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A New Year’s Political Hodge-Podge – Sunday Political Brunch – January 6, 2019

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WASHINGTON, D.C – I spent two days on Capitol Hill this week as the 116th Congress was sworn-in. Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, while Republicans remain in control of the White House and Senate. Transitions of power always fascinate me, and it was great to bear witness to it in person. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Shared Power” – The last two years have been marked by a pitched battle between President Trump and Democrats, and especially with members of Trump’s own Republican Party. Some are hoping that now as Democrats share power with control of the House, there will be room for compromise. This week at the U.S. Capitol, Senator Joe Manchin (D) West Virginia told me, "When you have all Democrats or all Republicans, they tend not to listen to the other side. Now they have to. So, the President has to understand that if he wants anything done, he's got to work with the majority of Democrats in the House."

“Can They Compromise?” – When I arrived in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, there was a tweet from President Trump saying to the Democratic Congressional leaders, “Let’s Make a Deal” as if channeling the old TV game show of the same name, hosted by Monte Hall. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded on Twitter with an #IrresponsibleTrumpShutdown hash tag and it all spiraled out of control from there, with Trump at some points calling it the “Schumer Shutdown.” It was three-way finger pointing at its finest!

“From a Viewer’s Perspective” – One of my TV viewers from Wheeling, West Virginia asked me Friday what I thought would happen with the shutdown. Here’s my best guess: President Trump wants $5 billion for the border wall. Democrats (and some Republicans) want a path to citizenship for a few million so-called “Dreamers,” or DACA immigrants. They are people who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents, when the kids were young, minor children, who had no say in their fate. Many are now adults, who have assimilated into the United States, and are educated and working. I predict Trump will allow the “Dreamers” to stay (with some strict guidelines), and Democrats will give a more generic multi-billion-dollar border fund that won’t be specifically earmarked for a wall, but could be used as such. Is it an “Art of the Deal” moment? We’ll see!

“Chaos! What Chaos?” – The partial (about 25 percent) government shutdown has stretched into two weeks. With this, along with several high profile White House personnel and cabinet departures, many in the national media kept reporting about “chaos” at the White House, Capitol, and indeed all of Washington, D.C. Well, in my two days in the Capitol City – where I previously worked for six years and visited many times since – I saw no signs of chaos. The hustle and bustle of D.C. was alive and well. The beat goes on, as the song says. I mean no disrespect to the approximately 800,000 federal workers on furlough without paychecks (they always get back pay when the government reopens), but the average American is neither seeing or feeling much, if any, impact from the shutdown.

“Year of the Woman, Part Two” – One of the genuine pieces of history made this week was the swearing in of the largest number of women serving in both the House and Senate in American history. Women now hold 127 seats in the House and Senate which amounts to 24 percent of Congress. Parity no; progress, yes. This week I got to interview two of them for their perspective. "We're wired differently. We bring different tools. Most women I know have seven or eight plates up in the air, spinning at all times, doing multi-tasking," said Rep. Carol Miller (R) West Virginia-Dist. 3. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R) said, “We are known to be better negotiators, working across the aisle with other women. I always say that women are busy people. You know we have lots on our plate that we are doing every single day.”

“Compromise or Gridlock?” – I am often asked to predict how political dynamics will shake out, especially when the power structure shifts and changes. When Bill Clinton was elected President in 1992, he had Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate but got very little accomplished. In 1994, when voters gave control of both chambers in Congress to Republicans, many thought the Clinton presidency was doomed. It wasn’t. Both sides looked for common ground and passed a major crime bill, welfare reform, and ground-breaking telecommunications legislation. They also balanced the federal budget for the first time in decades. We’ll see if a similar dynamic takes place now that we have divided government again. Stay tuned!

What would you like to see President Trump and the divided Congress achieve together? Just click the comment button on this page or click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and it’s five neighboring states.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Mark Curtis Media

The Top Ten Political Stories of 2018 - Sunday Political Brunch December 30, 2018

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Spending the final week of 2018 in the sun and the sand of Florida is my way to end a year. The Sunshine State has been my “second home” since 1984, when I moved here for graduate school, and to work many years in radio and television. It remains one of the top-three most critical states in the nation when it comes to political ebbs and flows. With that in mind, here is my “Top Ten” list of political stories of 2018.

1) “Cabinet Upheaval” – The big story towards the end of 2018 was the resignation – then dismissal – of Defense Secretary General James Mattis. At the same time, the White House Chief of Staff’s position was vacant, as was the Secretary of the Interior, and Attorney General (though acting secretaries were serving). U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley departed as well. In all, seven of Trump’s original Cabinet of 16 have departed, and of the eight positions deemed Cabinet-level, four have also changed hands. Of the 12 presidents in my lifetime, there has never been such turmoil and turnover, not even in the upheaval of the Nixon administration during Watergate.

2) “November Split Decision” – The November election was a mixed bag, ending with divided government. Republicans still hold the White House and control of the Senate, but Democrats made huge gains sweeping into the majority in the House. There are two paths here: cooperation and compromise on issues and legislation; or gridlock and dysfunction. I predict you’ll see a bit of both, although 2018 hardly ended that way! Hey, there’s even a Trump coin you can buy!

3) “Market and Economic Ups and Downs” – It’s been a year of highs and lows and roller-coaster-like ups and downs in the markets. Spurred on by the Trump tax cuts (really born from the GOP Congress long before he came around, but nonetheless significant); the full-employment picture; and, with annualized economic growth at 4-percent for much of the year, the economy and markets were really cooking. Much of that didn’t last. The plunging markets and rising interest rates at the end of the year are raising big concerns for 2019, and even Trump’s political future. Keep an eye on this as the top trending story of 2019.

4) “More Women in Congress” – The number of women serving in Congress will increase from its previous historic level. As of 2018 there were 87 women serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, and 23 in the U.S. Senate. In the new Congress, that will be sworn in on January 3, 2019, there will be 127 women in total, a net gain of 17. A record of 102 women will serve in the House, and a record 25 will be in the Senate. The majority of seats are Democrats, but the Republicans hold a significant number. When both parties are in play, that equals leverage.

5) “Supreme Beings” – Whether you supported Justice Brett Kavanaugh, or not - and there were plenty of both - his ascent to the U.S. Supreme Court is significant. No matter how the Trump Presidency shakes out, he has already made two high court appointments and may have a third. Don’t forget, all sorts of District and Appeals Court judges have also been appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Senate. No matter how good or bad or significant a president might be, their most lasting, enduring imprint is on how their philosophy shapes the courts.

6) “As Florida Goes, So Goes the Nation!” – That old saying used to apply to Maine, and still certainly applies to Ohio, but more and more it applies to the Sunshine State. When Donald Trump won Florida in 2016 early in the evening, a lot of people (and pundits like me) said, “Oh my God, he may really have a chance to win the whole thing!” In the last 15 presidential elections, Florida picked the winner 13 times. Only Kennedy in 1960, and Clinton in 1992 won the White House without Florida. The ascent of Gov. Rick Scott (R) Florida to the U.S. Senate in 2018, and the rise of Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) Florida, to the governor’s mansion could be an indicator of how critical Florida will be in 2020.

7) “The Deaths of President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush” – The Bush family, now in its fourth generation of American politics, has had a profound impact on this nation. Despite the glowing funeral coverage for both, it is important to remember there were moments of great controversy and conflict regarding this family’s politics and policies. But, at the end of the day (a phrase way overused in politics to the point of cliché), you’d be hard -pressed to find two more kind and gentle people to live in the White House. Their enduring legacy? Perhaps something as simple and genuine as stressing the importance of family, and service above self.

8) “The Thawing of the North Korean Chill” – Yes, it is still a work in progress, but the fact that Trump is the first president in a long, long time to meet with a communist North Korean leader speaks volumes. Hopefully, it will lead to a nuclear deal, and reduce or eliminate the threat from the North, and better protect our allies in South Korea. It’s not Nixon going to China and Russia, but it’s right up there for its boldness. We’ll see if it bears fruit in 2019.

9) “Investigate-gate!” – Just a hunch, but I think we will see multiple investigations of President Trump in the House this year, now that Democrats have taken over. Some may have merit; others may not. But Washington, D.C. is a “get even” town, where both sides keep score. Despite all the new faces, there are plenty of Democrats still bruising for a fight over President Clinton’s impeachment from 20 years ago. Yes, to many, it’s unseemly, but that’s how they play ball on Capitol Hill.

10) “West Virginia Teachers Strike” – Sure, it was a local event, but it quickly turned into a national movement. In late February, thousands of teachers walked off the job in West Virginia’s 55 counties, and headed straight for the capitol to protest. They spent nine days shouting in the halls between the House and the Senate – about a 200+ yard stretch on marble floor – and the sound was deafening. They won a 5-percent pay raise for all state employees and a promise to fix their health insurance. Soon after, teachers in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, North Carolina, and elsewhere were either walking out on strike, or threatening to do so. It was a powerful movement that promises to carry into 2019, and it started here in the Mountain State.

What are your political predictions for 2019? Just click the comment button on this article or the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and its five surrounding states.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo Courtesy: Mark Curtis Media

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