Here are the stories our D.C. insiders are talking about in this week’s “Inside Politics” forecast, where you get a glimpse of tomorrow’s headlines today.
1. Pruitt scandals piling up
There’s yet another spending scandal for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Newly released agency documents showed his staff ordered a set of 12 fountain pens for more than $1,500, plus a set of journals that cost more than $1,600.
Pruitt has already been under fire for lavish taxpayer-funded travel and for spending $43,000 on a sound-proof phone booth for his office.
“We’ve had months and months of stories about Scott Pruitt,” Washington Post reporter Josh Dawsey said. “And some of these investigations seem to be coming to a head. But so far the President has stood resolutely behind his embattled EPA administrator.”
Dawsey said President Trump likes Pruitt because of how well he’s done dismantling President Barack Obama’s environmental record. “But I don’t know how long that can last,” Dawsey said.
2. Showdown over Dreamers
House Republicans’ long-awaited showdown over immigration may erupt this week.
Politico’s Rachael Bade reports that a handful of GOP moderates want to force a floor vote by Thursday on protecting Dreamers, which they can do with a so-called “discharge petition” signed by a majority of House members. They’re just a few GOP signatures short of that.
Conservative House Republicans want to kill anything they regard as “amnesty.” Speaker Paul Ryan says that’s a bad idea. Bade reports Ryan wants to reach a deal with the two rival GOP factions that would avoid a vote.
“They know it would look terrible if a bipartisan bill supported mostly by Democrats passes the GOP-controlled House,” Bade said. “But conservatives are unwilling to give moderate Republicans what they want – which is a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. And without that, the moderates say ‘we’re going to work with Democrats and go around you guys.’”
3. Human rights at a North Korea summit?
Human rights groups say the North Korean government is one of the most repressive regimes in the world, a totalitarian state that runs huge labor camps for political prisoners and executes anyone who crosses Kim Jong Un.
But that doesn’t mean the US plans to bring this up at the North Korea summit, if it happens.
“President Trump said this week when he met with a top (Korean) official that human rights didn’t come up,” Associated Press reporter Catherine Lucey said. “We know that his priority, obviously, is a nuclear deal. And he’s not the first US president to focus on that. But we’ve heard from lawmakers and human rights activists who are pushing for this not to be completely discarded as part of these talks.”
4. California Democrats are nervous
Californians head to the polls Tuesday to vote in a primary election that’s unlike any other in the nation. Instead of separate Democratic and Republican primaries, voters will pick from a single ballot with the top two finishers advancing to the general election – regardless of party.
That presents a complicated math problem for Democrats in House districts they think they can take from Republicans – but only if they have a candidate on the final ballot. Party leaders are worried that there are too many Democrats running in some key districts, meaning they could splinter the vote and fall out of the top two.
CNN’s Manu Raju reports there are two seats in particular that worry Democrats – both currently held by Republicans but that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“A lot of money has been spent in the last week by Democrats nationally to try to prevent that,” Raju said. “If Republicans are successful Tuesday, they will be buoyed in their effort to keep the House. Democrats will say it is not a total disaster, there are other ways to recapture the House. But no doubt about it, a big test on Tuesday.”
5. Questions surround McCain’s seat
A weekend tweet from Sen. John McCain on immigration is the latest proof he intends to stir big debates even as he remains away from Washington because of his battle with brain cancer, CNN’s John King said.
The Saturday tweet closed a week in which McCain’s future was front and center.
Under Arizona law, May 31 was the deadline for ordering a special Senate election in 2018. Now, if McCain’s seat were to become vacant, the state’s GOP governor would name an interim senator to serve the remainder of McCain’s term, which runs through 2020.
There was a fresh wave of speculation early in the week because McCain met with the governor just before the deadline. At least one report about that meeting mentioned Cindy McCain as a potential replacement for her husband.
The pushback was swift.
GOP Gov. Doug Ducey said it was a routine meeting, and that any speculation about a McCain successor was both premature and tasteless.
Cindy’s McCain’s name has come up in recent months as McCain allies talk through scenarios and discuss their hope that a “McCain person” would be named to any vacancy.
“But sources tell CNN Mrs. McCain was not happy at the mention in news reports this past week,” King said. “One source familiar with the situation said it was viewed as a ‘cheap shot.’ A second, also speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity, acknowledged Cindy McCain’s name has come up as a possibility in informal conversations involving McCain allies. But this source said Mrs. McCain cringed at the mention in news reports and had made clear she was not interested.”