As 2020 ends, so does one of the most explosive and unprecedented years in American politics.
It was a year of firsts: The first time a president sought reelection after being impeached; the first woman elected vice president; a record-breaking number of women elected to Congress. Then, for the first time in modern history, a peaceful transfer of power was put in doubt.
Here are some of the most memorable moments in an unforgettable year:
Trump’s impeachment trial
Bitter partisanship divided Congress — and the nation — from the very start.
Trump entered 2020 facing a trial in the Senate — only the third American president to do so — after a months-long inquiry by the House of Representatives which, in December, had voted along party lines to impeach him on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
The trial began Jan. 16 with the outcome all but determined.
Republicans and Democrats, while pledging to take their oaths as jurors seriously, at the same time declared that the proceedings were either — depending upon their party — necessary to save the country or a complete waste of time.
Armed with witness testimonies from the House, documents and a transcript of Trump’s infamous phone call — in which he urged Ukraine’s president to promise to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter — House Democratic impeachment managers, led by Rep. Adam Schiff, argued Trump had abused his power to try to win reelection.
Some Senate Republicans, in lockstep with Trump’s cries of “witch hunt,” said Democrats were trying to overturn the results of the 2016 election because the Mueller investigation came up short. Even GOP senators who disagreed with the president’s actions argued the American people, instead, should pass judgment on Trump in November.
The cloud of impeachment that had hung over his presidency for six months was lifted in less than three weeks when the Senate’s Republican majority voted to acquit Trump on both charges Feb. 5. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican to vote to remove Trump from office.
Far from showing remorse, an emboldened Trump used his acquittal to rally his reelection effort.
“We went through hell,” Trump told Cabinet members, Republican lawmakers and his family at a White House celebration. “Now we have that gorgeous word. I never thought a word would sound so good. It’s called total acquittal.”
Biden’s big comeback
The crowded field of contenders vying for the Democratic nomination started to narrow as 2020 began with 18 candidates dropping out before the first primary, leaving nearly a dozen under pressure to appeal to both party progressives and moderates.
Trump mocked the candidates on Twitter as his impeachment trial came to a close, and the Democratic Party had to deal with an internal crisis with the meltdown of the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3.
The first-in-the-nation caucuses were supposed to show, based on votes and not polls, where the candidates stood in the Democratic horse race, but after the state party found “inconsistencies” in the reporting of the results, the candidates — and the country — were left in the dark for days about how caucus-goers felt.
Then came New Hampshire, Nevada and finally South Carolina where former Vice President Joe Biden — propelled by support from Black Democrats — saw his campaign bounce back. After a series of additional victories, including a Super Tuesday triumph, Biden finally had a clear path to the nomination. One after another, Biden’s former rivals endorsed him, uniting in a message that defeating Trump was most important.
But just as his general election campaign was getting started, the spread of a novel virus forced much of the country into lockdown and the candidates had to adapt as never before.
Observing public health guidance, Biden pivoted to holding events and fundraisers almost exclusively online. Trump and conservatives accused Biden of “hiding in his basement.”
Politicizing a pandemic
By the beginning of March, as the coronavirus burned across the country and Americans were being told to stay at home and practice social distancing, Trump downplayed the deadly disease as comparable to the flu. By the end of the month, his White House coronavirus task force predicted 100,000 to 240,000 American lives would be lost by the end of the year — a toll the country would far exceed.
As Washington tried to blunt the economic impact, the Trump administration and congressional Democrats negotiated a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill — the largest spending package ever passed — but as the situation worsened in the months to follow, partisan politics infected the response.
After 30 days of White House guidelines and with businesses crippled by lockdowns, Trump, sensing that his reelection strategy based on a strong economy was at stake, called to “Open Up America Again.”
“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” Trump said.
Although he said he would let governors decide how to respond in their respective states, Trump lashed out against Democratic governors who continued stricter restrictions and tweeted to his supporters to “LIBERATE” Michigan and other battleground states even as hospitals complained of equipment shortages and the need for federal assistance.
As spring turned to summer, the White House began limiting appearances by the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, as he repeatedly broke from Trump’s rosy messaging on the pandemic. Trump’s supporters, taking their cues from the president, resisted stay-at-home orders and flouted guidelines designed to slow the spread.
Trump returned to the campaign trail in June with an indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma — running in large part on his efforts to reopen the economy — despite health officials warning of the high probability the virus would spread. He railed against mail-in voting as states prepared for a presidential election amid an unprecedented pandemic.
His constant complaint was one he had made repeatedly in the past: the election would be “rigged” against him.
In the same month, Biden formally clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, setting him up for a challenge to Trump to play out against the backdrop of the coronavirus, economic collapse and civil unrest largely sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May.
Biden went on to select former Democratic primary opponent and California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate in August, sending a powerful and historic statement as the nation continued to grapple with social change. Democrats praised how Harris, if elected, would not only be the first woman to serve as vice president, but would also be the first woman of color to be second-in-command and the highest-elected South Asian American in history.
“That I am here tonight is a testament to the dedication of generations before me. Women and men who believed so fiercely in the promise of equality, liberty and justice for all,” Harris said in a speech at the Democratic National Convention.
The conventions in August were, in many ways, emblematic of how each party viewed the pandemic. The Democratic Party opted for its speakers to be virtual, except for Biden and Harris at the end. Trump, meanwhile, after first forcing Republicans to move their convention from North Carolina to Florida because that state had fewer coronavirus restrictions, eventually held the finale before a jam-packed crowd on the White House South Lawn.
Though the candidates were staged at a distance at the first presidential debate in September, they put on a chaotic and divisive show for America, repeatedly talking over each other — with Biden calling Trump a “liar” and a “clown” and Trump knocking Biden’s intelligence — as Fox News moderator Chris Wallace struggled to maintain control.
Chaotic election season
Just six weeks before the election, the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg turned the prospect of conservative control of the Supreme Court into an even more urgent campaign issue.
Republicans got Amy Coney Barrett confirmed in just three weeks, even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had earlier used an election year as his reason to refuse to take up then-President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.
Trump bluntly said he wanted Barrett on the court in time to maybe cast the deciding vote on an election challenge — and allow him to win. Her nomination ceremony in the White House Rose Garden on Sept. 26 became a coronavirus superspreader event with nearly a dozen attendees testing positive in the coming days.
Then, in the early hours of Oct. 2, Trump announced on Twitter that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive. Trump spent three days in the hospital before returning to the White House and, posing for a campaign-style video, defiantly ripped off his mask, telling the public not to let the virus dominate their lives.
That view, which Trump saw as vital to his political survival, may have cost Trump the Nov. 3 election. He spent the weeks leading up to laying the foundation for supporters to refuse to concede his loss — sowing doubt in the integrity of the mail-in ballots millions of Americans relied on amid the pandemic.
But, weeks later, in what many considered a referendum on Trump’s dismissive handling of the pandemic and his law-and-order response to civil unrest across America, voters turned out in record shattering numbers and ultimately rejected his leadership.
Painting the election as a battle for the “soul of the nation,” Biden ultimately won on a message of unity over division, compassion over anger, and reality over what he called Trump’s “wishful thinking” when it came to combatting the pandemic.
With a critical assist from Pennsylvania, the state where he was born, and by building back the Democrats’ “blue wall” in the Midwest’s battleground states, Biden was projected the 46th president of the United States five days after Election Day, ending the election but kicking off weeks of baseless legal challenges.
In his victory speech, Biden called the moment “a time to heal in America” and pledged, as he often did of the campaign trail, to be “a president who seeks not to divide but unify, who doesn’t see red states and blue states, only sees the United States.”
And a record number of ballots — nearly 160 million — were cast in a presidential race as voters opted for mail-in and early voting options in addition to voting on Nov. 3.
Biden won the most votes of any presidential candidate in American history with more the 81 million in his favor. Trump achieved the second-highest total at 74 million votes.
In the weeks following the election, Trump and his allies filed a barrage of lawsuits to nullify millions of votes in key battleground states Biden won with Trump alleging widespread voter fraud. However, election officials across the country, the Justice Department and Trump’s own legal team could not substantiate those claims.
The Supreme Court — with Barrett and the other two justices Trump nominated siding with the majority — declined to intervene in each election-related case brought before them, and Republican-controlled legislatures allowed the democratic process to unfold without overturning the will of voters, despite the president’s pressure campaign.
The election had made history in more ways than one.
At least 141 women — 105 Democrats, 36 Republicans — will serve in the next Congress, breaking the record of 127 who served in the last one.
As 2021 approached, Georgia runoff races on Jan. 5 would determine the balance of power in the Senate — and some Republican senators weighed whether to join a small group of House Republicans seeking to challenge the Jan. 6 Electoral College congressional certification.
After a remarkable year, 2020 wasn’t over — quite yet.
Green Party in turmoil, leader resists calls to step down
Canada‘s Green Party was increasingly mired in an internal dispute over its position on Israel on Tuesday, and a news report said the bloc would hold a vote next month on whether to oust its leader, Annamie Paul, who was elected just eight months ago.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported that the Greens had triggered a process that could remove Paul, the first black person to head a mainstream Canadian party, beginning with a vote next month.
A Green Party spokesperson declined to comment on the report, but said the party’s “federal council” would meet later on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Paul, 48, rejected calls from the Quebec wing of the party for her to resign after a member of parliament left the Greens due to the Israel controversy.
“I believe that I have been given a strong mandate. I believe that I have been given the instructions to work on behalf of Canadians for a green recovery,” Paul said at a news conference in Ottawa.
Paul herself is not a member of parliament. The Greens – who champion the environment and the fight against climate change – had only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and one, Jenica Atwin, abandoned the party last week to join the governing Liberals.
Atwin has said that her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Atwin on Twitter has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while a senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, has posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament are anti-Semitic.
The party’s executive committee voted last week not to renew Zatzman’s contract, local media reported. Paul converted to Judaism some two decades ago after she married a Jewish man.
While the Greens are the smallest faction in parliament, they perform well in British Colombia and hold two seats there. The current turmoil may favor their rivals ahead of a national election that senior Liberals say could be just a few months away.
The Greens would win about 6.7% of the vote nationally if a vote were held now, according to an average of recent polls aggregated by the CBC.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government
Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER
“We’ll be back, soon.”
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”
NABIL ABU RUDEINEH, SPOKESMAN FOR PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS
“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER VIA TWITTER
“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to
@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”
TOR WENNESLAND, U.N. MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY VIA TWITTER
“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
CHARLES MICHEL, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT VIA TWITTER
“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”
FAWZI BARHOUM, HAMAS SPOKESMAN
“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”
BENNY GANTZ, ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER
“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”
CHUCK SCHUMER, U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER
“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA
“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”
MANSOUR ABBAS, ARAB MEMBER OF NEW ISRAELI GOVERNMENT
“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”
DAPHNA KILION, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM
“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”
EREZ GOLDMAN, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM
“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”
SEBASTIAN KURZ, CHANCELLOR OF AUSTRIA, VIA TWITTER
“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)
Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.
Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.
But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.
“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.
“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”
The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.
“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.
Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.
The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.
Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.
Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.
Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.
“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.
Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.
“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”
The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.
Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.
Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)
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