US Politics: Two Major Stories To Watch In 2021
2021 is finally here, and for many, it’s a sigh of relief as the new year ushered in hope, expectations, and aspirations. The 2020 political anxiety and division still lingers, but the general expectation is that things might eventually come to some normalcy in the new year.
The new year will be hard to predict because of the debacle surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, efficacies, and the Washington continual mudslinging and political upheaval. Already, 2021 is looking to be an increasingly tense year in U.S. national politics, a mix of this past year’s drama and an ever-shifting terrain.
This is especially true for the Democratic and Republican parties in Washington. With a growing divide between the left and moderate parts of the Democratic party and a soon-to-be slim majority in one chamber, the former will likely have its inner turmoil further noticed in 2021. Meanwhile, the GOP will experience an inner conflict following its own leader’s loss in the presidential election. How the parties address these problems will make a great difference for the president-elect Joe Biden’s first year in office—and what these parties will look like for several years after.
Joe Biden returns to a White House different from the one he left 4 years ago
As a candidate for president, Joe Biden leaned hard on his decades of experience in the Senate and as vice president. While there is undoubtedly value in this assertion, much has changed in Washington since he left four years ago—the Democratic party has expanded its progressive wing while retaining an older and moderate leadership; the Republican party has swung right and more partisan. And this is to say nothing of how President Donald Trump has electrified both sides.
We can’t say for sure how Washington will operate until after the Georgia Senate runoff elections on January 5, the results of which will decide if the GOP retains a slim majority in the upper chamber or if Democrats will gain two seats for a total of 50. Democratic gains would allow Vice President Kamala Harris to provide tie-breaking votes when needed, but this doesn’t guarantee a rubber stamp for every Democrat, and Biden-backed legislation introduced. Current GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell will still hold substantial sway if this happens. He’s proven over the past ten years that he’s a capable and savvy vote-counter in the majority and the minority; there’s no reason to doubt McConnell’s obstructive ways will suddenly cease.
Meanwhile, the Democratic majority will shrink substantially in the next Congress due to a lackluster election performance in November. That razor-thin edge will embolden House Republicans currently basking in their surprise victories on Election Night, and it will also provide the progressive Democrats with leverage of their own.
Members like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York have made it clear they wish their party would go further with policies on health care and social spending; the left’s progressive cohort will grow in the new year with incoming representatives like Jamaal Bowman of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri. While a direct challenge to Nancy Pelosi’s speakership is unlikely, we can expect more haggling over bills big and small.
Donald Trump will remain the head of the GOP
Despite losing the election, Donald Trump has raised millions of dollars in campaign funds along with the GOP, including $170 million between Election Day and December 1. While the fundraising effort is billed as a means to help contest the election’s results and support the Republican incumbents for the two Georgia Senate runoff races, much of the cash is actually being used to pay outstanding debts of the Trump campaign.
Misleading Republican donors notwithstanding, this development shows Trump’s sway over the party will persist into the new year. Not only will his new Save America PAC afford him considerable financial clout over future Republican races, but the popularity of Trump’s post-election actions among GOP voters displays his style of politics is here to stay.
This doesn’t mean the GOP will remain in total lockstep with President Trump. Since his loss to Biden, there have been a few signs that Republicans in Congress feel less pressure to follow his lead. For instance, this week, 44 House Republicans voted to override the president’s veto of a massive defense spending bill.
Now, this group of House GOPers is a small portion of the current House Republican Caucus; most of their peers opted not to override the veto.
So what does this foretell for the national Republican Party in 2021? A great deal of soul searching. Seeing Trump’s intractable influence, we can expect much of the GOP to style themselves after Trump or outright seek his endorsement. However, Trump leaving the White House also provides cover for others to strike their own path, a la the late John McCain. We see it on the fringes with senators like Ben Sasse (R-Ne.), a potential 2024 presidential candidate, and of course, Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who publicly lamented the state of his party thanks to Trump’s influence.
While these two have criticized Trump before the election, it will be much easier for them and others to begin directing other Republicans in Washington, all while other parts of their party further buy into Trumpism. While these two trends are beginning now, they likely won’t be reconcilable over the course of 2021, and the friction between the two sides may dilute overall GOP power in Congress.
How Democrats and Republicans in Washington resolve their respective issues will certainly impact how effectively they legislate, how effectively Joe Biden governs, and how quickly or slowly the sun sets on Donald Trump’s influence over his party. With this in mind, it’s easy to consider already the new year’s exhausting.