Will Trump speak out on Rep. King's controversial comments?

Here are the stories our panel of top political reporters will be watching for in the year ahead, in this we...

Posted: Jan 14, 2019 6:28 AM
Updated: Jan 14, 2019 6:28 AM

Here are the stories our panel of top political reporters will be watching for in the year ahead, in this week's "Inside Politics" forecast.

1. Steve King's future

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Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa has a history of making racially inflammatory remarks. But his fellow Republicans may finally have had enough.

In an interview last week with The New York Times, King said, "white nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization -- how did that language become offensive?"

"Steve King has been in Congress for 15 years. He's been making comments like this for quite some time," New York Times congressional correspondent Julie Hirschfeld Davis said. "But Republicans now are coming forward and saying this is unacceptable. You have Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader. Steve Scalise, the Republican whip, saying he has to apologize for this."

Several other GOP lawmakers have spoken out as well. But King's future in Congress could rest in President Donald Trump's hands.

"President Trump was very close with Steve King from the very beginning, before he declared his candidacy," Davis said. "Steve King was talking about a border wall long before Donald Trump was talking about a border wall. And obviously President Trump has faced some of the same questions about his rhetoric. So it will be very interesting to see how the President deals with this. There's going to be mounting pressure for the president to say something."

2. The Party of Trump

Will Trump face a 2020 primary challenge?

Before we know the answer, the Republican National Committee may officially endorse his re-nomination.

"The fact that the RNC could be considering this really shows that there's real nervousness among Republicans about the prospect of a primary challenge," said Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace. "If the RNC does come out and formally endorse him, it would make it all the more difficult for a Republican challenger to use any kind of party apparatus, to get on the stage with Trump in a debate in the primary."

The last president to face a serious primary challenge: George H.W. Bush in 1992. Many say it contributed to his re-election loss to Bill Clinton.

"It would be almost impossible for a Republican primary challenger to defeat Trump in 2020," Pace said. "But there is real worry that they could at least beat him up, damage him and weaken him going into the general election."

3. Joe Biden & the black vote

Meanwhile on the Democratic side, former Vice President Joe Biden is still weighing whether to run. And his indecision may cost him in a key early primary state.

"Joe Biden is beloved in South Carolina, particularly by African-American Democrats, but they had some pretty harsh words to say about him," CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson said.

"He isn't showing any sense of urgency. He hasn't really reached out to many folks in South Carolina. They have no idea what he's going to do," Henderson said.

Other candidates are taking advantage of Biden's absence.

"They've heard from Elizabeth Warren, they've heard from Cory Booker. They've even heard from (Democratic Oregon Sen.) Jeff Merkley," Henderson said. "So there is a lot of frustration on the ground in a state like South Carolina, where black Democrats are going to be so important. Many say if you are Joe Biden, that might be the first state you actually want to compete in and could actually win. But so far they feel like he's letting a little grass grow under his feet as others really work hard and show a sense of urgency."

4. Trump's "acting" Cabinet

Back in Washington, Trump is slowly shaking up his Cabinet. But while many top officials have left, few have actually been replaced.

"At the only Cabinet meeting so far of 2019, President Trump was seated next to an acting secretary of defense and an acting secretary of interior," Wall Street Journal White House reporter Michael Bender said. "Across from him is the acting attorney general. To the right is the acting head of the White House Budget Office. And he's acting because the former White House budget chief is now acting chief of staff."

Bender said Trump is in no rush to name permanent replacements.

"There's a thought in the Oval Office that these acting chiefs are more beholden to the President," Bender said.

5. VP shutdown shade

And from CNN's chief national correspondent John King:

Most of the Republican frustration about a shutdown without a clear exit strategy is directed at Trump.

But among Republicans on Capitol Hill and at GOP-leaning organizations across Washington, there is also a good deal of grumbling about Vice President Mike Pence.

On the Hill, the biggest beef is that Pence was apparently clueless to the fact the President would pull a last-minute about-face and refuse to sign a government spending bill that did not include funding for his border wall. Both House and Senate GOP leaders had made clear they viewed a shutdown as a major political mistake, and the vice president was a constant presence at the Capitol as Congress put together the pre-shutdown spending plan.

The VP and his office are also a frequent point of contact for GOP establishment groups that do not like the President or are viewed suspiciously by him. Many of those groups feel blindsided, too, and see it as proof the vice president has limited influence and isn't afforded much respect by the boss.

"He may be permanently damaged by this two-week period," said one veteran GOP strategist who advises a number of lawmakers and organizations.

Some of this grumbling is without a doubt unfair or exaggerated and comes amid a broader GOP bad mood about the shutdown and the Democrats' rise to power in the House of Representatives. Plus, the VP takes some of the hits for the grumbling over the decision by his former chief of staff, Nick Ayers, to leave the White House instead of stepping in as the President's new chief of staff.

Still, several GOP operatives mentioned Pence unfavorably in exchanges about the shutdown and GOP anxiety with the White House. Their view, at a minimum, is that a vice president very conscious about his standing in the party and his own political future should realize this is a low moment.

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