Sunday, January 12, 2014

A House Divided: First Steps


President Murkowski said that she was "ready to get some real work done" just after her inauguration, and she would assuredly hold true to her word. It was not long after the shuffle of Obama moving out and Murkowski moving into the White House that she became very eager to get her hands dirty by cleaning up Congress' act. Many meetings with world leaders were on the agenda, such as Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau of Canada and Ed Milliband of the UK. Many political analysts found it interesting how many other countries traded their conservative governments for liberal ones in 2015 and the US proceeded to go the other direction. Talks with Canada would be especially important, concerning that Canada was involved in a lot of energy production in North America and building the Keystone Pipeline. First on the president's agenda was getting Cabinet picks approved, but in order for that to occur in earnest, leadership elections for both houses of Congress had to be held, and it was going to be contentious.

First up was the Senate, who began deliberations on January 29. Both parties were going to decide leaders, with the Democrats deciding on a whip. The Republican Minority Leader John Cornyn was facing a challenge from a fellow Texan senator Ted Cruz, who wanted Senate Republicans to embrace a more conservative direction. President Murkowksi had made it known that she was in strong support of Senator Cornyn, and that she was concerned that leadership from Cruz could lead to more obstructionism. It was decided on the first ballot that Cornyn would retain his position, with 32 Senate Republicans voting for Cornyn and 13 voting for Cruz. The Senators who chose to support Cruz were all ones who sat in what were considered safe seats in conservative states in the Plains and the Deep South.

The Democratic elections were far more contentious. The final list of challengers were Senators Michael Bennet, Kirsten Gillibrand, Alison Grimes, Elizabeth Warren, and Richard Durbin. On the first ballot, Senator Bennet won the slim plurality of votes at 16, with most Senators from purple states voting for him, and the vote being fairly equally divided among the rest. Surprisingly, Senator Durbin chose to drop out after the first ballot, stating that he wanted to see unity in the party by endorsing Bennet, and that he was going to run to maintain his position as whip. Senator Grimes, who recieved the least amount of votes, also chose to drop out after the first ballot and endorsed Gillibrand.

On ballot two, it was down to three. Bennet maintained a slim lead with 20 votes, while Gillibrand recieved 19 and Warren 14. Warren dropped out after ballot two, endorsing Gillibrand, and with ballot three, Gillibrand clinched a majority at 29 votes to Bennet's 24. The election for whip was 53 unanimous votes to keep Senator Durbin in his position. Grimes later stated that she considered a challenge, but declined out of respect and unity. The newly christened Majority Leader Kirsten Gillibrand, in her address to Senate Democrats, stated that she is excited to "continue the legacies of President Obama and former Senator Reid, and will promote the ideals the Democratic Party stands for with the utmost passion and vigor." She also emphasized that she will be happy to work with President Murkowski whenever the occasion necessitates itself, and that she will be willing to work towards compromise in most circumstances.

The House also had its own round of issues. The Democratic Party had been gaining seats in 2014 and 2016, slowly getting closer in number to the Republicans. Speaker Eric Cantor, although he was the first Jewish Speaker, was known for being a fairly strong conservative. Majority Leader Paul Ryan had already confirmed that he will not be challenging and that he supports keeping Cantor in his position. Some in the party believed that he is too conservative, and will keep the Democrats gaining seats in the House. He faced challenges from Representatives Jamie Herrera Beutler of Washington and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, both young and very influential in the moderate wing of their party. They both expressed concerns that having a conservative Speaker opposed to a more moderate President would excabarate the issues between the wings of the party. Speaker Cantor responded to these comments by stating that he would be in support of the president's plans as long as they did not compromise the core values of the Republican Party. House Republicans voted on January 31 on the position, and a slight majority voted to reelect Speaker Cantor at 121. Now that Congress ironed out some of their issues, it was time for them to approve the President's Cabinet choices.

President Murkowksi made a number of new choices for her cabinet. Her Cabinet was fairly bipartisan, with some notable Democratic figures like Brian Schweitzer becoming Secretary of Agriculture and but most of the major positions were filled by Republicans. Former Utah Governor and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman was nominated to the position of Secretary of State, which the president later stated was "the only clear choice to fill the role." Some Republicans were disillusioned with his connection to the Obama administration, and opposed him because of that, but many agreed with her choice. Some interesting choices were to nominate former New York City Mayor Rudy Giulani to become Secretary of Homeland Security, and the nomination of state senator from Maryland, Greg Randall, as Secretary of Housing and Urban Deeveloment. He grew up in and around Baltimore and has become well known in the Republican Party after his stirring speech at the 2016 RNC.

Secretary of State: Jon Huntsman
Secretary of Treasury: Meg Whitman
Secretary of Defense: Paul Wolfowitz
Attorney General: Jay Nixon
Secretary of the Interior: Brian Schweitzer
Secretary of Agriculture: Kristi Noem
Secretary of Commerce: Kenneth Frazier
Secretary of Labor: Jennifer Granholm
Secretary of Health and Human Services: Mark McClellan
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Greg Randall
Secretary of Education: Arne Duncan
Secretary of Energy: James Connaughton
Secretary of Transportation: Anthony Foxx
Secretary of Veterans Affairs: Duncan Hunter
Secretary of Homeland Security: Rudy Giuliani

Utmost priority for the Murkowski administration was getting the economy and government spending in order. She made it clear that she wants Congress to reduce spending, mostly by cutting extra pork, and that some discretionary spending areas such as education that were "critical to this country's future" would not be acceptable. She also wanted an across the board tax cut, which includes lowering tax rates on the upper bracket from President Obama's raise back to regular levels, but not as low as those from the Bush tax cuts. The House, in their new bill which began on February 13, took cuts to all discretionary spending, with the exclusion being education and defense. Minority Leader Schultz wanted there to be cuts to defense spending and matching increases to education, but Republican leadership stated that a cut in defense would be unacceptable. The bill narrowly passed the Senate, but many Democrats expressed concern about cuts in funding for scientific research and important tourist and preservation sites like national parks and monuments would end up being detrimental. When this bill reached the president's desk, she eagerly signed it, calling it a "revitalization for the American economy."

President Murkowski had a big boost in popularity from her first major passage of legislation, but she soon faced a big issue regarding LGBT rights. She publicly stated her support for gay marriage quite a while ago, and she was expected to be a fairly strong ally as president. However, many in the community were angry when she stated, when asked about gay marriage, that "it will assuredly be legalized when America is ready, and all we can do for now is push states to accept it." Recently, a number of states have moved from having civil unions to gay marriage: Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, and Wisconsin. Michigan has also voted to legalize it via referendum in the 2016 election, while Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida have come closer to legalizing it with newly elected state legislatures taking up the issue with a refreshed attitude. President Murkowski had the unfortunate circumstance of towing the line between sticking with her values and keeping the Republican Party together, for many Tea Party members would be calling for primary challenges and work towards undermining the president if she moved to push for nationwide legalization.

The first month for the Murkowski administration went well in the eyes of most Americans, as she maintained a 59% approval rating. She could surely get bills through Congress, but the true trials of her leadership were about to come shortly.

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