Here are the stories our panel of top political reporters will be watching for in the week ahead, in this week’s “Inside Politics” forecast.
1. Democrats & Faith
As the 2020 race shifts into high gear, you can expect to hear more from Democratic presidential candidates about their religion, Washington Post reporter Toluse Olorunnipa reports.
“I spoke to Mayor Pete Buttigieg a couple of days ago, and it was really interesting that he said he wants to speak more about his religious faith,” Olorunnipa said. “You’re hearing more about this from Democrats including Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris, even Sen. Bernie Sanders. They’re going to churches, talking about faith and sort of talking about the 2020 election as a battle for the soul of America.”
Olorunnipa said Democrats also see the conversation as an implicit comparison to President Donald Trump.
“(Trump) gets a lot of support from specifically white evangelical voters, but does not personally come across as someone who is pious,” Olorunnipa said. “I think Democrats are thinking they can dig into some of President Trump’s support by talking about their own personal faith and talking about how the faith of their personal politics can translate into their policy platform as well.”
2. O’Rourke vs Warren
Is Elizabeth Warren the anti-Beto O’Rourke?
New York Times reporter Lisa Lerer said that’s one way to think about two of the best-known Democratic presidential candidates.
“The contrast between Sen. Warren and Mr. O’Rourke, I think, illustrates a lot of the choices faced by Democratic primary voters,” Lerer said. “It’s generational – he’s quite a bit younger than her. It’s policy. She’s really led the field in policy specifics, coming out this weekend with a plan on housing, last weekend with a plan on breaking up tech companies. And he’s taken some criticism for being a little gauzier about where he stands on different policies.”
O’Rourke also talks a lot more about unity, while Warren likes to use the word “fight.”
“He’s really talked a lot about coming together, and she’s really been focused on naming who she sees as the people holding back progress – the ultra-wealthy and big corporations. So the contrast between those candidates will really tell us a lot about where Democratic primary voters are going forward,” Lerer said.
3. Green New Deal vote
Congress has 2020 on its mind too – and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to hold a symbolic vote on the Green New Deal intended to make life difficult for vulnerable Democrats up for re-election and Democratic senators running for president.
“We all can stipulate that there is not going to be a large new Green New Deal package that becomes law this year,” New York Times reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis said. “But this is going to be the forum for a big politically-charged debate over what the priorities are, whether the two parties think that climate change is real, and what we should do about it.”
Republicans have painted any Democrat who supports a Green New Deal as climate change alarmists. “This is going to be a very difficult debate for Democrats who now have to decide what to do about a plan that a lot of their candidates have embraced, but the specifics of which are a little bit more politically difficult.”
“They’re talking about all voting present, potentially. … But Democrats are going to have to figure out what they are for before this vote takes place,” Davis said.
4. Pelosi’s trade decision
The Green New Deal won’t become law anytime soon, but Trump’s NAFTA replacement – the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement – just might.
And CNN’s Manu Raju said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could hold its fate in her hands.
“US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has been moving behind the scenes and meeting with House Democrats to try to alleviate their concerns,” Raju said. “The big question going forward is how does Nancy Pelosi deal with this? In a closed-door meeting last week, I’m told she raised concerns about environmental protections, labor protections, and dealing with opioids.”
There’s also the raw politics, Raju said.
“Do you get behind a potential bipartisan win, give the President a bipartisan win, something he can campaign on going into the 2020 elections? Or do you raise concerns and dig in about the issues that you’re concerned about, and try to fight and take it to the voters?” Raju asked.
It’s a question we’ll likely get answers to in the weeks ahead.
5. Déjà vu for Alabama Republicans
And from CNN Chief National Correspondent John King:
As Republicans look ahead to 2020 and trying to protect their Senate majority, Alabama is a giant pickup opportunity.
Democratic Sen. Doug Jones is running for a full term, and in a presidential year, Republicans believe they should be able to win that race.
But many leading Republicans see, to borrow a little Yogi Berra, a case of déjà vu all over again.
Jones won in a 2017 special election, and while, yes, Democrats did a remarkable job in a difficult state, there is no disputing Jones benefited from a Republican mess.
The GOP establishment candidate lost the primary, and the Republican nominee was conservative firebrand Roy Moore, the former state Supreme Court chief justice whose campaign was dogged by reports he pursued teen-aged girls while working as a state prosecutor.
The sour memories of 2017 led the GOP establishment to recruit GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne to run for the Senate seat, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his allies had hoped memories of the 2017 mess would bring a calmer GOP environment in Alabama come 2020.
But Moore is stirring talk of maybe running again, and the conservative Club for Growth, long a thorn in the side of McConnell and the larger GOP establishment, released a poll to Alabama media last week suggesting conservative Rep. Mo Brooks would be a stronger Senate contender.
“Another clown car,” is how a leading GOP strategist in Washington put it, voicing worries Republicans might repeat the 2017 divisions that helped Jones to his victory.