- CHANGING THE GAMEPLAN -
The Senate now stood at 49-49-2, 51-49 if caucusing independents are included, and the House at 229-206. It was unclear if, come January, the 114th Congress would become even more deadlocked than the last one due to how both houses came closer to a perfect division. After the defeat of Senator McConnell, Senator Cornyn of Texas was nearly unopposed to ascending to the position Minority Leader, except from a certain fellow Texan senator. Cruz's bid for Minority Leader received little support, not because there were not enough staunch conservatives to support him, but because it would appear very distasteful to take away the position from a senior member of the party and give it to a junior senator. The never ending world of politics expected to take a breather after the 114th Congress was inaugurated, but it was not to be, as speculation over who would become the next president fired up after a few events proved to shake up both parties.
The 114th Congress was ready to jump at change. John Boehner, representative from Ohio and Speaker of the House since the Republicans won it back in 2010, was voted to be replaced by a majority of House Republicans two days after the new Congress was sworn in. Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia would ascend to fill his spot. In the month leading up to the swearing in of the 114th, many in the conservative wing of the GOP began pushing to change Congressional leadership. Many of these people were rather young in comparison to their peers, like Ted Cruz, but the Tea Party touted many of these people anyways because they were fresh and passionate voices who they thought could be an enormous boost to their movement. Although Cruz's attempt was ultimately futile, Cantor, who was noted as a strong conservative, was able to win the Speakership because he had experience to back him up with his conservative credentials.
With a reinvigorated Congress, the Republican Party decided to do something big that was previously attempted, but failed: a repeal of the ACA. At this point, a number of moderate to conservative Democrats had grown away from supporting the bill while many of the most liberal ones had abandoned the ACA in favor of a single-payer system. Speaker Cantor put a repeal high on his legislative agenda, and even though he knew the President was going to veto it, it was intended to be a gesture that the Obama administration would have to cater to Congress in order to get anything done. The vote for repeal was very narrowly passed along with a plan to give the private healthcare system subsides to encourage a decrease of costs on the consumer level. Initially, the Senate seemed to be opposed to this initiative. The Democrats had the numbers and were confident that the bill would not pass. However, Senator Manchin of West Virginia split ranks, giving a final 50-50 vote and allowing Vice President Biden to use his tie breaking powers for the first time in order to strike down the bill. Even though the bill did not even make it to the President's desk, it thoroughly put the Obama administration and most of the Democratic Party on edge.
The cards appeared to not be in the President’s hands, but he was determined to make something positive out of his last year in office. The president made massive strides in foreign policy, something that he could do without the help of Congress. Late in 2014, after a very long process of deliberating, a nuclear agreement was reached with Iran, where the country was not allowed to produce any nuclear weapons, but it was allowed to invest in nuclear energy, while the other nuclear powers agreed to make reductions to their nuclear arsenal. The post Cold War trend had been to decrease the size of nuclear arsenals, and even though that process had slowed down through the Great Recession, President Obama was determined to speed the process back up to create a “safer world for our children” and to show the world that the US was climbing into economic growth. This move was popular in the public eye, but many conservatives were opposed to cutting down our nuclear arsenal as it supposedly demonstrated weakness and the removal of America from its current status in the world. President Obama’s successor would ultimately not continue his program of nuclear reduction, and to this day, it is still a very contentious debate as to if the biggest national security crisis since 9/11 was preempted by Obama’s deal with Iran or his successor's discontinuation of nuclear reduction.
Amidst some of these big moves, the backdrop of the 2016 presidential race was beginning to form. As the cold of winter began to thaw into spring, the first presidential candidates came out from his political hibernation: former Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee. In his radio show and activities associated with FOX News, he hinted at a presidential campaign, and fueled speculation when he suspended those programs in 2014. Many of the early bird polling showed him in front, and there was evidence of a shadow campaign being made preparing for his entrance into the race. On April 2, 2015 (in order to avoid any April Fool’s confusion) Huckabee appeared in front of a rally in Little Rock, and gave the Republican Party a call to action to “return to its roots of Reagan and his truly American brand of conservatism.” His speech was well received, and Huckabee continued to poll on top of his party.
On the other side of the aisle, Hillary made a few appearances on television throughout the first few months of 2015, making many people very excited about a potential run. Her so called shadow campaign was running very strong, and it appeared like many Democrats were simply ready to present her as their nominee. Polling centers, in the first few days of April, quickly pounded Hillary vs. Huckabee into the minds of American voters.
However, that was not to be. On April 11, 2015, Hillary Clinton was rushed to the hospital for extreme pains in areas in the face and head. It was quickly discovered that she suffered from an aneurism, and that even though it was severe, it was likely not threatening. Americans held their breath as the status of the Democratic Party’s standard flagbearer for 2016 hung in the balance. For days, Clinton stayed at the hospital and then at home to recuperate. Perhaps millions of get-well messages were posted across social media as Democrats hoped that her run was still inevitable. During an interview with a local New York reporter, Clinton finally stated that she felt that she was seriously considering a presidential run, but that she feels that under the light of recent health issues, she could not fully execute the office as the Democratic Party and the American People would have wished. With this, much of the shadow campaign and PACs that were raising funds for Hillary tried to find another candidate to hold onto. Would it be Vice President Biden or Governor O’Malley, who had experience and the respect of the establishment like Hillary? Perhaps, would it be somebody with passion and who excited the base like Hillary, like Senator Gillibrand of New York or Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado? Democrats hopes for 2016 quickly soured as the Republicans rebounded. In the days following Clinton’s announcement, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin announced their intentions to seek the Republican nomination for president.
As the US was gearing up for what was looking to be a very interesting election season, some of its allies internationally were having rather interesting elections of their own. Canada had just held an election where Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party rode a fairly significant anti-Harper wave to victory. After a disastrous election for the Liberals in the 2011 election, things only could get better for them, and with the election of Trudeau to party leader, they were excited for their prospects in 2015. PM Harper, who hoped to remain Prime Minister for another term, was beginning to grow more and more unpopular with the Canadian people as his policies were not speeding up the economy as quickly as the US had rebounded. Unfortunately for the NDP, under Thomas Mulcair, with a Liberal victory came a pretty big defeat down from their biggest federal victory as a party in 2011. The Greens managed to gain another seat in the Vancouver area, while the Bloc Québecois came back pretty strong after a poor performance for them in 2011.
In the UK, PM Cameron and the Conservatives lost their government to be replaced by a shaky Labor-Liberal Democrat coalition headed by PM Ed Miliband. Cameron had a pretty positive record of economic improvement and keeping the UK united by overseeing a decisive defeat of the Scotland independence referendum shortly before the election. However, many individual Conservative MP’s were becoming unpopular, and combined with the insurgent UKIP under Nigel Farage, Labour managed to gain a plurality. However, in order to form a government, they needed partnership with the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg, who had served as Deputy PM under Cameron. However, the LibDems forced Labour to make a number of concessions in order to form a coalition, and many people were unhappy with how they were “blocking government” while others were pleased that they were challenging the two party rule in the UK. Miliband barely was able to form a government, and it was a shaky coalition that many in the UK were fearful was going to fall any day.