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Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

The Shutdown Showed How Precarious Americans’ Finances Really Are

The longest government shutdown in American history is over. After 35 days and two missed paychecks, this week government services have returned and federal workers will be paid. Though the relief is only temporary, as Congress begins negotiations to prevent another shutdown in three weeks, normalcy will return for now.

That normalcy, however, is tinged with foreboding. While the gears of government will start to grind on, largely as if nothing happened, the shutdown highlighted tensions in American life that amount to a political time bomb. The shutdown made apparent not only the federal safety net’s inherent weaknesses, but also the precariousness of federal workers’ and contractors’ finances. And Trump-administration officials revealed a lack of understanding of how the closures affected American workers and the economy. A shutdown that began as an impasse over federal funding for a border wall became a warning sign, over its month-long course, of creeping instability.

For days, political observers have debated what the tipping point was for Trump in his decision to temporarily reopen the government. Was it the mass stealth strike from reinvigorated and mobilized federal labor that won the day, in the form of the air-traffic controllers who called in sick...

Congress Used To Pass Bipartisan Legislation – Will It Ever Again?

Congress seemingly hasn’t accomplished much apart from a tax cut and criminal justice reform since the election of President Trump in 2016, despite all three branches being controlled by the GOP.

Will that record get even worse now that the U.S. has divided government?

As a political scientist who studies Congress, I find it tempting to look to political history for guidance on what could happen with the new Congress.

Yet, if you look at the previous two instances since World War II where the United States had this form of divided government, the implications for legislative productivity could not be more different.

Some are productive

The two other Congresses whose political makeup was closest to today’s 116th were the 98th, which sat from 1983-1985, and the 112th Congress, which sat from 2011-2013.

The common denominators for these three Congresses are that the incumbent president is up for re-election, the Senate is controlled by the president’s party and the House of Representatives is controlled by the opposition.

During the 98th Congress, Republican Ronald Reagan was president, with his party holding a 55-to-45 majority in the Senate and a whopping 103-seat deficit in the House, where Massachusetts...

An Awkward Beginning to Democratic Control of the House

This was not how Democrats expected, much less hoped, to begin their new House majority.

After the blue wave crested, ever so slowly, in November, the start of the 116th Congress on Thursday loomed as a moment of potential drama, a Constitutionally-mandated deadline for the party to decide whether to make a generational change in leadership. In the weeks after the election, Nancy Pelosi scrambled to put down an intra-party rebellion that threatened to turn her elevation to a second stint as speaker into a nail-biting vote and a showcase of Democratic division. She succeeded in impressive fashion, securing support vote-by-vote and demonstrating the formidable skills that have kept her atop the Democratic caucus for 16 years.

Once that leadership challenge fizzled, a new, more triumphant vision for the opening of Congress emerged: Pelosi would become the first person in more than 60 years to reclaim the speaker’s gavel, and then Democrats would promptly set about passing bills to deliver on their campaign promises and place their first checks on President Trump’s power. Their initial volleys would include legislation to enact so-called “democracy reforms” to address campaign-finance loopholes, and measures to expand voting rights and limit gerrymandering. Bills...

What Obama Talks About When He Talks About Trump

How do you say you’re against everything—or even just most—of what Donald Trump stands for, and not get sucked into a constant nyah-nyah race to the bottom of just being anti-Trump? People across politics have been trying to figure that out, looking for how to resist a president chipping away at America’s core without having their words reduced to a zinger tweet or monster truck rally headline.

This is an issue for the Democrats gearing up to run for president who insist that their campaigns can’t just be about Trump, and for the few Republican critics left in Washington who want to have a debate outside of a Twitter feed.

But no one’s grappling with it quite like Barack Obama.

Obama wants to talk about what wasn’t political or personal before Trump made everything political and personal, but every time he does, it feeds into their dynamic—in part because Trump and his supporters and the media want the mud fight, and in part because his exasperation keeps making him slip in jokes at his successor’s expense.

He wanted to be mostly done with politics, but he decided Trump gave him no...

What a New Crop of Veteran-Lawmakers Means for Democrats

Freshman orientation on Capitol Hill can be a blur: There’s the class photo, the rundown of ethics rules, the caucus meetings, the dinners. But after a grueling election season, there are highlights, too—and for Chrissy Houlahan, it was spending time with her “badasses.”

That’s the moniker Houlahan and some of her fellow military and intelligence veterans in the freshman class gave to their text-message group. “It’s really, really exciting. We’re having the opportunity to hang out in person and not in the virtual space,” Houlahan told me.

Since the campaign, Houlahan, a former member of the Air Force Reserves, has been in regular contact with the former CIA officers Elissa Slotkin and Abigail Spanberger and the Navy veterans Elaine Luria and Mikie Sherrill, sharing messages of support and daily life updates. The five women—along with Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer whose race is still too close to call—share backgrounds in national security. Now, their arrival in Congress could usher in a new era for the Democratic Party.

The new House Democratic caucus will have more incoming veterans than in any previous year since 1997, according to Seth Lynn, the...