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Pelosi faces big leadership challenge

Speaker John Boehner gives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi a kiss on the cheek after being handed the gavel Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. (CNN)

Speaker John Boehner gives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi a kiss on the cheek after being handed the gavel Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. (CNN)

Leadership battles within the Democratic Party. The fight over repealing Obamacare. And the story of an awkward hallway scramble two decades ago involving Al Gore and Fidel Castro.

It’s all part of our weekly “Inside Politics” forecast, where you get next week’s headlines today.

1. A giant test for Pelosi

House Democrats pick their leadership team this week, and while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi remains a prohibitive favorite, there is more drama than usual because of discontent over the presidential election and calls for fresh stewardship.

Her rival is a congressman she once mentored, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who says he remains a huge Pelosi fan but that it is time for new leadership.

CNN’s Manu Raju shared some insights on the process that will culminate with a secret ballot later in the week.

“She’s taking steps to reassure skeptics that she is listening to them, bringing in new voices into the leadership team and also telling these top rank-and-file members that they will have more of a platform on the committees to voice their positions,” said Raju.

“What they want to hear is a concrete plan for the Democrats to regain the House majority, not necessarily by 2018 but by 2020.”

2. Schumer girds for battle over healthcare

There is a new leader on the Democratic side in the Senate — New York’s Chuck Schumer — and he is raring to battle the Trump White House and congressional Republicans on two big health care issues.

One is the President-elect’s promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The other is House Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare.

Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post recently interviewed Schumer and shared some of the new leader’s thinking on how Democrats will push back against GOP healthcare reforms.

“He says, ‘Think about all of the good things in this law that they don’t want to take away.’ They are preparing to highlight that over the course of the next few months,” O’Keefe said.

“The idea that 20 million people are covered, that women have more protection and coverage than they ever did before, that younger people can stay on their parents plans — he (Schumer) says Republicans will rue the day that they decided to try to repeal Obamacare.”

3. Will Obama weigh in on DNC chief?

One recurring criticism of President Obama from fellow Democrats these past eight years is that he hasn’t shown much interest in the nitty-gritty work of the Democratic National Committee.

But as Obama prepares to move out of the White House, he and his team are taking an interest in the race to pick a new DNC chief — adding a new wrinkle to what already was a tense debate among Democrats.

Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison has the backing of influential voices like Schumer and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But team Obama reportedly believes Labor Secretary Tom Perez or former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm would be better choices.

Lisa Lerer of the Associated Press waded through some of the Obama White House’s calculations.

“One person everyone is watching, of course, is President Obama,” said Lerer. “The big question is whether he gets involved. It’s unclear whether the White House will go from behind-the-scenes whispers to a public position that will certainly influence where this goes.”

4. GOP governors could face backlash

Repealing and replacing Obamacare isn’t just a big debate in Washington. It’s also being watched closely in state capitals, including those with Republican governors.

Many of them reduced the rolls of the uninsured by taking advantage of a Medicaid expansion included in the health care law. CNN’s Nia Malika Henderson noted the governors could face a political backlash if major changes are enacted.

“If you look at the expansion of Medicaid particularly, that’s covered about 15 million people roughly. About 10 governors … Republican governors, have this expansion of Medicaid in their state,” said Henderson.

“They are looking to be very involved in terms what this repeal — and particularly the replace — is going to look like, because they are on the front lines of these folks in their states who have the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.”

5. Al Gore’s awkward encounter

The death of Fidel Castro stirred a memory of a long-ago encounter that was part comedy and part trouble.

It was in May 1994, at the historic inauguration of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa.

Vice President Al Gore led the U.S. delegation, which also included then First Lady Hillary Clinton. A Who’s Who of world leaders were on hand, including Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

At one point before the ceremony, Gore and Castro ended up in the same hallway of the parliament building, and the Cuban leader seemed determined to get in a quick hello. But it was considered taboo, of course, for a US leader to have any dealings with Castro, so the Vice President and his Secret Service detail took a zig-zag path to avoid any contact with him.

Two young White House staffers were later reprimanded, however, when word surfaced they took the opportunity to pose for a photograph with Castro, who was smiling as he mingled with other dignitaries in his trademark military uniform.