We'd say we had a bridge to sell you if you said you saw this week coming, but there's no guarantee you'd be able to cross it. Big stories rocked the biggest players, between Chris Christie's aides firing off vindictive e-mails, and Robert Gates penning a tell-all nobody quite expected. Congress is back around, just in time to try to avert another government shutdown (probably). Michelle Obama has a big birthday coming. And since 2014 is upon us, it must be some time for voting, at least in one congressional district.
Here's a glimpse of some of the stories your ABC News political team is tracking in the week ahead:
As he won't be holding hundred-minute press conferences every day, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie no longer has anything close to full control of the scandal that represents the biggest threat to his national ambitions he's ever had to face. The story of blocked traffic lanes is as relatable as it is confounding – why anyone, with or without the tacit approval of the governor himself, would see value in exacting political retribution against a small-time pol by snarling traffic for a couple of days. There's much more to be learned via legislative and congressional investigations, plus state and federal criminal probes, and a new lawsuit that names Christie personally. On trial in a larger sense is a claim that's central to Christie's appeal and potential lack thereof: "I am not a bully," he declared. Can he back that claim up?
The blockbuster penned by Robert Gates was such a Tuesday story … but recall that we haven't heard him talk about it yet. That changes next week, with a full docket of press interviews scheduled for the first former defense secretary to pen his tell-all while the administration he's telling about was still in office. President Obama comes in for mixed treatment in "Duty," as does Hillary Rodham Clinton, but nobody faces harsher judgment in the book than Vice President Joe Biden. Gates shocked even friends with his candor in print. Will he follow that up with cameras rolling? And can the White House resist the temptation to begin firing back – at least to play defense?
|RISE AND SUNSHINE|
The first election of 2014 is Tuesday, among voters who haven't chosen a new member of Congress in four decades. The Republican primary to replace the late Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., has developed into a Shakespearean tale with comitragic twists: a mother-son rivalry, a secret family, and even a campaign ad featuring Bob Barker. Primary frontrunner David Jolly, a former top Young aide, has the backing of the longtime congressman's widow as well as Barker, the 90-year-old former host of "The Price is Right." But the recent revelation that Young had an affair and fathered a child with the woman who would become his second wife has raised questions about what Jolly knew and when. Jolly's main opponent, state Rep. Kathleen Peters, has the endorsement of Young's namesake son, Bill Young II – in a bitter split with his mother - plus some national Republicans who want a strong female candidate for the general special election. Waiting on the Democratic side is Alex Sink, a former gubernatorial candidate and a fundraising machine who represents a chance for her party to make up an early bit of ground in the 2014 elections.
A pair of intriguing cases in front of the Supreme Court next week have vast political consequences. On Wednesday, abortion rights come into focus, with a challenge to a Massachusetts law setting up "buffer zones" that protesters need to leave clear around abortion clinics. It's a First Amendment challenge that comes as conservatives at the state and national level seek new ways to restrict access to abortion. And on Monday, a presidential tradition that goes back to George Washington will get scrutiny, with presidential "recess appointments" in the high court's spotlight. President Obama's appointees to the National Labor Relations Board, which has vast power in settling labor disputes, are at immediate issue. But the case has broader ramifications, as a power once used to fill key jobs during the days of horse-and-buggy travel has been routinely employed to circumvent regular congressional logjams.
President Obama is finalizing his response to the various reviews of the NSA surveillance programs made famous by Edward Snowden, with his mid-January target for a formal response creeping up. He's got conflicting federal court opinions and pressure on both his left and right to contend with, plus restless congressional leaders ready to impose their own changes, if necessary. The questions for the president revolve around both operations and oversight, in the wake of revelations that rocked international politics even more than the domestic kind. It's a chance for the president to define his balance of civil liberties and national security, at a time of tenuous relations with some allies, and troublesome developments overseas.