All of a sudden presidential candidates are hugging people. The fighting will come later, surely, but this is the time for making nice – at least with donors, until or unless Jeb Bush wraps them up. Some old fights are becoming new, one old fighter has new bruises, old faces are writing new books, and new presidential ideas will be old by the time the president actually outlines them on national television.
Here’s a glimpse of some of the stories your ABC News political team will be tracking in the week ahead:
Will the orange sweater come out again? It seems so. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has said he plans to be Jerry Jones' guest at any remaining Dallas Cowboys games, and Jones has called Christie his "mojo" for his team’s playoff run. Next up is Sunday in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where Christie will travel to Lambeau Field to cheer on The Boys. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker – another possible 2016er – has already welcomed him to the "Frozen Tundra" with a tweet featuring a Packers fan wearing a cheesehead that says "OWNER." Christie’s nationally televised awkward man-hug was quickly eclipsed by ethics questions about the free tickets and private-plane flights provided by Jones to Christie, given business both Jones and the NFL have concerning the state of New Jersey. Football aside, Christie delivers his State of the State address Tuesday, amid indications that the federal "Bridgegate" probe is getting closer to a conclusion that looms over any presidential decisions.
Republicans are facing the first test of their commitment to confront the president over immigration. Late last year, GOP leaders in Congress decided to only fund the Department of Homeland Security through February, to use as leverage in rolling back President Obama’s executive order on immigration enforcement. Now in full control of Congress, Republicans are making their first effort to use a funding bill to block that order. That's difficult political and legal ground in the best of circumstances. It only gets more dicey in the wake of a new terror attack in Europe. Top Republicans have made clear they won’t let DHS funding lapse under any circumstance, and it's telling that they're starting the action in mid-January – weeks before the money runs out.
A Nebraska Supreme Court ruling has added new life to an old fight. Yes, the Keystone Pipeline is back, with the House – again – approving the oil pipeline plans on Friday, and the Senate up next in the coming week. Republicans have long hoped that the mix of job creation and energy resources that Keystone promises would force the president to rethink his opposition. The go-ahead from Nebraska takes away one White House argument against the project, but the larger objection remains. Indeed, a fresh veto promise came within minutes of the ruling. That puts pressure on Senate advocates to deliver a veto-proof majority of 67 votes – probably too much of a climb, at least this time.
Book time is starting in the 2016 race. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Mike Huckabee are the latest to add titles to the shelf. And it might be Rubio with the most at stake in the rollout. The Florida senator is elbowing for room in a 2016 field that appears increasingly likely to include former Gov. Jeb Bush, who's poised to scoop up Sunshine State dollars as he builds a fundraising juggernaut. Rubio has rediscovered his voice in opposition to the president’s Cuba policy, though questions about his stance on immigration will continue to dog him. Huckabee, meanwhile, is likely to win the one-liner game. His new book calls Jay-Z "arguably...a pimp," says the Club for Growth is a group of suicide bombers, and has a chapter titled, "Bend Over and Take It Like a Prisoner!"
The euphoria from 2014 is already a distant memory for Republicans, who were worried about 2016 since long before the midterm victories. The next step on what the GOP hopes will be its path to victory will take the party through San Diego, where the Republican National Committee's winter meeting will feature presidential hopefuls Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Ben Carson. Even more substantively for the party will be a push to finalize a limited series of presidential primary debates. That plus a streamlined voting calendar are key to Chairman Reince Priebus' efforts to put his party in the best position possible to recapture the White House. Those moves come even as Republicans in Iowa push to bring back another round of the Iowa Straw Poll, which some national and state party leaders had hoped put to bed.