdown blame game escalates

John McCain's continued Senate absence
John McCain's continued Senate absence

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    John McCain's continued Senate absence

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Story highlights

  • McCain's continued absence from the Hill is felt even more during the shutdown
  • GOP hopes to sell tax reform bill to gain a midterms bump

Washington (CNN)Here are the stories our DC insiders are talking about in this week's "Inside Politics" forecast, where you get a glimpse of tomorrow's headlines today.

1) McCain missing from the shutdown debate

As the government stays closed, there's a prominent voice missing from the shutdown blame game. Senator John McCain of Arizona, is back home getting treatment for brain cancer.
    As CNN's John King reports, McCain released a statement saying both sides share the blame for DC dysfunction. But the senator's absence from the Hill hasn't gone unnoticed.
    "The words of the senator's friends are very telling. Three weeks ago, Senator Lindsey Graham said McCain would be back in Washington for January's big debates. This week he told CNN he hopes his friend will be back soon, sometime soon. Soon, though, does not appear to mean this month," King explains.
    "A source in touch with McCain tells CNN he will not plan to be here for President Trump's State of the Union address. That's on January 30th."

    2) Coming soon: a Romney announcement?

    Will he run or won't he? The Mitt Romney-for-Senate rumors have been swirling ever since veteran Sen. Orrin Hatch announced his retirement, opening up his Utah seat.
    As CNN's Maeve Reston tells us, expect an announcement from the former Massachusetts governor as early as the end of this week.
    "His next big task ahead of him is not only building a lean and very Utah-centric campaign, but also to gather all the signatures he needs to get on the ballot. People around him are saying that he is probably going to collect ... as many as double the number he needs to show he's got the grassroots support out there," Reston reports.
    "You'll see a lot of campaign staffers and former campaign staffers jumping on the plane to help him."

    3) GOP plan to sell tax reform ahead of 2018 midterms

    Republicans face a tough year ahead as their party gears up for midterms. The latest CNN poll conducted by SSRS shows Democrats a have a slight advantage among registered voters when it comes to their choice for Congress -- 49% Democrat to 44% Republican. Among enthusiastic voters, it's worse for the GOP with 56% choosing Democrats and 41% Republicans.
    The Washington Post's Dan Balz explains that the tax reform bill that passed last month -- and how it's sold to the public -- could be a key factor as the midterms get closer.
    "The Republicans who I've been talking to recently believe that there's an opportunity and they're going to spend millions of dollars trying to do this -- making a big bet on convincing people that the tax bill is good for them. Every poll we've seen so far, most people think that it's tilted toward the wealthy. It's improved a little bit in some of the recent polls, but there's still a long way to go," Balz says.
    "They (Republicans) feel there's a story to tell and they're going to try to do it. If they fail, they know they're going to be in big trouble in November."

    4) Lessons from the DREAM Act

    A Capitol Hill history lesson: The DREAM Act is very much in the conversation right now, given the government shutdown. But the legislation and the drama surrounding it have actually been around for awhile now.
    Senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch first introduced it in 2001 and controversy has followed every since.
    Bloomberg's Sahil Kapur shares his reporting on the DREAM Act, which would grant a conditional green card to all current recipients in the DACA program. Despite being reintroduced several times, the bill has yet to pass.
    "It's gotten a number of votes in Congress every step of the way. It's been supported by a majority of Democrats and opposed by a majority of congressional Republicans. That includes Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell, and their leadership teams right now," Kapur reports.
    "They will not touch this issue unless President Trump supports something specific and gives them political cover for it. He is going to be critical to getting this government reopened again if Democrats are going to be able to say they have some sort of end game on DACA -- that's why they're dug in right now."

    5) Bannon's Russia investigation motivations

    Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is on the outs with Trump and the administration after comments attributed to him in Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury" book.
    Congressional investigators took note of those quotes and interviewed him this past week about his Trump campaign and WH dealings and how they relate to the Russia investigation.
    But CNN's Sara Murray explains that Bannon may have a strategy when it comes to his controversial comments.
    "I've spoken to Republicans who are taking a more charitable view of what Bannon said," she says. "They say, 'Look, this is a smart guy. This is the president's former chief strategist.' They say he's looking down the line and he sees that the Trump White House is going down and basically wants to be on the right side of history."