Why health care is stealing tax reform’s legislative thunder

Washington (CNN)Stephen Bannon has his eyes on Senate races in Alabama and Arizona. With a health care vote looming, Sen. Lisa Murkowski is spending not-so-quiet weekends in Alaska. And President Trump’s tax reform campaign may face competition for headlines.

It’s all part of this week’s “Inside Politics” forecast, where you get tomorrow’s headlines today.

1) Tax reform vs. health care reform

    When companies roll out a new product, the smart ones craft an announcement and marketing plan.
    Tax reform is a signature GOP promise and central to President Trump’s agenda. So there IS a careful rollout plan that includes presidential travel to Indiana and outreach to interest groups with a big stake in the debate.
    But there is one problem. The chaos that is the GOP’s Obamacare repeal-and-replace debate seems likely to suck up a fair amount of oxygen this week, because there is a last-ditch legislative push and a Saturday deadline to use a rule that allows passage with just a majority vote in the Senate.
    CNN’s Phil Mattingly has been reporting on the rollout plan, and the timing challenge.
    “When you talk to Republican aides as this prepares to roll out, what they’re preaching is patience. They’ve been working behind the scenes in a really kind of normal, unified roll-out manner with the White House — Senate aides, White House aides,” Mattingly explained.
    “We have to get a budget. We are going to have to go through regular order, committees, hearings, markups, then to floor,” he said. “The real concern right now … can the president stay patient? Especially if health care goes down, can the president stay patient? That’s where aides are worried right now.”

    2) Trump’s long-awaited refugee policy

    President Trump long has complained that too many refugees are allowed into the United States, and has promised a new policy.
    Well, eight months after he took office, Trump’s proposal is expected to come this week.
    Bloomberg’s Toluse Olorunnipa shared his reporting that suggests the drop in incoming refugees from Obama administration’s levels could be dramatic.
    “It could be as low as 15,000 this year,” Olorunnipa said. The timing is key for the Trump White House on this, he added.
    “It comes at a time when he’s planning to reiterate his travel ban and potentially increase the number of countries or have new targets of countries that are going to be placed under significant restrictions for having their citizens come into the US.”

    3) Murkowski’s busy weekends in Alaska

    Sen. Lisa Murkowski says that early fall weekends are priceless back home in Alaska and a great time for her to meet with constituents and enjoy the state’s unique beauty.
    But maybe she shouldn’t count on peace and quiet this time.
    Murkowski’s vote is key as Senate Republicans will try one more time to pass an Obamacare repeal-and-replace plan.
    With the deadline looming this week, she’s getting phone calls from the White House and Senate colleagues. But CNN’s MJ Lee reports that those conversations back home are what Murkowski promises will most shape her final decision on the Graham-Cassidy bill.
    “She’s meeting with some constituents. And this is really, really critical, because remember that last time when she went home after voting no, she told these stories about being greeted by tearful voters in her airport, thanking her for voting against this bill. And she has made it very clear, perhaps more than anybody else in the caucus, that whatever the decision comes down to, it is going to be all about Alaska,” Lee said.
    “It it is going to be all about those meetings and what she hears from her people … they are going to be very, very important.”

    4) Bannon eyes Senate races in Alabama, Arizona

    Stephen Bannon kept a low media profile during the Trump campaign and in his months working as President Trump’s chief White House strategist.
    But he will be center stage Monday at a campaign event for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, the former state Supreme Court chief justice who is running against President Trump’s choice, interim Sen. Luther Strange.
    It’s a high-profile event for Bannon just days after the President visited Alabama, and the Bannon-vs.-Trump subplot understandably gets a lot of attention.
    But Bannon has a longer play in mind. He’s hoping a Moore win boosts his Breitbart News site and encourages anti-establishment challengers in other key races.
    The Senate race in Arizona is one of them. Sources tell CNN that Bannon and key allies are actively trying to recruit a strong conservative challenger in Arizona, where GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, a frequent Trump critic, is up for re-election this year.
    In that race, Bannon and Trump are — at least at the moment — on the same page in hoping Flake is defeated. The President has tweeted kind words about Flake’s challenger, Kelli Ward.
    But Bannon is one of many conservatives who doesn’t see Ward as their best hope. Former GOP Rep. Matt Salmon’s name has come up as a possibility. And add GOP Rep. Paul Gosar, a tea party favorite who has previously said he would not challenge Flake.
    GOP sources in Washington and Arizona tell CNN that Bannon and key allies are hoping Gosar reconsiders, and they’re making it clear he would get fundraising help if he changed his mind. Meanwhile, Bannon hopes a Moore win in Alabama would send a message about the mood of the GOP base.

    5) Spotlight on Virginia governor’s race

    In this contentious age of Trump, the Virginia governor’s race seems almost a throwback between two relatively polite, soft-spoken candidates.
    Not that Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie don’t have big differences. They do.
    Because of its “odd year” placement on the calendar — and because Virginia is so competitive politically — this governor’s race is being watched as a potential bellwether of the 2018 political climate. Because the stakes in the 2018 midterms are so high, that makes it critical.
    Mary Katharine Ham of The Federalist notes some key issues that will inevitably get this race a bigger national spotlight.
    “The Democrat was ahead by about 5 to 7 points, even 10 points in some polls recently. But just this week a Suffolk poll showed it getting much tighter,” Ham said. “It will remain probably polite, but it has this undercurrent of the Trump culture wars and the NFL and the (Charlottesville) statue stuff.”

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