The 5 biggest political stories of 2013
The first year of a president’s second term is supposed to be a time of continuity, but 2013 gave politicians, pundits, and the public plenty of fresh — and often chaotic — drama.
By the end of the year, President Barack Obama, the Republican Party, and the U.S. Congress as a whole have all managed to put themselves into all-time lows in the national polls.
Bottom line: It wasn’t a pretty year in politics.
To almost no one’s surprise, our top 2 stories are the government shutdown and the bungled rollout of the federal health-care website (read to the bottom to find out which one finished as the No. 1 political story of the year).
5. Immigration bill passes the Senate, stalls in the House: After President Obama won Latino voters by a 71%-27% margin in the 2012 presidential race, congressional Democrats – and also a handful of Republicans – made immigration reform the top legislative priority for the 113th Congress. A bipartisan group of senators, known as the “Gang of Eight,” crafted a framework that further strengthened border security and provided a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. In June, the legislation passed the Senate by a bipartisan 68-32 vote, with 14 Republicans in support (though that was a smaller number than many folks thought it would be when the process began). And without that BROAD Senate support, it made it easier for the Republican-controlled House to not take up the measure, insisting instead on a piecemeal approach to immigration reform. One of the top questions of 2014 is whether the House acts on immigration – even by a piecemeal approach.
4. Showdown over Syria’s chemical weapons: It began as a foreign-policy fiasco for the Obama administration. In August, the Assad regime was accused of launching a chemical-weapons attack on its own people, killing more than a thousand people. That attack violated the “red line” that President Obama had set for intervention in that country’s civil war. Hours before the U.S. military was set to launch a limited military strike to retaliate – as well as days after Britain’s parliament voted not to intervene – Obama reversed course and asked Congress to approve a resolution authorizing force. But as Congress was on the verge of voting down the resolution, the administration caught a break. Russia said it supported Secretary of State John Kerry’s seeming off-the-cuff proposal to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons. In late October, the Joint Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, reported that the Syrian regime “completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants.”
3. Snowden’s NSA leaks: On June 5, Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian newspaper reported that the U.S. government has collected American’s phone records and other meta-data, and the government later revealed it was part of a National Security Agency program dating back to 2006. That information came from an NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, who left the United States to Hong Kong and then to Russia. The leaks from Snowden didn’t stop — newspapers from around the world reported information that embarrassed the U.S. government, including the allegation that the U.S. spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel. On Dec. 16, a federal judge ruled that the NSA program collecting meta-data likely violates the U.S. Constitution. No story hurt the president more politically in the first eight months of the year than this one. It did real damage to his brand, particularly with his younger supporters.
2. The government shutdown: If not for the No. 1 story below, this would have been the most impactful political story ahead of next year’s midterms. Led by conservative groups and Tea Party-affiliated members, House Republicans vowed they wouldn’t support any legislation funding the government after Sept. 30 unless it repealed or delayed President Obama’s health-care law. Democrats didn’t budge, and federal government shut down on Oct. 1, leading to furloughed workers, stopped paychecks, and the closure of federal parks and national monuments. The Republican Party took it on the chin: A mid-October NBC/WSJ poll found the GOP’s fav/unfav rating at an all-time low, the health-care law’s popularity increased, and Democrats held an 8-point advantage (47%-39%) in congressional preference. For the first time, political analysts believed Democrats had a chance to win back control of the House in 2014. The government shutdown ended on Oct. 16.
1. The botched health-care rollout: Then attention turned to the rollout of the federal health-care website, which also began on Oct. 1. And it became a technical and PR disaster for the administration: The site was riddled with code errors, it could handle just a small number of simultaneous users, and some of the back-end information to insurance companies was wrong. Then came another hit: News organizations focused on Americans who had their bare-bones insurance plans canceled because they didn’t meet the health-care law’s new standards – which was contrary to the president’s often-repeated promise, “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it.” For two whole months, it was bad story after bad story for the administration. Since then, the federal website has substantially improved, and so has the number of Americans who have selected health plans in the state and federal exchanges. But the two months took a toll on Obama and Democrats: A December NBC/WSJ poll found the president’s disapproval rating (54%) at its highest level. And the Democrats’ 8-point edge in congressional preference turned into a 2-point advantage for Republicans (44%-42%).