WASHINGTON — President Trump was just sworn in Friday, and people are already jostling to run against him.
As Trump’s inauguration was looming, a number of prominent Democrats were making big moves that drew attention — and could help bolster their hopes of running for President in 2020.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) made one of the biggest splashes. He grabbed headlines for breaking with Senate tradition and becoming the first sitting senator to testify against a colleague during a confirmation hearing when he spoke out in committee against attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions.
It was a split with protocol that had civil rights groups cheering and left some Republicans livid.
“The arc of the moral universe does not just naturally curve toward justice, we must bend it,” Booker said during his testimony. “America needs an attorney general who is resolute and determined to bend the arc. Sen. Sessions’ record does not speak to that desire, intention or will.”
Booker described his decision as “a call to conscience,” though many saw it as at least partly motivated by politics. His stand for civil rights could help him in a big way with a Democratic base, galvanizing social liberals and minority voters.
But he wasn’t the only prospective 2020 candidate taking a stand that could pay political dividends down the road — with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) grabbing headlines during often testy confirmation hearings as well.
Warren won’t say whether she is readying for a run in four years, but has announced plans to run for reelection in 2018, making the case for a second term by capitalizing on disdain for Trump.
The senators’ allies argue they care deeply about the issues they are taking stands on and point out that they’re are all playing key parts in Senate Democrats’ overall messaging strategy, not thinking about 2020.
But all three are believed to have national ambitions, and staff for Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) were making similar arguments at this point four years ago. Doing good work now — and being seen as leaders in the fight against Trump — can only help them down the line.
“It might be an ancillary benefit of what’s going on. Democrats are the opposition, and when you lose the bully pulpit you have to stand out to get recognized,” said Rodell Mollineau, a senior Democratic strategist and Senate veteran. “It’s going to take a team effort to be able to compete with the bully pulpit of the presidency … But every senator has their eye on their political future. That’s how they became senators.”
Warren, a darling of the left, led the charge against a number of other Trump cabinet nominees.
She went hard after Housing & Urban Development nominee Ben Carson, using his confirmation hearing to make a point about Donald Trump’s failure to sell off his business interests, leading to serious conflict-of-interest concerns as he enters the White House.
After getting Carson to admit Trump could profit from HUD programs, she attacked his refusal to divest from his company.
She raked Trump’s education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos over the coals last week, and penned an op-ed for the Washington Post criticizing Trump for his failure to release his tax returns.
Gillibrand, meanwhile, led some Senate Democrats in an ill-fated push against giving a waiver to allow retired Gen. James Mattis to become defense secretary, arguing the principle of civilian control of the military should not be violated.
She was the lone vote against his confirmation on Friday.
The issue was low-profile, but could play well with peaceniks in the party.
She’s also emerged as a leading critic of Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare and cut Planned Parenthood funding, other issues near to the hearts of many in the Democratic base.
Both Warren and Gillibrand attended Saturday’s women’s march in D.C.
Gov. Cuomo has grabbed his own share of national headlines as well in recent weeks, with a new proposal for free tuition at state schools for some residents. Standing alongside Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), another potential 2020 candidate and a hero of the left, Cuomo declared earlier this month that, “This society should say, ‘We’re going to pay for college because you need college to be successful.’ ”
But Cuomo waved off chatter of a White House run last week, saying that “the rumor is flattering, even if not true.”
But if any of them do run, they’ll almost definitely face off against the incumbent President.
Before Trump even took the oath of office, his team announced he’s keeping his presidential campaign committee, Donald J. Trump for President Inc., open for business with an eye toward 2020. And he told the Washington Post he already has a slogan picked out — “Keep America great.”
As the last two elections show, anyone can wind up being the President.
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