California representative Devin Nunes’s late-night jaunt to the White House to swap information pertaining to the Russia investigation may not have been the first sign that a Republican Congress had no intention of holding Donald Trump accountable, but it was certainly the starkest. For two years, G.O.P. committee chairs have shielded the president, refusing to launch investigations into things like his tax returns or his sticky business ties, or even whether his trade war can be justified on “national security” grounds. Unsurprisingly, Representatives Elijah Cummings, Jerry Nadler, Adam Schiff, Maxine Waters, and Richard Neal—who will chair the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Judiciary Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, the Financial Services Committee, and the Ways and Means Committee, respectively—see things differently. Most have said they will investigate the president—a turn of events that has sent liberals into paroxysms of delight and put Trump on the defensive. Even so, they will be forced to weigh the risks of appearing overzealous. As the Clinton era demonstrated, demanding answers of the president does not always sit well with the public.
the ONCE AND FUTURE SPEAKER
Was there any doubt that Nancy Pelosi, master tactician and Democratic doyenne, would retake the Speaker’s gavel? The San Francisco congresswoman is, after all, battle-tested, donor-approved, and exhibits an extraordinary talent for keeping her caucus in line. So, when a small faction of Democrats, high on their midterm success, attempted to depose her, calling for new leadership to rally the most diverse and progressive freshman class in history, the Speaker responded with her trademark elixir of honey and vinegar. Representative Marcia Fudge, her presumptive replacement, was mollified with a plum committee assignment. Representative Seth Moulton found himself in the doghouse. If you come at the queen, you best not miss.
If you ask Joe Biden, he’s “the most qualified person in the country to be president.” If you ask the polls, the answer is similar. In an already crowded Democratic field, Biden is by far the preferred candidate to take on Trump in 2020—his blue-collar credentials, the theory goes, will erode Trump’s strength in pockets Hillary Clinton lost. And yet, Biden looks nothing like the new wave of Democrats ushered in by a historic number of young midterm voters—New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Iowa’s Abby Finkenauer, and California’s Katie Hill were all in diapers when Biden oversaw the disastrous Clarence Thomas hearings, and all speak the language of today’s politics far more fluently than a septuagenarian. And yet, “Uncle Joe” may have staying power, particularly as Democrats struggle to produce an heir apparent.
Ben Shapiro, perhaps more than any other up-and-coming conservative pundit, was made for Donald Trump. Though he considers himself a Trump skeptic—a stance his detractors say is cynically designed to maximize his public profile—his snotty righteousness, college-conservative smarts, and uncanny ability to turn a talking point into a tweet make him the perfect avatar for an age in which conservatives are united by an abiding desire to “own the libs.” While others mine cultural grievances for clicks, Shapiro has turned his brand of politics into a media empire. The 34-year-old’s podcast is downloaded upwards of 15 million times per month, and The Daily Wire, the Web site he founded three years ago, before leaving Breitbart, receives millions of monthly page views. As other right-wing figureheads flame out—Steve Bannon banished; Milo Yiannopoulos relegated to the backwaters of Instagram; Bill Kristol fading into irrelevance—Shapiro’s savvy for our political moment suggests the conservative “It boy” is here to stay.
In the lead-up to the Senate vote to repeal Obamacare, Republican senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski made more headlines than at perhaps any other point in their careers. The vote on Justice Brett Kavanaugh brought a similar wave of notoriety. For years, Republicans’ slim majority in the Senate—51 to 49—meant centrists like Collins, Murkowski, and Democrat Joe Manchin could be crucial swing votes. Their every move was tracked by a rabid press, each statement picked apart for hints of sway. Now that Republicans have solidified their Senate majority, Murkowski, Collins, and Manchin may well disappear from the front page. But with the House back in Democratic hands, their moderate outlook may prove more crucial than ever as the two branches search for common ground.
the NEW BLUE
If the Electoral College is any indication, Kansas is ruby red—the last time the state went for a Democratic presidential candidate was in 1964. But Laura Kelly’s victory over Trump mini-me Kris Kobach hints at the nuanced political currents that have always run beneath its surface. Part of Kelly’s genius was in her moderate approach: she focused on public education, infrastructure, and Medicaid expansion, linking Kobach to unpopular former governor Sam Brownback, whose tax cuts decimated the state. If Democrats hope to gain ground in red and purple states, Kelly’s race may prove a compelling model. “There will be a lot of talk about the blue wave, but I don’t believe that’s what’s happened here,” she told supporters after beating Kobach by a comfortable five points. “What happened in Kansas was a wave of common sense.”
the FREE AGENT
Wall Street can hardly contain its excitement over a potential President Bloomberg. “Oh, I’d vote for Michael in a heartbeat,” said Christopher Whalen, the founder of Whalen Global Advisors. “Can’t think of anybody else I’d rather see win frankly,” added a senior banker. Bloomberg, the thinking goes, could give Trump a run for his money among moderate Republicans—enough to win the popular vote, and perhaps the Electoral College. So far, the New York billionaire, who re-registered as a Democrat in October, has taken several steps to cement his bona fides: a $100 million donation to support Democratic candidates that ultimately helped pick up 40 House seats; a $1.8 billion donation to Johns Hopkins, his alma mater, to fund low-income students’ tuition; a December trip to Iowa. Sure, some believe his centrism is a poor match for today’s Democratic Party. Nevertheless, word is that hordes of Wall Street loyalists are simply waiting for his say-so to hoist the ex-mayor onto their beefy shoulders and parade him into Washington.
the NEW WAVE
Freshman Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Deb Haaland, Veronica Escobar, and Sharice Davids have sought to project one message since setting foot in Washington: “We did not come to play.” All six women, along with dozens of others, represent the new face of the Democratic Party—young, nonwhite, L.G.B.T.Q., disproportionately female. In the few months since they’ve overtaken the Hill, they have indeed proved that “playing” is not on their agenda. Ocasio-Cortez and Omar have earned the support of veteran lawmakers in their push to make climate change a priority when Congress reconvenes this month—a movement that gained notoriety in large part thanks to the former’s barnstorming of Nancy Pelosi’s office. With midterms fast receding, the real test lies in the months to come. “There’s so many people that know that we’re going into the lion’s den,” Ocasio-Cortez said in November, “even within the party.”