Hot off an electoral triumph last week that handed him a third term, Sen. Bob Casey is on a whirlwind media tour. He’s been talking about two very different things: his bipartisan agenda on Capitol Hill, and his prospects for the 2020 presidential election.
The newly re-elected senator — who handily fended off a Trump-backed Republican rival on Election Day — isn’t ruling out a run for the White House in two years, as first reported by NBC News Thursday. But speaking with Billy Penn this week, the Scranton native said the ideal 2020 ticket doesn’t necessarily include his name.
“We have probably 25 candidates that have a shot,” he said, quickly narrowing his list down to “two or five” who have a real chance at both clinching the Democratic nomination and then unseating President Donald Trump.
“If I had a name, I probably wouldn’t give it to you right now,” Casey added. “Even in my own mind, if I went through candidate by candidate and said, ‘can they be nominated and can they win?’ There’s still a lot of uncertainty.”
Potential senators, reps, govs, mayors…and a secretary of state?
A raft of Casey’s colleagues have already been floated as 2020 prospects on the Democratic ticket, including Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker, as well as center-stage names like former VP Joe Biden. But Casey’s prospective isn’t limited to the traditional senatorial pipeline — which has propelled 16 of the nation’s 45 presidents into office, from James Monroe to Barack Obama.
“We’re going to have House members running for the first time,” Casey said. “You’re going to have mayors that will be viable candidates for the first time. You’re going to have private sector people running because they see President Trump’s running and winning.”
He mentioned former Congressman John Delaney, who’s been testing his 2020 chances in Iowa for months now. What about a President Tom Wolf? Mum’s the word on that from the senator. Asked whether a Philly mayor would run, Casey laughed, then quickly added, “we’ll see.”
Casey noted that even candidates with losing records feel emboldened to take a run at the Oval office. He name-checked his 2012 senatorial challenger who later mounted an ill-fated presidential bid in 2016. “Everyone thinks they can be Lincoln,” Casey said.
Does the Casey ticket include women and people of color? “Sure.”
Will Hillary Clinton run again? The Senator offered a cryptic reply: “Rumors these days in politics tend to be varied … and some of them end up being accurate.”
Casey’s own prospects improved with his trouncing of U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta last week, as Pennsylvania is considered a key national battleground. Casey took back two counties — Erie and Northampton — that flipped from Obama to Trump. He’s now got six statewide elections under his belt, despite critics who call him boring and ineffectual.
There’s something Pennsylvanians like about Bob Casey’s centrism. There’s also plenty that progressive Democrats critique about him — from his tightrope walk on reproductive rights to his proclivity for taking money from big pharmaceutical companies. (Casey’s campaign received more political contributions from pharmaceutical and health product companies this year than any other member Congress, according to Open Secrets.)
On healthcare, ‘we saved Trump from himself’
Whether or not Senator Casey can evolve into presidential candidate Casey may rest on what unfolds on the Senate floor in the coming months.
Casey says he has his eyes set on a big infrastructure bill that would have bipartisan appeal. He cited efforts with Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri to get allocations for off-system bridges across the country. His infrastructure dreams include an expansive, New Deal-like package that would everything from roads and bridges to broadband internet.
Partisan issues from gun control to healthcare will likely see more of the same theatrical routine than actual progress in the coming year. Even on providing tax relief for regular Americans, Casey offered reserved skepticism.
“More likely it’s dead on arrival, but it’s still worth pursuing,” he said of a potential middle-class tax break.
Asked if he was planning to advance gun control discussions in the wake of the massacre in Pittsburgh last month, Casey did not say yes or no. At minimum, the Senate should hold another vote on universal background checks, extended magazines and military-style assault rifles, he said. Even if those bills are DOA with his Republican majority colleagues, the Democrat said, the votes should take place.
On healthcare, Casey said last week’s election was a referendum on the benefits enjoyed by the Affordable Care Act — particularly the protection of pre-existing conditions. He frequently criticized his opponent Barletta for his and other Republicans move to repeal the act. Now, he would not be surprised if they tried another repeal effort, even ahead of the 2020 elections, “which is bizarre after the repudiation they got in this election,” he said.
“You could make a pretty good case that Democrats in Congress did Donald Trump a big favor by opposing [the repeal bill],” Casey said. “I would like to see the president’s numbers if 14 million Americans lost their healthcare. We saved him from himself, or from his party.”