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. The Bernie Factor
Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the latest Democrat to throw her hat into the ring and her colleague, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, is close to announcing her own decision. One name we’re still waiting on: their Senate colleague, Bernie Sanders.
“He really has the power to reshape the field,” Time’s Molly Ball said. “This candidate who took everybody by surprise in 2016 has really held onto a large part of his following.”
The problem, Ball said, is all the other candidates who are following Sanders’ progressive playbook.
“So many candidates are running to the left, embracing free college, embracing Medicare for all, and embracing themes of economic inequality.”
Ball said a decision on whether to run is likely imminent. “He’s really looking at whether a lane remains for him in such a crowded field.”
2. When Trump meets Kim
President Donald Trump is watching the Democratic field closely, but he’s also preparing for one of his biggest moments yet on the international stage: a planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, set for February 27-28 in Vietnam.
“My question is whether this will simply be a repeat of last year’s summit in Singapore, which was basically just a media spectacle,” Politico’s Eliana Johnson said. “There was a lot of anticipation of simply watching these guys shake hands. That won’t be as exciting the second time around.”
US intelligence officials say North Korea remains a nuclear threat.
“I think there will be much more focus on whether there’s a policy deliverable and whether we will see a commitment from North Korea to make real changes,” Johnson said. “We haven’t seen that over the past year. I think there will be a lot more pressure on President Trump to extract something.”
3. Dems target Trump taxes
House Democrats are quickly ratcheting up their oversight of the Trump administration — and his personal finances.
Ground zero for that fight will be the Ways & Means Committee — the law gives Chairman Richard Neal the authority to obtain the tax records of any American, including the president.
“Democrats think they have the edge both politically and legally on this,” New York Times reporter Michael Shear said. “But there are minefields. Legally, the White House is preparing a huge, fierce response to challenge the effort in court. And politically, this is one of those areas that has the possibility to really be cast as exactly what Donald Trump says it is, presidential harassment.”
Some Democrats worry the move could backfire for that reason, unless they’ve successfully made a public case for it first.
“But the Democratic base really wants this to happen,” Shear said. “So this could finally be the year we find out what Donald Trump has been trying to hide all this time.”
4. Another Senate “nuclear option”
On the other side of Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans want to expedite votes on the President’s executive branch and judicial nominees. They’re likely to take new steps to limit Democratic delaying tactics, The Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim reports.
“It’s something the President focused on in his State of the Union,” Kim said. “He complained about the 300 nominees that have been backlogged in the Senate.”
Democrats don’t have the power to block Trump nominees on their own, but they have been able to use parliamentary rules to delay final votes. “It’s something Republicans have been frustrated with for some time,” Kim said.
5. Spotlight on the Saudis
And from CNN chief national correspondent John King:
Saudi Arabia is increasingly in an unfavorable spotlight in Congress, amid signs its sway with lawmakers is waning.
For years the kingdom has protected its interests and minimized focus on issues like human rights and political oppression by using its wealth to deploy an array of high powered DC lobbyists.
That effort continues, and the costs have risen in recent years.
On the one hand, it is clear the regime has a friend in the White House. Trump has made clear he values the relationship so much he does not favor a tougher line even in the wake of the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi leaders are thrilled with the White House take, but in the end, it could result in tougher sledding for the kingdom because of the negative reaction in Congress.
The lead Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee issued angry statements this weekend saying the Trump State Department was ignoring the law and refusing to supply information about the Khashoggi murder.
“The lesson of this terrible event needs to be that intimidation and violence by any government against peaceful dissent will be met with strong disapproval by responsible nations,” Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul said in a statement demanding the State Department provide more information. “Everyone involved in this gruesome crime must be identified and held accountable. When the United States fails to lead, we compromise our integrity and abandon those pursuing justice around the world.”
Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, likewise pressed for more cooperation.
“Today the Trump administration showed that it is willing to ignore U.S. law in its continued effort to stonewall accountability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” Menendez said in a statement Friday night.
As lawmakers press for more information there, Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen’s civil war and humanitarian crisis is also drawing more and more criticism on Capitol Hill.
Add in the mysterious assertion from Jeff Bezos that the Saudi regime has some arrangement with the National Enquirer.
And the expansion of the House Intelligence Committee investigation, now that Democrats are in the majority, to include a focus on other foreign actors alleged to have tried to influence the Trump administration.
“This feels like a tipping point,” a Republican senator said in a weekend exchange.
The regime clearly senses the more difficult political environment.
Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubier was a guest Sunday on “Face the Nation,” defending the regime’s handling of the Khashoggi murder and disputing the assertion by Bezos that the Saudis have some connection to the tabloid’s coverage of his personal life.
“Absolutely not,” Al-Jubier told CBS. “This sounds to me like a soap opera. I’ve been watching it on television and reading about it in the paper. This is something between the two parties. We have nothing to do with it.”