Here are the stories our panel of top political reporters have on their radar, in this week’s “Inside Politics” forecast.
1. McCain family drama
From CNN chief national correspondent John King:
The McCain family had interesting week, to put it mildly, and finds itself now as part of an interesting subplot of the unfolding impeachment inquiry playing out in Washington.
Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Republican Sen. John McCain, raised some eyebrows in GOP circles by criticizing the Arizona state GOP and saying she sees a possibility that her home state supports a Democrat for president in 2020.
In that same interview, with Politico, Cindy McCain made clear her friendship and affection for Joe Biden, citing his support during her husband’s battle with brain cancer and calling him “a remarkable source of inspiration, kindness, and just a shoulder.”
The affection was echoed by Meghan McCain in an interview with Bravo: “Joe Biden and I, everyone knows, are very close,” Meghan McCain said. “And I love him dearly and I think he is a truly decent, wonderful human being that could be very healing for the country.”
Contrast that affection for Biden with the spotlight now on the man who serves as executive director of the McCain Institute at Arizona State University: Kurt Volker.
Volker also served as President Donald Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine, and is about to be a central witness in the impeachment inquiry led by House Democrats. The President’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has tried to counter suggestions he was running a rouge foreign policy by insisting he closely coordinated with the State Department and other government officials.
As part of that effort, Giuliani has released portions of text messages showing Volker helped him arrange meetings with top Ukrainian officials — meetings in which Giuliani acknowledges he pushed for dirt on Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who was an adviser to a Ukrainian energy company.
Volker has agreed to be deposed by the House Intelligence Committee, so we might soon learn more about his take on all of this.
But suffice to say his role in helping Giuliani is not sitting well with McCain family members who make clear their affection and respect for Biden.
Volker resigned his post as special envoy on Friday.
And several sources familiar with the issue, speaking this weekend on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said to look forward soon, perhaps as early as Monday, about Volker’s future at the McCain Institute.
2. Democrats’ town hall strategy
Nearly every House Democrat now supports impeachment hearings to examine the Ukraine scandal — including most of the “Frontline” members the party seen as most vulnerable to defeat in 2020.
And the party wants to make sure those members are explaining their stances to their constituents.
“They’ve been told to focus on Ukraine when they’re talking about impeachment,” Jackie Kucinich of The Daily Beast said. “And they’ve been told to keep the town halls that have already been on the books in their districts, and so far we’re seeing that they are.”
In fact, data from the Town Hall Project show Democratic lawmakers are holding far more town halls than Republicans.
“Of the 70-plus town halls scheduled over this recess, only nine are Republican,” Kucinich said. “Ninety-eight percent of freshman Democrats have had a town hall since they were elected, and only 51% of Republicans. We’ll see if this holds into 2020.”
3. Trade deal’s fate
One casualty of the impeachment drama gripping Washington could be the U.S. Mexico Canada trade agreement — the USMCA, which Trump negotiated to replace NAFTA. It needs congressional approval to go into effect — but CNN’s Manu Raju said there’s still cautious optimism in the White House and on Capitol Hill.
“There’s been virtually no bipartisan legislating this Congress,” Raju said. “But there’s still a possibility of getting one bipartisan deal done this Congress, and that’s the USMCA, it’s still being actively considered by House Democrats.”
Raju said top Democrats met on Friday with Trump’s pointman on trade, Robert Lighthizer.
“A number of Democrats who are now open to the notion of impeaching — particularly the ones who come from Trump districts — are looking for a bipartisan win,” Raju said. “And they’re trying to push this forward. … So you can almost see a split screen here of the President getting impeached by the House, but also potentially getting a bipartisan achievement sometime this fall.”
4. Confronting Iran
Trump had a full schedule of meetings with foreign leaders while he was in New York last week for the United Nations General Assembly. Not on his schedule: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“One of the big storylines that was going on there before all the impeachment news came out was whether or not Trump would meet with Iran’s President Rouhani,” Vivian Salama of The Wall Street Journal said. “Behind the scenes, President Macron of France was trying desperately to get them to meet, and he was proposing all kinds of options, including having Trump approve a European credit line to Iran, having him hold off on new sanctions in exchange for Iran promising to basically not do any nuclear enrichment for five months, and that way we get them back to the table.”
Salama said some sort of meeting later this year might still be possible.
“President Trump seems open to the idea, although the White House is saying that they are never going to relent on sanctions,” Salama said.
5. Democrats race to raise cash
Monday marks the last day of the third quarter — a key deadline for presidential campaign fundraising. And it could be a do-or-die moment for most of the field.
“For some of these campaigns, it’s more than just a barometer to show how much enthusiasm they’re getting,” Time’s Molly Ball said. “In a real sense, it’s going to determine whether they can keep their campaigns alive. And so we could see further winnowing of the field based on those third-quarter receipts.”
Ball said it’s a test for the frontrunners as well.
“For a candidate like Joe Biden, can he keep up the fundraising pace? Are the donors still committed to him, given there are some signs his campaign may be faltering in other ways?”