All roads lead to Rosenstein

Posted at 9:09 AM, Sep 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-30 14:40:12-04

Here are the stories our panel of top political reporters is talking about in this week’s “Inside Politics” forecast, where you get a glimpse of tomorrow’s headlines today.

1. All roads lead to Rosenstein

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein can’t seem to stay out of the headlines.

He’s not just overseeing the Russia probe. Now he’s been pulled into the Brett Kavanaugh investigation.

“Who did Senate Republicans call when they couldn’t get FBI Director Chris Wray on the phone last week, as they were trying to allay Jeff Flake’s fears about the investigation? Rod Rosenstein,” said New York Times reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis.

Meanwhile, he’s expected to meet this week with President Trump to discuss his future in the administration, after a New York Times report this month that he discussed secretly recording his conversations with the president — and even brought up using the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. But Davis said his job might be safe.

“The president, contrary to his typical reputation, doesn’t really relish firing anyone,” Davis said. “And he certainly right now he doesn’t relish firing Rod Rosenstein.”

2. No government shutdown… for now

The federal government’s new fiscal year starts tomorrow. And thanks to a rare moment of bipartisanship, there’s no threat of a government shutdown.

“It’s a very quiet success story over the last couple of months,” CNN’s Phil Mattingly said. The spending bill signed by President Trump keeps the government fully funded through December 7. And, Mattingly said, 75% of discretionary spending will be funded through the entire fiscal year. It’s the first time that’s happened to that degree in 22 years. “That’s a serious bipartisan success story.”

But that success story only goes so far. The 25% of funding that runs out in December could lead to a big fight over the president’s border wall.

“I’m told they actually moved the date to December 7th from later in the month, because everyone thinks there will be a government shutdown then. So why did they move the date? They wanted to give themselves a couple of weeks before Christmas, acknowledging that there will be at least a one- or two-week shutdown,” Mattingly said. “We’re going to go back to shutdown watch in just a couple of months.”

3. Trump’s moment on the world stage

The Kavanaugh drama overshadowed another big story last week: President Trump’s speech at the United Nations and meetings with top foreign leaders.

“He made a number of interesting proposals there,” Washington Post reporter Josh Dawsey said. “He’s trying to cut foreign aid to a lot of different countries, trying to do more loans fewer grants.”

Dawsey said foreign leaders still aren’t sure what to make of the president, but they’re getting used to him.

“A lot of leaders still are a little frustrated with him and perplexed by him, but there’s a little less fear of him than there was before,” Dawsey said. “I think people are acclimating to President Trump and the fact that he sees foreign policy totally differently than any of his predecessors.”

4. House Democrats’ leadership fight

If Democrats do take back the House, Nancy Pelosi wants to be the first speaker in more than 60 years to wield the gavel in two separate stints.

She won a procedural battle this week that may make it easier for her to stay in control of House Democrats. But it’s still an open question as to whether enough of her colleagues will support her after the midterms.

“It was a win for Pelosi, but it does underscore this restiveness within the Democratic caucus,” said Washington Post reporter Seung Min Kim. “We have about three dozen Democratic candidates who have distanced themselves from Pelosi, either saying outright they will not vote for her or generally saying they want new leadership.”

The more seats Democrats end up with, the better her odds will be. “We’ll really be watching that margin of victory to see if Nancy Pelosi can get the 218 votes on the floor to become speaker again,” Kim said.

5. GOP’s Midwest woes

And from CNN chief national correspondent John King:

A giant source of GOP pride — and power — is at risk heading into the 2018 midterm stretch.

Republicans now have a 33-to-16 advantage when you list the governors of the states by party affiliation. (Alaska’s governor is an independent.) Democrats, though, are expecting big gains in this vital 2018 battleground. Republicans concede times are tough and point to the Midwest as particularly difficult terrain.

Controlling the governor’s office in states often viewed as blue or purple has been a giant source of GOP pride in recent years. There are currently, for example, Republican governors in Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. But “we are about to take a big hit in the Midwest,” a top GOP strategist lamented in a weekend email.

Three Republican operatives predicted the GOP would lose at least three of those five Midwest governor’s offices, and two of them said a Democratic sweep of all five was not out of the question.

Ohio is viewed as the closest of the races heading into the final five weeks.

Also in this group is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, once a rising GOP star who has had tough political terrain back home since his 2016 presidential bid flamed out fast. Democrats have underestimated Walker more than once before. But all three of the GOP strategists, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they would be shocked if Walker was able to come back and win another term.

Major gains at the governor level would be a big trophy for what Democrats hope is a major 2018 rebuilding effort.

And there would be 2020 implications. President Trump won Iowa, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin in 2016, and all will be 2020 battlegrounds. Plus, the presidential nominating process, of course, begins in Iowa, and those other big Midwest states could become significant in a competitive Democratic nomination fight.