This Week in American Politics

A few key news topics this week include a change of a federal administrator, rising campaigns and questions for the upcoming midterm elections and an attack on a potential presidential candidate.

Health and Human Services

Kathleen Sebelius, head of the department, has stepped down from her position as secretary. She was key in the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act, and quickly became its key defender, amidst many technical problems. She resigns after many glitches in the healthcare.gov website, though it has been dubbed a victory by many as it surpassed its goal of seven million Americans enrolled. Though Sebelius is not responsible for all of the flaws or the victories, she will be remembered for every twist and turn the ACA has taken. Sebelius was once a rising star in the Democratic Party, but the hard-to-forget failures of the roll-out may be detrimental to her political career.

To replace Sebelius, President Obama has announced that he will nominate Sylvia Matthews Burwell, which would put her in a position to oversee all of the ACA. Burwell is currently head of the White House budget office, giving her plenty experience. Democrats in congress seem very optimistic about Burwell taking over the position.

Midterm Elections

As campaigns for the midterm elections are well under way, many are starting to contemplate what the future congress will look like. Some wonder what will happen if there is a party switch in the house and senate. If Republicans hold a majority in senate, the ACA could face a very realistic threat of repeal. Others argue that some Republicans are in great danger, as there is a great rift within the party. Key Tea Party members within congress could face replacement if the Republican Party continues to view the tea party as a threat to its existence.

Attack on Hillary Clinton

On Thursday, Hillary Clinton gave a speech in Las Vegas. During her speech, a shoe was thrown at her from an audience member. Clinton originally thought it was a bat, but it was revealed to be a shoe. The woman charged in the incident was Alison Ernst, a resident of Phoenix. She is the same woman who was escorted for an outburst during the hearing of the Colorado shooter, James Holmes. Clinton was not hit by the shoe, and seemed only briefly shaken by the event.

The events of the week seem to play a key role in the upcoming midterm elections and the 2016 presidential election. It is clear that health care is still a key and controversial issue, as if the structure of the Republican Party, which may be facing its own civil war.

Health Care Changes

This year has brought about many political changes, and health care may easily be the biggest and most controversial of those changes. With a complete revamp of the health care system naturally comes many questions. The Affordable Care Act is full of additions and changes that every college student and adult should know, especially with the final deadline for the open marketplace approaching on March 31.

Some of the new changes with the health care law include regulations on insurances’ policies and access to insurance. One of the main goals of the health care law was to get as many uninsured Americans as possible affordable access to insurance. One of the ways to do this was by requiring insurances to accept anyone, regardless of preexisting conditions. Along with this stipulation, insurances can no longer define being a woman as a preexisting condition. Also, anyone under 26 can remain on their parents’ policy.

Another key aspect of the law includes keeping the insurance plans affordable. By creating an open marketplace, insurances are able to compete with other companies by providing the best coverage for the best price. Another way to keep the price of health care down is by requiring everyone to have insurance or pay a fee. Not only do the fees help lower the cost of health insurance on their own, but when people only buy insurance when they get sick, it drives up the prices for everyone. Therefore, the idea of the fee is that it will encourage everyone to get insurance, even if it’s a minimal policy. This fee, however, is criticized for impeaching on personal freedom, as it limits a person’s choice on whether or not to have insurance.

The structure of the new insurance policies are more of a reform than an entire redoing of the system. The law set certain regulations for insurance policies, making sure that they at least meet a minimum of adequate coverage. Any insurance company that meets these qualifications can continue to offer their plan on the marketplace. On the marketplace, there are different levels of coverage, so a consumer can choose their balance between affordability and coverage.

If you are interested in getting health insurance or seeing different plans, go to healthcare.gov. If you are interested in learning more about the changes in health care, go to this website.

Possible GOP Civil War

Over the past few years, the Republican Party has struggled with an identity crisis of sorts, dealing with the newer Tea Party backed candidates. While these candidates are seen as more extreme in their conservative views and the non–Tea Party members are seen as more moderate, the two distinctions threatened the current functioning of the GOP and the American political system as a whole. Some argue that the Tea Party may emerge as a strong third party, tearing the current Republican Party apart. This is good news for the Democratic Party, as a divided right would also divide the conservative voters, all but guaranteeing a majority of votes to the left.

In more recent events, the discussion of minimum wages may also threaten a divide within the Republican Party. Athens GOP is divided in opinions on whether or not there should be a minimum wage increase, or whether there should even be a minimum wage. Some conservative economists argue that the existence of a minimum wage actually cheats the younger generation out of starting jobs, which then leads to higher youth unemployment. On the other hand, others argue that without a minimum wage set, many employees would be receiving a wage that is impossible, or nearly impossible, to live on.

With both the threat of a minimum wage debate and the creation of a third, quick, strong Tea Party, the GOP faces potential detriments to their existence as a whole. While this is bad news for their party, it would be welcomed by the left. The creation of a strong third party could also threaten the current political system and the identities of both the Republican and Democratic Parties.

Possible Presidential Candidates for 2016

Even though it is only 2014, campaigning for 2016 has been underway since the end of the 2012 election season. Both the Democratic and Republican Parties are looking for strong candidates, and many politicians are looking to make a name for themselves as the ultimate goal for a politician, arguably, is to become the president of the United States. As the election season creeps closer to us, we can look at possible candidates for the presidency.

Democratic Candidates

Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State, is the front runner for the Democratic Party. Though she has not publicly acknowledged her will to run, she has a vast majority of support from her party, and even has an organization already starting campaign work for her, which has already started raising funds for her campaign should she choose to run.

Joe Biden, the current Vice President, has made two bids for the presidency in the past, and looks as if he will run again in 2016. Though he has much less support than Clinton, he maintains a steady second in terms of party support. He is known for his foreign and national security policies and has repeatedly expressed interest in running for presidency during recent interviews.

Other potential candidates: Martin O’Malley, governor of Maryland, who headlined a Democratic Party event in South Carolina may become a rising Democratic star. Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, is said to not want to run against Clinton, but if she were to decide not to run, he would be willing to consider running.

Republican Candidates

Marco Rubio, a Floridian senator, rushed onto the political scene in 2010 as a backer of Tea Party beliefs. Recently, however, he has been criticized by those in his party for support of immigration reform.

Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, held the top spot for the Republican ticket until recently, after the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal. It is still unknown if he can rebound from this scandal or if this is a detrimental blow to his potential presidential campaign.

Rand Paul, a senator from Kentucky, may be a hot contender for the Republican ticket. Though he is at the heart of some political scandals, such as comments on civil rights, accusations against the NSA and rumors of plagiarism, he is still a front-runner for Tea Partiers vying for a spot on the Republican ticket.

Other potential candidates: Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Paul Ryan — all former candidates for the Presidency — may opt to run again for a chance on their party’s ticket. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of former Presidents George Bush and George W. Bush, respectively, may run depending on his family’s support. Ted Cruz, another favorite of the Tea Party, is a potential candidate.

Week of Human Rights Issues

This past week in American politics wasn’t too exciting, though it was packed full of smaller stories that made the week very exciting. A main focus of these stories is human rights. From gay rights to immigration, social issues were key in the political stories of the past week. Other huge stories from the past week include global threats and the Olympics.

International News

A main story in America’s international affairs is Iran’s threat of deployment. Iran, saying they want to send a message to America, threatens to move warships near U.S. borders. While many see this as a looming threat to be dealt with, others argue that Iran has made similar threats in the past and it is unlikely that Iran will act on its threat.

Another seeming threat from the Middle East comes from the Taliban. They recently released a video saying they are holding an American hostage, beside the one American soldier already held captive. The new hostage, however, was not a human soldier, but rather a service dog, claimed to be an American by the Taliban. The American government responded saying the dog is not American, but rather belongs to another NATO ally.

Olympics and Human Rights

As the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia open, many question Russia’s readiness to host. Many complaints have already come from athletes and spectators about the unprepared and broken down hotels. Many in Sochi have reported broken plumbing, tainted water and problems in infrastructure, such as crumbling ceilings and walls. Another complaint about the Olympics being hosted in Sochi is the current issue of gay rights in Russia. Not only is gay propaganda banned, but violence against the LGBT-etc. community has increased and is not currently moderated well by the police.

While Russia suffers more conservative LGBT laws, America receives a more progressive step this week. The Department of Justice announced they will release a memo on Monday that will expand rights to same-sex couples in terms of federal matters, such as bankruptcy, visitation rights and benefits. Another human rights issue in this past week came in the form of a CNN poll. According to the results, Americans consider creating a pathway for legalization to undocumented immigrants more important than border security.

Upcoming Stories

I expect political stories to take a backseat to the Olympics in the upcoming weeks, but the debate over the debt ceiling will definitely make an impact in the news. As Congress argues over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling, many Americans fear another impending government shutdown. We will also see if Iran’s threats are solid, or — like past threats — are simply words with no action.

President Addresses Year’s Agenda

On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama took the stage to address the American people through the annual State of the Union address. He discussed his plans for the year, including immigration, minimum wage and the environment. Before explaining his goals for the year, he first addressed his results of the past year. He started off by applauding the “little people” who have helped improve education, job growth and health care in the past year. After thanking the American people for a successful year on their part, he moved on to his successes for the year, which included economic, environmental, health care and foreign policies.

Results of 2013

The economic successes of the past year included the lowest unemployment rate in five years and the deficit being cut in half. The president discussed the progress made, including increasing domestic oil produced, job opportunities for veterans and easier access to higher education. He then spoke on the health care changes within the past year, applauding the successes and defending the failures. He praised the new health care law for providing affordable insurance for those who were previously uninsured. No longer can people be denied by insurance companies for a preexisting condition and women cannot be charged more for simply being a woman, which was something that was stressed by the president. He also applauded Michelle Obama in her efforts to lower childhood obesity.

Goals for 2014

After discussing the results, the president moved on to his goals for the year. He emphasized compromise in Washington in order to to make this a year of action, which he described as what the American people want. He argued that the United States has made great economic strides in the past year and should continue to do so. He tied many of his goals to its effect on the national economy. The president stressed that employers should increase domestic jobs, rather than shipping the positions overseas.

He also argued that by creating more fuel options within the states, we can end our dependence on foreign oils, praising the increased use of natural gas. He also pressed the issue of environmentally conscious fuel options, such as solar and wind energy, and argued that the United States should reduce the energy we use. The president then moved on to discuss alternative energy as an important factor to the reduction of the nation’s carbon footprint in order to protect the world for future generations.

He then briefly touched on the subject of immigration — saying a more open policy would boost the economy — and student loans, promising to continue fighting for more affordable loan options.

After discussing his economic goals for the year, the president argued for greater equality in the workplace. He placed emphasis on gender equality, expressing his dissatisfaction that in 2014, women still only make 77 cents to every man’s dollar. He also spoke on minimum wage, a topic that was very much anticipated by the American people. He promised to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour for federal positions, and encouraged other employers to also raise their wages for workers.

After discussing these issues, the president set a few goals for solving problems in the United States. He vowed to decrease gun violence, end the war in Afghanistan by the end of the year, close Guantanamo Bay — though this promise has been broken in years past — and maintain a strong and effective foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.

The president also sent a shout-out to Team USA, saying he is confident they will take home the gold in the upcoming Winter Olympics. He ended his address by telling the story of Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, who had been deployed 10 times. While in Afghanistan, Remsburg was injured by a roadside bomb and was nearly killed. The president applauded his service to his country, and ended by saying that if there are Americans like Remsburg who work to help and serve the nation, we can achieve a better tomorrow.

Though the president addressed a large range of issues, many viewers felt he barely touched on immigration reform and student loan reform, wishing they had heard more. Though referencing the economy multiple times and encouraging Congress to work together, he did not address the ongoing debate about the nation’s debt ceiling. The full transcript and audio of the address can be found online.

Week Full of GOP

A week before the president takes center stage by addressing the American people with the annual State of the Union address, the Republican party managed to make themselves the headline of all major political news stories in the United States this week. With multiple Republican National Committee (RNC) meetings this week, news of potential candidates for the 2016 presidential election was a topic of much concern this week. Though discussion of possible GOP candidates was certainly expected, I found it a surprise at how much the Democratic candidates were discussed. Hillary Clinton was mentioned so much at these meetings that she may as well have been there. Though the Democratic Party insists they have not decided on a candidate yet, and Clinton herself has said she still hasn’t decided whether or not she will run, the RNC seems sure that she will. Perhaps the funniest, or saddest, part of these committee meetings is the new nickname given to Clinton: “she who should not be named”. 

GOP’s Possible Candidates

In light of the RNC meetings, many, including myself, were expecting some emerging politicians as possible candidates. Instead, it seems that rather than boosting up a few strong candidates, the field was only minimized by seemingly eliminating a few possibilities. House Speaker John Boehner, a strong proponent of the Republican Party, was a guest on “The Tonight Show.” Host Jay Leno asked Boehner if he was still interested in running for the presidential seat, to which he replied no, saying that he didn’t want to give up red wine or cigarettes. Though it is unknown if Boehner was making these comments as a mere joke or a way to avoid the topic, he doesn’t seem to be a current front runner for the GOP.

Another strong Republican leader, Senator John McCain, was criticized for being too liberal and not backing his conservative constituents. McCain’s voting record does appear to be more liberal than his Republican title would lead one to believe, voting for immigration and health care reform. Because of this, he is unlikely to be chosen as the Republican candidate, as moderate candidates are rarely preferred in primary elections. If he were to be nominated as the Republican candidate, though, he would stand a good chance considering Americans on the whole prefer a more moderate candidate. Of course, concerns of his age and previous failed presidential campaign would hinder him, but his moderate views would arguably help him more than the doubts would harm his campaign.

Issues of the Week

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) recently wrote a memoir, which was released last month. Though it has been weeks since the release of his book, Pearce has been receiving criticism this week for his comments on women and marriage. His most controversial comment, “The wife is to voluntarily submit, just as the husband is to lovingly lead and sacrifice,” has received wide criticism, even from his own party. This comment harms the Republican Party as they are currently trying to readjust and modernize their views and conversations about women.

On the subject of women and their rights, a controversial case in Texas was resolved on Sunday morning. Marlise Munoz was found unconscious by her husband on Nov. 26, 2013. Shortly after, she was taken to the hospital and declared brain dead. Munoz was discovered to be 14 weeks pregnant, and taking her off life support suddenly became an abortion debate. Months later, the court order was given that allowed her to be taken off life support per her family’s wishes.

What to Watch this Next Week

It seems that many hugely important political events and decisions are just around the corner. With the president’s State of the Union address on Tuesday at 8 p.m., we can expect to hear the president’s agenda for the year, as well as a recap of the successes and failures of his second term so far. While the president may be in the political spotlight this next week, it is important to keep an eye on Congress. When lawmakers passed the new budget and came to somewhat of an agreement, they also pushed back the debt limit date to Feb. 7. This allowed Congress to put off the debate another few months in order to reopen the government. There is a current concern that the United States will have to default on their debt. We will have to wait and see what decisions are made and how Congress handles yet another immensely important and concerning issue.