In this edition: The long, painful year ahead; the dwindling Pelosi rebellion and its meaning for 2020; the ramp-up to Warren in Iowa; and the return of Medicare-for-all.

I'm wondering whatever happened to that giant gavel John Boehner used at his 2011 swearing in, and this is The Trailer.

In 24 hours, unless a miraculous conclusion to the shutdown keeps her in Washington, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will be in western Iowa for the first major candidate visit of 2019. By the end of the month, perhaps a half-dozen more Democrats are expected to launch their own campaigns. While we wait, they're making staff hires, raising money and completing all the menial tasks that add up to a presidential nomination.

Plenty of that is going to happen behind the scenes, but we already know what many of the campaign benchmarks will be this year. The political calendar is slowly filling in, and the window for candidates to announce is fairly narrow; no one who went on to win his or her party's nomination in this century announced (or formed an exploratory committee) any later than April the year before the election. 

Jan. 18-21: The AFL-CIO will hold its Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference, which is open to 2020 contenders; there's little buzz about this so far, but it has the potential to be the Democrats' first cattle call, and the AFL-CIO has the clout to call Democrats in whenever it wants.

Jan. 19: The third Women's March will take place around the country, with special plans for Washington, where organizers are putting together a lobbying day focused on getting a House vote on Medicare-for-all and where they'll release a "Women's Agenda," This will be the first of these marches since a battery of controversies for the umbrella Women's March organization, especially of the association between one organizer and Louis Farrakhan. But most Democrats with presidential ambitions have spoken at previous marches and are expected to again.

Jan. 31-Feb. 3: The Republican National Committee meets in Washington, where it will continue to clarify its 2020 primary rules, amid serious discussion of altering them to make any challenge to President Trump impossible.

Feb. 13-16: The Democratic National Committee meets, also in Washington, and will make one of the final big decisions before the primary: the site of the 2020 convention. In the past, this meeting has also drawn in a few presidential contenders, though changes to primary rules have diminished the delegate voting power of DNC members.

Feb. 22: New Hampshire's McIntyre-Shaheen Dinner will unfold in Manchester. It's likely to be the first cattle call in an early voting state, coming after a number of first-tier candidates have entered the race.

Feb. 27-March 2: The annual Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, will be held again in suburban Washington. Trump has appeared there every year since entering the 2016 Republican primary, and the local reception for him has evolved from contempt (2016) to jubilation (2017) to outright adoration (2018). 

March 10-13: The annual International Association of Fire Fighters conference comes to D.C., and the first day typically takes place in a ballroom near the Capitol, with prominent politicians invited to speak on any topic to members. The union's longtime president Harold Schaitberger has already all but pledged to back Joe Biden if he enters the race.

March 24-26: One of the largest annual political events in the country, the AIPAC Policy Conference, will be held in downtown Washington. Traditionally, the off-year sessions don't give many speaking slots to presidential candidates; that's reserved for election years. But the event, anchored by a lengthy speech from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is built to showcase the clout of pro-Israel lobbyists, and worries about declining support for Israel among Democratic voters have become a topic there.

March 31: It's the end of the first fundraising quarter, the first traditional gut check and re-sorting of any presidential field. In the 2008 cycle, this was the moment when Barack Obama nearly matched Hillary Clinton's money haul, firming up the idea that he was a credible challenger. Note that Obama announced his numbers in the first week of April; campaigns are not required to turn everything in to the Federal Election Commission until April 15, but increasingly, campaigns like to get a jump on the official filing and calculate their totals for the press.

Late April: One of the last Fridays in this month is devoted to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn's Fish Fry, an annual event that stands out for Democrats for a simple reason: It's the biggest political gathering for African American voters in an early primary state. 

May 21: Statewide primaries will take place in Kentucky, one of three states that will elect a governor this year.  In 2015, eventual Democratic nominee Jack Conway spent the whole campaign evading questions about who he'd back for president, saying he would support Joe Biden, who was not running. Why should a candidate for governor answer that question? It's fair to ask, but tying the Democratic candidate to his national party has become a go-to tactic for Republicans here. Any Democrat who wants to prove his or her strength outside of blue America will be paying attention.

May 31-June 2: The California Democratic Party Convention is happening in San Francisco this year, and, for the first time since 2008, the state has secured an early slot on the primary calendar. That's likely to turn this into a showcase for multiple Democrats, in a forum where a good speech, in front of a massive audience, can get national attention. It was here in 2003 that Howard Dean pronounced himself a member of "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" and assailed Democrats who'd backed the Iraq War.

June: The first official Democratic presidential primary debate will take place, location to be determined. The DNC has sanctioned six debates in 2019, all of them to be held outside the first four primary states. That means, in practice, that the candidates who make it onstage will burn 12 to 18 days this year on prep, travel and the debates themselves.

Mid-June: Mitt Romney's annual donor summit is expected to celebrate its fifth year in Park City, Utah, — the first, obviously, with the host representing the state as a senator. There will be several moments when Republicans ask (or the press prods them to ask) if the party can go into 2020 with Trump still leading it; this will be the most scenic of those moments.

June 30: The end of the second fundraising quarter, which can be a winnowing moment for candidates who have not yet shown any ability to stack money. 

July. The NAACP Convention will take place in Detroit; typically, the event includes a candidate forum where presidential contenders get equal time to speak and are encouraged to discuss civil rights.

July 11-13: The 14th Netroots Nation conference will take place in Philadelphia; for the third time, it will feature some sort of forum for Democratic presidential candidates. In 2007, that took the form of a debate, which made some news when Hillary Clinton got into an argument about lobbyists (they "represent real Americans"). In 2015 it became a series of Q&As with the candidates who had bothered to show up; both Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders were interrupted by Black Lives Matter activists. This year, organizers say the format is to be determined.

Aug. 8-18: It's the most cliche-rich event in politics: the Iowa State Fair. It's also a focusing event for candidates, who are given time at a Des Moines Register-sponsored "soapbox" to deliver their stump speech. 

Sept. 2: Multiple primary states will be holding Labor Day events; the AFL-CIO's breakfast in New Hampshire has frequently become a go-to event for Democrats that day. (Sanders has attended it every year since 2016.)

Mid-September: The New Hampshire Democratic Party holds its convention in Manchester, giving candidates the biggest captive audience they'll have in that state until the new year.

Sept. 28: Since 2017, the last Saturday of the month has been given over to the Polk County Democratic Party Steak Fry, a successor to the Iowa candidate cattle call that former senator Tom Harkin held for years.

Sept. 30: This is the end of the third fundraising quarter, and by this point in previous cycles, candidates who've struggled have seen their futures and dropped out. In 2011 and 2015, the first two Republican primaries in the era of the super PAC, several candidates plowed forward despite raising nearly nothing for their own campaigns. The toxicity of big money PACs in Democratic politics is likely to alter that trend.

October: Iowa Democrats will hold their Fall Dinner, formerly known as the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. This was the event that turned Obama into the Iowa front-runner, after months of slogging through and underperforming at candidate forums. 

Dec. 31: Every New Year's Eve before the Iowa caucuses marks the end of the fourth fundraising quarter; by Jan. 15, just a few weeks before voting, every candidate will have revealed his and her totals for the year. Then, and only then, will we know who endured the marathon, who ran out of money, and who kept raising money after being completely written off. And we're just 363 days away.

ON THE TRAIL

Warren's Iowa adventure. Since the Massachusetts senator's last visit to Iowa, in 2014, a few parts of the state have grown a bit bluer. There's a lot more of Iowa that's gotten redder — and that's where Warren will be going.

Three of Warren's five scheduled stops this weekend will take her to the 4th Congressional District, represented by Republican Steve King. Pottawattamie County backed Trump by 21 points, Woodbury County by 20 points, Buena Vista County by 24 points. And all went by double digits for Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) in last year's statewide elections. Just 10 years ago, Barack Obama had lost them by only a few points.

That itinerary has turned some heads in Iowa. "I’m excited that with so many people focused on Des Moines and urban areas, that she's coming out here," said J.D. Scholten, a Democrat who narrowly lost to King last year. "She's going to hear about health care. She's going to talk to people who are worried about market consolidation and how farmers are being squeezed, both on the input side and the output side."

Scholten, who ran 14 points ahead of Hillary Clinton in the district, had campaigned with a number of lesser-known Democrats with presidential ambitions. Warren, he said, had sent three fundraising letters on behalf of his campaign; when he was at the 2018 Netroots Nation conference in New Orleans, Warren made time for a meeting with him.

Most of Warren's events are being promoted as "organizing" gatherings, as opposed to policy listening tour stops of the sort Clinton made in 2015. One is a roundtable in Storm Lake, a city in Buena Vista County, but Iowa Democrats point out that there's a unique local story there.

“I’m proud of her for choosing Storm Lake,” said Sean Bagniewski, the chair of the Polk County Democratic Party. “It’s one of the few Iowa cities that’s growing, and it’s because it’s been very welcoming to immigrants. It’s known as a melting pot in rural Iowa; I'd love to see more Democrats heading there.”

But after a year of lower-profile candidates heading to Iowa, the stakes for Warren are high. This is the first 2020 event at which "crowdsmanship," the practice of scanning turnout for a candidate to see if they have the juice, will be in effect. Warren's first event on Saturday is at one of Sioux City's largest arts venues, one that Clinton rallied in ahead of the 2016 caucuses. Turnout of less than 2,000 would leave the venue looking somewhat empty — something pointed out to us by an operative for another Democrat who may run for president.

DEMS IN DISARRAY

Nancy Pelosi is once again the speaker of the House, returning to the job after eight years despite 15 members of her party not voting for her. What matters for 2020 is that 20 Democrats in districts carried by the president backed the new speaker; Republicans, who need to win at least 19 seats to flip the House, immediately painted targets on them.

"With the very first chance they got, they broke their word and their bond with the voters who elected them," said Dan Conston, the new president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, in a statement from the Republican super PAC. "CLF will make sure voters know that their member of Congress already broke their word, all to support an out-of-touch San Francisco liberal who is desperate to hold on to power.“

There's actually a spirited disagreement among Republicans about whether this attack works; Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), the new chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, has worried  that the obsessive focus on Pelosi in 2018 did little to boost Republicans outside of very safe districts.

And the 20 Pelosi-backing "Trump district" Democrats really fit into two camps. One camp come from places where Trump performed more weakly than previous Republican nominees: Reps. Tom O'Halleran (Ariz.), Lucy McBath (Ga.), Lauren Underwood (Ill.),  Haley Stevens (Mich.),  Angie Craig (Minn.), Josh Gottheimer (Mass.) and Kendra Horn (Okla.).

The remaining 13 Democrats come from a range of districts, from the most Trump-friendly place represented by a Democrat (Minnesota's 7th) to Nevada's 3rd District, where Trump actually won a smaller share of the vote than Mitt Romney; third-party voters were responsible for his win margin.

The point: If Republicans knocked off every Democrat from a red-tinted district who voted for Pelosi today, and reelected every one of their incumbents, they'd come out of 2020 with a majority. But the map isn't that simple.

Still, Republicans ended their first day of divided government by promising to hold pro-Pelosi Democrats accountable. America Rising blasted out a list of 21 Democrats who "went back on their word" to back Pelosi that included 11 from increasingly blue districts carried by Clinton.  The House GOP's own rapid-response team called out 11 Democrats, nine of whom won in safe blue seats. 

Also worth noting: While a few Democrats pledged specifically not to back Pelosi, many more found routes around the Pelosi question, saying that they wanted to see new leadership, or see who was seeking the gavel — and then, after the election, saying that Pelosi had won them over.

2020

Bernie Sanders. The New York Times published the most comprehensive investigation so far of allegations of sexual harassment against staffers in the senator's 2016 campaign, an issue that had been bubbling under the surface for months. Sanders, who dislikes discussing scandal or campaign details more than most politicians, appeared on CNN on Wednesday and said that he supported changes in harassment reporting policy; then, he added that he was a little "busy" on the trail and thus unaware of the details as harassment was reported.

Tom Steyer. The next three stops on his "five rights" tour are Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada; he announced as much last month but clarified this week that the Iowa stop will be in Des Moines.

Amy Klobuchar. She told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that she will decide "soon" on a 2020 bid.

Terry McAuliffe. He published an op-ed in The Post today, urging Democrats to run on “realistic solutions” in 2020 — one way of saying they risked swinging too far to the left.

Elizabeth Warren. She sat down with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday night, making news when she criticized the “foreign policy establishment” that had criticized the president’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan, though she said that the president’s process for doing so was too slapdash.

WHAT I'M WATCHING

Medicare-for-all. It’s official: The new Democratic House will hold hearings on single-payer health care, for the first time in decades — the first time, ever, that the current version of “Medicare-for-all” will go through the committee process.

That does not mean that the dream of the modern left will become law this year. But advocates know that. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the sponsor of the House legislation, said having public hearings and traditional “scoring” for the bill will elevate it as a 2020 issue.

“It will ensure that this will be part of the 2020 presidential platforms,” said Jayapal. “We will be looking at every single candidate from this lens.”

Within hours of Jayapal’s announcement, potential 2020 candidates were celebrating. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), arriving at a party held for supporters Wednesday, told them that the House would be doing what cynics called impossible just years earlier.

“I want to congratulate the House for holding hearings for the first time on Medicare-for-all,” he told The Post. “I’m confident the results will show that Medicare-for-all is the way forward if we want to guarantee health care to all people in a cost-effective way.”

Left-wing activists will step up their advocacy for Medicare-for-all in the coming days, with rallies for the policy around the Jan. 19 Women’s March. MoveOn is also about to distribute a memo, written by Data for Progress, that crunched data from the 2018 election to argue that Democrats running on the policy were not effectively attacked for it by Republicans.

“Neither polling data nor actual election results suggest that embracing Medicare for All or the broader progressive agenda hurt Democratic politicians in 2018,” Data for Progress concludes in the memo.

WAIT, WHAT?

For the first time in decades, the House of Representatives opened a new session with one vacant seat — the 9th District of North Carolina. Mark Harris, the Republican who declared victory in that race in November, spent Thursday filing a motion in Wake County Superior Court, asking to be certified as a member of Congress.

“The voters of the Ninth Congressional District are entitled to have their elected representative in place by the time Congress convenes,” Harris’s attorneys wrote in their brief for the court.

Unfortunately for Harris, that’s not how this works. Democrats, whose majority gives them the power to seat or refuse to seat new members, have been adamant: There will be no member from this district until there is a judgment on allegations that Harris paid a Republican operative to discard ballots that could have swung the election.

What could happen next? North Carolina Republicans, who now say that Harris should be seated, are sticking with him and filing lawsuits on his behalf, attempting to move the matter to federal court. But if they lose there, a law passed by the Republican-run legislature would mandate any vacancy to be filled in a special election, preceded by a primary. One potential timeline: Both parties pick their nominees in a late spring primary, then elect a new congressman as late as November.

This would not be the longest vacancy in recent congressional history; a full year passed between the December 2017 resignation of Michigan’s John Conyers and the seating of a Democrat who won the special November 2018 election to replace him. But it could mean that for most of the next year, Republicans have just 199 votes in the House, making it incrementally easier for Democrats to pass bills.

READING LIST

"Why the New Democratic Majority Could Work Better Than the Last," by Ronald Brownstein

This point really can't be made enough: For the first time, Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives that does not include a conservative bloc from the South. The median member of the conference is now a center-left suburbanite.

"I Don't Hate Women Candidates – I Just Hated Hillary, and Coincidentally I'm Starting to Hate Elizabeth Warren," by Devorah Blachor

The piece itself is funny, but it also gets at something that greatly aided Warren this week: As the first credible female candidate in the Democratic race, she endured the first attempts to brand a female candidate as unlikable, and that rallied even some Democrats who don't plan to support her.

"You may already be running," by Alexandra Petri

Just read it.

COUNTDOWN

... 54 days until the special election for New York City Public Advocate
... 54 days until the first round of Chicago's mayoral election