Politics roundup: Democrats control the House of Representatives. Now what?


This week, Democrats officially gained a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. What could this mean for the rest of Congress and the White House?

Democrats officially take control of the House

On Thursday, Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives. For the first time in his presidency, The White House will face serious political opposition that goes beyond protests, judicial rulings, or bitter online sentiments.

During the first two years of the administration, Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate. While Republican politicians were not always kind to the policies or general demeanor of the President, they were certainly more likely to fall in line than Democrats.

Now, however, there is set to be some real challenges for Trump, courtesy of the new Democratic majority in the House. The rather thin Republican majority in the Senate (52 Republicans to 45 Democrats, 2 Independents, and one vacant seat) doesn’t guarantee an easy out, either.

The 116th Congress is expected to take a more thorough look into the President’s tax returns and compel Cabinet members to testify before Congressional committees. They are also likely to scrutinize the president’s business dealings for any connections with foreign agents, especially Russian ones who may or may not have helped to influence the 2016 elections.

Foremost in many leaders’ minds is the ongoing government shutdown. For over two weeks now, numerous agencies have been without funding. Some federal workers haven’t come in, while others, such as TSA agents and correctional officers, are obliged to work without pay. They will almost certainly be given their back pay once the shutdown is over, but there currently no clear end in sight.

The President has not signaled any willingness to back down, given that the shutdown happened thanks to a dispute over funding for the border wall. Given that said wall was a major campaign promise, the failure of that promise could be anything from embarrassing to a political disaster for the White House.

Democrats, for their part, do not seem ready to give any concessions. A funding bill that is generally to their liking will have no problem passing in the House. In the Senate, such a bill will likely encounter more resistance. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the proposed bill a “total non-starter”.

Yet, for all the political arguing, the clock is ticking. Government shutdowns are deeply unpopular amongst voters. Though both sides are busy passing the blame off onto their respective opponents, neither can really afford to keep the shutdown going for much longer without serious political consequences. After all, even though the midterms of 2018 are barely cold, quite a few politicians are looking ahead to the 2020 elections.

Warren announces near-certain presidential run

Speaking of the 2020 elections, speculation is already swirling as to who will claim the Democratic nomination for president. With an energized base and a slew of energetic, recognizable candidates, the Democratic field is bound to be crowded. We won’t know who the Democratic Party nominates to run until the summer of 2020. Until then, expect many announcements, news stories, and multiple debates, all before the nomination itself.

This week, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren became one of the earliest of the group to actually announce her campaign. Really, she’s announced the formation of an exploratory committee, but that’s as good as saying she’s in the race.

Will voters go for Warren, who is seen as anything from a liberal darling, to an establishment fogey, to Hillary 2.0? Or, perhaps more accurately, will the Democratic Party go for her? It depends in part, on whether or not you view Warren as a political firebrand or establishment figure.

It also depends on whether or not party leaders think they should try to appease everyone or pick a new but potentially divisive leader. Given that so many expectations were upended in the course of the 2016 election, this is a tough situation. For 2020, it may be safest to expect that no one, no matter their position, name recognition, or funding sources, could be safe.

Who else will likely join Warren? Already, former Vice President Joe Biden seems to be setting the stage for his own campaign. He’s one of the current favorites in this hypothetical race, along with Warren herself. Other potential candidates who have not yet announced anything include Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Beto O’Rourke.

North Korea has harsh words for the U.S.

Over 2018, it seemed that North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un, had made big changes in how they related to other nations. It was friendlier towards countries it had deemed to be long-term adversaries, most notably the United States and South Korea. Kim was the first North Korean leader to step onto South Korean soil, where he met with President Moon Jae-in. He also participated in historic summits with the U.S. president in June 2018.

His nation even began dismantling some of its missile sites over the summer. That was a significant move for a nation that had threatened to bomb the United States and other enemies.

Where has all of that led? For all of the torn-up missile silos and international meetings, North Korea still reportedly maintains a stockpile of nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, the United States still imposes sanctions against the nation, at least in part because of North Korea’s repeated and severe human rights violations.

U.S. State Department officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have expressed concern out North Korea selling its nuclear technology to other states. These include Syria, which built a nuclear reactor that was bombed by Israeli forces in 2007.

On Tuesday, Kim Jong-un delivered his annual New Year’s Day speech, which was broadcast on North Korea’s state-run television channel. He warned the United States that continued sanctions against his nation would have potentially dire consequences.

“[If] the United States does not keep its promise in our international community and misinterprets our patience and intention and continues with the sanctions,” he said, “Then we have no choice for the sake of our national interest and peace of the Korean Peninsula but to come up with new initiatives and new measures.”

Kim also demanded that South Korea should cease all military drills held with “other foreign sources”. Those drills, typically conducted with U.S. forces stationed in the region, have been a point of contention between North and South Korea for years.

And, finally, your palate cleanser

After a long day, it can be refreshing, even relaxing, to read about women who were very bad. Well, “bad” in the sense that people of their time and afterward thought of them as boundary-pushing harridans. I’m not saying we should admire women who were actually bad, in the sense that they were downright evil. No, I’m talking about the “infamous” woman, the one who might make you feel a little less inhuman for being tired and angry. Plus, the distance of history helps make things rather more interesting.

Read. 20 Democrats who are likely to run in 2020. light

Thankfully, Longreads has a nice, juicy collection of these stories in the “Queens of Infamy” series. Writer Anne Thériault helms the whole enterprise, which includes the life of the medieval Eleanor of Aquitaine, who dumped the King of France to marry the King of England, led a rebellion against the second husband, and practically invented the concept of chivalry. Plus, she was played by Katherine Hepburne in 1968’s The Lion in Winter, practically stealing the show from Peter O’Toole.

There’s also Zenobia, a third-century Syrian ruler who nearly defeated Roman forces bearing down on her territory. Considering the sprawling monster that was the Roman Empire, that’s nothing to dismiss.