Year in review


photo by Amani Canada

The past year was interesting to say the least. Protests, legislative failures and successes, elections, scandals, increased corruption of the objectivity of the news media and political institutions, and an increase in constitutional illiteracy. 2017 was a year of successes and failures for both political parties in the United States. In terms of legislation, the majority Republican party succeeded, after it finally got out of its own way.

2017 began with the swearing in of the 115th Congress on January 3. Republicans held a majority of the seats in both the House and the Senate. The Republicans started the year with a 52-48 majority in the Senate and a 241-194 majority in the House. Even though the thin majority in the Senate would come back to haunt the GOP more than a number of times in 2017, the House majority was large enough to not let down the crimson faithful. In total, the House, Senate and President turned 97 bills into law. This was a great success for a political party that many pundits thought was going to cease to exist in 2017.

On January 20, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. This event set off a number of riots that had been planned since the election results became known in the early morning of November 9, 2016.  I myself was enjoying copious amounts of kiddie champagne. Donald Trump’s inauguration marked the first time a Republican had been president since the early days of 2009.

Shortly after the inauguration began one of the most taxing cabinet confirmation sessions in the history of the United States. In order to protect unions and deal a defeat to the President early in his administration, the Senate’s Democrats went all in on defeating Betsy DeVos, the administration’s pick for education secretary. The vote ended in a 50-50 tie, until Mike Pence, vice president of the United States, broke the tie in favor of confirming DeVos.

The 2016 election also held a special prize for the victor. Early in 2016, Antonin Scalia, one of the most respected Supreme Court justices to ever sit on the bench, died. Under normal circumstances, the position would have been filled as quickly as possible. Due to the peculiar political situation, an election year in which the Senate and the President were of opposite parties, the position has not yet been filled. To make the situation even more peculiar, Scalia was a pillar of modern day conservatism. If then-President Obama had been able to appoint a Supreme Court justice to replace Scalia, he would have changed the makeup of the court for decades, delaying the conservative crusade.

In 2017, the GOP reaped the reward for this gamble. The Senate was able to amend its rules to allow for a simple majority vote to confirm a Supreme Court justice instead of the traditional 60 percent vote. This was a political move that would have been initiated by whichever party next controlled the Presidency and the Senate at the same time.

In review, there were two key legislative moments in Congress in 2017; one was a success for Republicans, and the other a survival for Democrats. The Republicans failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, by one vote in the Senate. However, the Republicans did succeed in passing an overhaul of the American tax code. The tax code had not been overhauled since the Reagan administration.

Overall, this past year was a success for Republicans. They managed to pass a number of key legislative pieces of their agenda that they had been previously blocked from passing. For a party that was not supposed to exist in 2017, it was a very good year. The party had been wanting to reform the tax code for years and was finally able to do so, while the failure to reform healthcare will be a sore spot for years to come.