Here are the stories our panel of top political reporters will be watching for in the week ahead, in today’s “Inside Politics” forecast.
1. Trump blocking Sessions Senate bid?
President Donald Trump may not be done with Jeff Sessions quite yet.
Some Republicans want Sessions to run for his old Senate seat next year — the one he resigned from for an ill-fated stint as Trump’s attorney general. It’s currently held by Democrat Doug Jones, who won it only after three women alleged his Republican opponent had sexually abused them when they were teenagers decades ago.
That opponent, Roy Moore, is running again. And national Republicans are desperate to stop him in the primary, CNN’s Manu Raju said, adding that Sessions would be a natural choice, if not for his contentious relationship with the President.
“Top Republican officials tell me they don’t expect Sessions to run for his old Senate seat, and there’s one reason why,” Raju said. “President Trump does not want him to run again. He actually had a conversation with (Alabama’s other senator) Richard Shelby, who told me last week that the President told him he’s ‘not on board.’ The President is still angry about Sessions as attorney general and his recusal from overseeing the Russia investigation. And the President, as we know, harbors grudges.”
2. Pelosi’s budget test
The Trump administration says the US Treasury could bump up against the debt limit in a matter of weeks, but with Congress set to adjourn for its summer recess this week, they only have a few days to reach a new spending deal.
Time’s Molly Ball said it’s a big test for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“The biggest challenge she’s facing is not how she handles ‘The Squad’ or impeachment or (former special counsel Robert) Mueller or anything else,” Ball said. “It’s can she get a budget deal that funds the government and raises the debt ceiling? This is a real high-wire act.”
Ball said Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been talking every day, but there’s still no deal.
“This coming week is the moment of truth. It’s a question of can Pelosi get her caucus onboard with something congressional Republicans are willing to agree to? And of course the biggest question mark always is, will the President go along with it, or will he blow it up at the last minute?”
3. Another Iran deadline approaches
With tensions escalating between Iran and the West, Trump has a big decision to make in the next week — whether to grant waivers that would allow Iran to continue work on its civil nuclear program.
“I’m watching the August 1 deadline,” Politico’s Eliana Johnson said, which is when the administration must decide whether to extend those waivers.
“There is a lot of pressure from Iran hawks inside the administration to stop issuing them. If it does, that will inflame tensions between the two nations even further.”
4. Democrats aim to boost African American turnout
One of the reasons Hillary Clinton fell short of an Electoral College victory in 2016 was falling African American turnout in key states. It’s a trend Democrats will try to reverse in 2020, and NPR’s Asma Khalid said they’ll have two big chances this week to try.
“There is the NAACP convention in Detroit and the Urban League in Indianapolis,” Khalid said. “That really interests me because I think there’s been a lot of talk about how Democrats in 2020 could win back the heartland, win back some of those midwestern states. And one part of doing that is actually boosting African American turnout that wasn’t there in 2016.”
Khalid said she’s particularly curious to see how two 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, do.
“There’s some questions about how much they can reach out to African American voters, and that’ll be really important for any Democrat in 2020,” she said.
5. CNN debate crossroads
And from CNN Chief National Correspondent John King:
Next week’s CNN debates are a crossroads for at least half the crowded Democratic field — perhaps a chance to make a new beginning, but perhaps the beginning of the end.
The bar will be higher for an invitation to round three: 2% in four credible national or early primary state polls, and 130,000 unique individual campaign donors.
Only six candidates have already met the criteria: Biden, Buttigieg, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke.
Three have met one of the two tests: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
So the number of candidates on stage come September could be 10 or fewer; 20 candidates qualified for the first and second debates.
The higher bar raises the CNN Debates stakes for those struggling at the bottom of the field. The line from most is they plan to soldier on regardless, but being excluded from the debates will only exacerbate the challenge of raising money and climbing in the polls.
Among those hoping for a breakthrough is one of the earliest candidates in the race, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney.
“I’m on stage with Sen. Sanders and Sen. Warren,” Delaney told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on Friday. “I think I can make the case very strongly that those folks are engaging in class warfare, promising everything for free. Running on things like ‘Medicare for All,’ which is not good policy. And if we do that, we’ll put Trump on a glidepath to reelection.”
Delaney denied this past week a report that senior campaign staffers had advised him to quit the race soon barring some dramatic breakthrough. To reinforce his point, Delaney released an aggressive Iowa schedule for the days following next week’s debates. He insists he is in the race at least until Iowa votes in February.
But if that breakthrough doesn’t come in the second debates, Delaney will be among a long list of candidates making an assessment of whether a continued campaign is viable without the visibility provided by the debate stage.