A historic year in Washington
Reviewing 2020 politics from impeachment to election
WASHINGTON—The year kicked off with a whimper, not a bang, as the Democratic House’s impeachment of President Donald Trump fizzled into an acquittal by the Republican-controlled Senate. Meanwhile, Democratic voters steered clear of far-left options in a crowded primary to pick former Vice President Joe Biden as their presidential nominee. The COVID-19 pandemic left Congress grappling with how to best aid the needy, small businesses, and struggling industries. And an onslaught of controversy followed the presidential contest in November.
Here are the top political stories of the year.
The former vice president ran on an “electability” argument in the primary, promising Democrats he could defeat President Donald Trump. Along the way, he strove not to alienate progressives in his party while also keeping his distance from the far left’s signature proposals like Medicare for All.
A compromise he did make: going back on his longtime support for the Hyde Amendment, which keeps taxpayer dollars from directly funding abortion. His balancing act seemed to pay off. Though Biden faltered in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, his campaign gained new strength after he won South Carolina’s Democratic primary in a landslide. After winning endorsements from several of his former rivals, including former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Biden surpassed Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Super Tuesday and became his party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
The coronavirus pandemic disrupted both candidates’ campaigns. While Trump’s team remained relatively active on the ground by door-knocking and holding some rallies, Biden set up a virtual studio in his Delaware home and remained mostly off the campaign trail. He tapped Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate, a historic and in some ways expected choice—but not a moderate one. Biden also largely sidestepped questions of what his family had been up to in Ukraine and whether he benefited from his son’s overseas business dealings. Trump, meanwhile, ran on a message of restoring the battered economy, shoring up the judiciary with conservatives, and supporting law enforcement. —H.P.
COVID-19 tested the efficiency of Congress and the White House in responding to a nationwide health crisis. In the spring, as state and local governments instituted lockdowns and businesses closed their doors, unemployment skyrocketed. Democrats and Republicans initially reached across the aisle and came together on several emergency economic aid packages. In March, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called for lawmakers to move at “warp speed” to approve the $2.2 trillion CARES Act for Americans. But lawmakers soon found themselves at a stalemate over whether to approve another aid package and the effectiveness of the initial one.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration launched its own fast-moving response to the virus: Operation Warp Speed. The plan financed research and expedited the mass production of the most promising vaccines to treat COVID-19. It appears to have worked: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized two shots already. The next test of the government’s efficiency will be the monthslong process of distributing the vaccine across the nation. —H.P.
The Sept. 18 death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg paved the way for Amy Coney Barrett, formerly a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, to join the Supreme Court. At her confirmation hearing, the always-prepared judge at times frustrated lawmakers by not giving any hints as to how she might rule on hot topics such as abortion and healthcare. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, demonstrators both for and against Barrett showed up the week of her hearing. The Senate confirmed her as an associate justice to the high court in a 52-48 vote. —H.P.
More than 159 million voters, a record, participated in November’s general election, including 65 million who voted by mail. On Nov. 7, major news outlets began projecting Biden had won the presidential election by taking Pennsylvania to cross the threshold of 270 Electoral College votes. The Trump campaign raised accusations of rampant voter fraud and filed dozens of legal challenges in key states, most of which courts rejected.
Meanwhile, the GOP had a strong night down the ballot. Despite pollsters giving Republicans a slim chance of gaining ground in the House, the party flipped 13 seats, largely by retaking districts that supported Trump in 2016. The GOP also made some gains among minority voters, particularly Latinos with whom the president’s anti-socialism message resonated.
Biden began announcing his cabinet picks and gearing up for his time in the Oval Office. On Dec. 14, the states granted him 306 electoral college votes. Trump captured 232 votes and has not conceded the election. The House is set to certify the Electoral College counts on Jan. 6, a day that could see a historic debate at the U.S. Capitol over whether to accept the results of elections in states where accusations of fraud have shaken voters’ confidence. —H.P.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected in regard to the number of voters in November's general election.
A number of politicians and public servants died in 2020, and their statesmanship and work left an indelible mark.George H. Walker III, 88, died Jan. 23. Walker was the cousin to two presidents, a former ambassador, and a philanthropist. Richard Hanna, 69, died March 15. The moderate GOP congressman from New York held liberal social views and endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016. Tom Coburn, 72, died March 28. An obstetrician and U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, he earned the moniker “Dr. No” for his opposition to wasteful government spending. Wilson Roosevelt Jerman, 91, died May 16. A White House butler, he served 11 presidents, starting with Dwight Eisenhower and retiring during Barack Obama’s presidency in 2012. Jean Kennedy Smith, 92, died June 17. The youngest sibling of President John F. Kennedy, she served as ambassador to Ireland and founded an arts program for children with disabilities. John Lewis, 80, died July 17. An acolyte of Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights activist suffered beatings and jailings and helped organize the 1963 March on Washington before serving in Congress. Herman Cain, 74, died July 30 of COVID-19. The African American businessman, pastor, and politician competed in the Republican presidential primaries in 2012. Robert Trump, 71, died Aug. 15. The younger brother of President Donald J. Trump worked in real estate before joining the Trump organization and supporting his brother’s presidential bid. Slade Gorton, 92, died Aug. 19. The GOP senator from Washington supported the Equal Rights Amendment, government-funded abortions, and hometown corporations, which earned him the nickname “the senator from Microsoft.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87, died Sept. 18. Ginsburg was the second female justice on the United States Supreme Court. After becoming the leader of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing, she developed a pop culture following and the rap-inspired nickname “Notorious RBG.” Harry Jackson Jr., 66, Nov. 9. He was a prominent black Pentecostal minister and adviser to President Donald Trump. —Susan Olasky
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