GOP mood darkens: Expect ‘vicious gridlock’ with ‘a sprinkling of constitutional crisis’

Posted at 10:40 AM, Dec 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-09 12:52:05-05

This week on “Inside Politics,” our panel of top political reporters shared their near-term political predictions.

1. Pelosi winning over more House freshmen

At least 10 incoming House Democrats won their races after promising to oppose Nancy Pelosi as House speaker. But CNN’s Manu Raju reports several are already bowing to pressure.

“A number of them are starting to go quiet as we get close to the speaker’s vote, and some are actually suggesting they’re going to support her in January,” Raju said.

Pelosi can only afford to lose around 18 votes on the floor, and some of these new members know they have leverage.

“They’re holding out for something that Pelosi could give them, potentially committee assignments that typically are given to more senior members,” Raju said. “So some of these members may get something, and may ultimately vote for her. But of course, they said something different on the campaign trail, so they’ll have to answer to that back home.”

2. Outlook dims for criminal justice reform bill

Meanwhile over in the Senate, the outlook for a criminal justice reform bill looks dim, despite support from President Donald Trump and a large bipartisan group of lawmakers.

With just days to go in the lame duck session, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has all but ruled out a vote, The Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim said.

“He has told donors, outside groups, and his own advisers that chances of a vote are pretty unlikely,” Kim said. “That’s despite this very unusual left-right coalition that supports this legislation,” which would allow thousands of federal inmates to get out early and reduce drug-related mandatory minimum sentences.

“But it’s still a bill that is extremely divisive within the Senate Republican conference. There’s been some heated discussions about this legislation, and if there’s one thing that Mitch McConnell does not like, it’s legislation or initiatives that really split his conference.”

3. Another North Korea summit?

Get ready for a sequel to the historic summit between the United States and North Korea.

“John Bolton predicted it’ll happen perhaps early next year,” Politico’s Eliana Johnson said. And Bolton’s reasoning? It’s not because North Korea has followed through on the promises they’ve already made, but because they haven’t.

“He said North Korea has not honored their commitments that they made at the first summit last June, and so the President thinks we need a second summit, which is not the way it usually works,” Johnson said.

4. Trump turns to 2020

White House chief of staff John Kelly is not the only major administration departure. The political director, Bill Stepien, is leaving to join Trump’s re-election campaign. Taken together, the moves show an administration that’s turning from governing to campaigning, CNN’s Jeff Zeleny reports.

“With all the drama in Washington, the White House is actually looking ahead to 2020,” Zeleny said. “It’s just around the corner in their view.”

“I’m told the President has told his advisers he wants more campaign rallies and he wants them soon, starting early in the year,” Zeleny said. “The Trump team wants to go back to what makes him happy and have him surrounded by adoring fans at rallies.”

5. GOP’s darkening mood

And from CNN Chief National Correspondent John King:

The near silence from leading Republicans about the latest court filings by the special counsel and federal prosecutors in New York masks a dark GOP mood about the road ahead.

Most colorful of a series of exchanges with veteran GOP lawmakers and operatives in recent days was this on the question of what to expect: “Vicious, bilious gridlock with a sprinkling of constitutional crisis. Should be fun.”

That snark, or sarcasm, is pretty common among Republicans, who were in a glum place even before the court filings accusing the President of violating campaign finance laws and detailing new allegations against members of his inner circle.

In the President’s angry tweetstorms, they see proof he will not change behavior they view as central to why they just endured a midterm shellacking that cost the GOP its House majority.

And now, with the Mueller probe intensifying and Democrats about to get subpoena power in the House, Republicans predict a bunker mentality White House where the President puts his survival — and his re-election — ahead of any concerns about the broader Republican Party.

Another of the GOP sources said the conversations about the recent court filings only add to the President’s belief the investigations are increasingly targeting his family. “This is getting to Jr. and Javanka,” is how one GOP operative in frequent touch with the White House put it, using shorthand for Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

Adding to the GOP angst about the stretch ahead is the search for a new chief of staff. There was considerable frustration with John Kelly, but he was largely responsive to GOP leaders and was viewed as someone at least trying to impose some order and discipline at the White House.

The leading candidate to replace Kelly is Nick Ayers, currently the chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence.

Ayers is well known in GOP circles because of his work at the Republican Governors Association and on past campaigns. But his experience is in politics — not policy or government — and most Republicans outside of the White House believe an Ayers hiring would prove their point the President is making his 2020 re-election the priority.

As to the virtual silence among GOP leaders about the substance of the damning court filings, one of the GOP strategists contacted over the weekend said “the fear factor is No. 1” — meaning even GOP lawmakers who are profoundly disappointed by the President’s conduct remain skittish about saying anything that would bring a presidential counterpunch.