WASHINGTON – President Bush and the war in Iraq dominated political news this past year, but investigations, scandals and leadership changes also made headlines.
The beginning of Bush's second term ushered in the New Year, which went on to see the unmasking of anonymous Watergate source "Deep Throat," a new justice heading up the Supreme Court and partisan bickering in Congress.
Throughout it all, many Democrats questioned why the United States went to war in Iraq and criticized Bush for undertaking what seems the impossible task of developing a democracy there.
“This year totally revolves around Iraq,” said Stephen Hess, a professor at George Washington University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Even after anti-war protesters idled around the president's ranch in August, it wasn't until November, when Democrats forced the Senate into a secret closed session, that Bush developed a response to the criticism with a series of speeches defending his administration's position on the war. The decision helped boost approval numbers that had dropped to a six-year low partly following the federal government's initial response to Hurricane Katrina in September.
"I think Bush is at his best when he is fully engaged in an almost campaign level of intensity on behalf of his agenda," said Mike Franc, vice president for government relations at the Heritage Foundation. "When he doesn't fully engage on behalf of what he is trying to accomplish, that is when he suffers the most."
Big changes on the Supreme Court also grabbed headlines this year, with the retirement announcement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the high court; the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist and the arrival of the court's new leader, John Roberts.
America also saw one nomination to fill the seat of O'Connor stopped in its tracks. White House counsel Harriet Miers, Bush's second pick for the seat, withdrew her nomination amid criticism that she was unprepared for the post. Conservatives also complained that she didn't have the appropriate credentials that they wanted in a justice appointed by a conservative president to fill a critical swing seat.
Appeals Court Judge Samuel Alito quickly replaced Miers as the nominee. The Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for Jan. 9.
Looking forward, the significance of Roberts’ confirmation and Alito’s nomination to the nation’s highest court will be felt years down the road, Hess said.
“The most important thing in the long run in the United States was the appointment of two new justices to the Supreme Court,” Hess said.
Franc agreed, adding that Roberts helped "reassert the dignity" of the nomination process.
"This is hope for there being a more civil, dignified process to nominate and confirm justices to the court," Franc said.
Other issues such as the economy and the president's legislative agenda have also been important in the past year.
“The year’s gone well economically. The president has had moderate success in his legislative program, probably more than the public has given him credit for,” Hess said.
Despite some successes, Americans have watched Congress experience scandal and investigations, including the resignation of one Republican congressman and the indictment of another. Over at the White House, one former top official is also going to face a jury for allegedly lying about conversations he had with reporters in the naming of a CIA operative.
“There’s been a renewal of corruption,” Hess said. “I think all of these things have lowered America’s faith and approval of the Congress and politics in general.”
Below are FOXNews.com's choice for the top 10 politics stories of the year, in no particular order:
1. Bush Enters Second Term
Bush took the oath of office for the second time on Jan. 20 after defeating opponent Democratic Sen. John Kerry for the White House. Bush was sworn-in by Rehnquist on Jan. 20 for his second term as the 43rd president. Bush said he was "looking forward to putting my heart and soul into this job for four more years."
He also declared the election gave him political capital that he intended to use, but his foremost objective, Social Security reform, went no where and much of his capital was quickly spent.
2. Iraq Dominates Debate
As the war in Iraq continued, debate escalated on the home front throughout the year. The Bush administration received a blow on March 31 when a nine-member presidential commission found that pre-war intelligence on Iraq's weapons capabilities was "dead wrong," charged that evidence to make the case for war was exaggerated and blamed intelligence agencies for not disclosing conflicting information to policymakers.
In August, anti-war demonstrator Cindy Sheehan, who lost a son in Iraq, began a protest near Bush's Crawford ranch and continued her months-long demand to meet with Bush to discuss his choices about the war. With the war debate continuing, in November, Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, forced the Senate into a closed secret session to discuss the Intelligence Committee's progress on its report of pre-war intelligence and administration influence on data-gatherers.
A few weeks later, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. Leading up to the successful election for an Iraqi Parliament on Dec. 15, the president listed the progress made, admitted to mistakes along the way and vowed that as Iraqi forces strengthen, U.S. forces will be drawn down.
3. Rehnquist Dies; Roberts Sworn In
William H. Rehnquist spent more than 33 years on the Supreme Court, first nominated in 1971 by President Nixon to be an associate justice and then nominated in 1986 by President Reagan to take the chief justice's seat following Warren Burger's retirement. Rehnquist, who continued to serve after being diagnosed in late 2004 with thyroid cancer, died on Sept. 4 at age 80 in his Arlington, Va., home. He was the first justice in more than 50 years to die while still sitting on the bench.
One day after Rehnquist's death, Bush nominated D.C. Circuit Court Judge John Roberts, who had originally been named as the replacement for retiring Justice O'Connor, to be Rehnquist's successor. After a fairly non-controversial confirmation hearing, Roberts was approved by the Senate 78-22, and was sworn in as the 17th chief justice on Sept. 29.
4. CIA Leak Probe Continues; Cheney Aide Indicted, Resigns
A federal investigation into who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson brought down Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Libby was indicted on Oct. 28. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald charged Libby with one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of false statements to FBI agents and two counts of perjury that related to his appearances before the grand jury. Libby immediately resigned from the White House staff.
Elsewhere in the case, New York Times reporter Judith Miller spent 85 days in prison for refusing to answer questions about her confidential source, who turned out to be Libby. After being released in July and testifying to the grand jury, Miller later resigned from the Times.
Fitzgerald continues his investigation to discover who leaked Plame Wilson's name to reporters in June 2003, and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove appears to be in the crosshairs. Libby pled not guilty on Nov. 3 and his next court date is Feb. 3, at which time a trial date may be set unless a plea deal is reached before then.
5. DeLay Indicted, Steps Aside as House Majority Leader
Texas Republican Rep. Tom DeLay, the No. 2 leader in the House of Representatives and the man dubbed "the Hammer" for his ability to get the GOP caucus to fall into line, stepped down as House majority leader on Sept. 28 after a Texas grand jury indicted him on charges relating to a campaign finance scheme. House rules require members to step down from their leadership posts if they face charges that could be penalized by more than two years in jail.
DeLay's money laundering charges stem from his political action committee sending money to the Republican National Committee in 2002, which in turn sent cash to Republican Texas state candidates, who then won the legislative majority. As a result of the victory, they remapped congressional districts, and in 2004 Republicans won a majority of the Texas delegation in the U.S. Congress.
DeLay is trying to expedite the trial process, but his fate of returning to his former post is unknown. A Texas appeals court is deciding whether to hear DeLay's request that the remaining charges against him be dismissed.
6. Identity of "Deep Throat" Revealed
A May 31 article in "Vanity Fair" reported that W. Mark Felt, 91, was the longtime anonymous source used by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein during the Watergate scandal. Upon receiving permission from Felt, the Post quickly confirmed after 30 years of silence that the former FBI second-in-command, Felt, was Deep Throat.
Woodward and Bernstein, with Felt's help, reported secrets in the cover-up over President Richard Nixon's scandal which began with the June 1972 Watergate break-in. Nixon declared his innocence in November 1973, famously saying "I am not a crook," but facing possible impeachment, he resigned in August 1974.
Deep Throat's identity remained a Washington parlor game for years after since the reporters vowed not to reveal their source until after Deep Throat's death. As a result, they were scooped for honoring their promise.
7. Bush Appoints Bolton Amid Criticism
John Bolton, the president's nominee to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, stirred considerable debate in Congress, but after months of inaction to confirm the State Department undersecretary for arms control and international security, Bush bypassed Senate approval and using a recess appointment during a congressional recess gave Bolton the job.
Bolton had faced criticism from Democrats, who blocked his nomination for four months using the filibuster procedure. Critics argued that they needed more documents from his work at the State Department and claimed he was too gruff for the sensitive diplomatic post.
Since joining the U.S. diplomatic team at the United Nations, Bolton has pressed for reform within the world body and has threatened to withhold U.S. financial support if it doesn't improve. However, he did manage to get several changes made to the reform plan that was approved by the General Assembly. Bolton will have to face Senate confirmation in January 2007 if he is to remain in the post.
8. Greenspan to Leave Federal Reserve; Bernanke Likely Successor
After a long cat-and-mouse game, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan announced in September that he was retiring Jan. 31, 2006, from the position he has held since 1987. Bush nominated Ben Bernanke, chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, as his choice to succeed Greenspan.
Greenspan, who was first appointed by President Ronald Reagan and served five terms through four presidents, has affected the direction of the stock market in real time, sometimes merely by giving congressional testimony. He has influenced the direction of monetary policy and changed the board's practice so that it began announcing on the day of Federal Open Market Committee's meetings whether interest rates would change.
Many give Greenspan much of the credit for the nearly uninterrupted economic growth in the United States during his tenure. In confirmation hearings, Bernanke who is considered of like minds and equal intellect with Greenspan, said he differs with the chairman only in terms of setting inflation targets, which Greenspan opposes.
The Senate Banking Committee approved Bernanke's nomination on Nov. 16 but the full Senate has not yet voted to confirm him.
9. Lobbyist Indicted on Fraud Charges
Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist, was indicted on fraud charges by a federal grand jury relating to a 2000 purchase of casino boats. The indictment charges that Abramoff and Adam Kidan, an associate, defrauded lenders out of about $60 million through a fake wire transfer. They are charged with five counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud. Each count carries a penalty of up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Abramoff has been accused of getting his Indian tribe clients to pony up large sums of money to the campaigns of several members of Congress. Several senators have returned money received from the now-tainted lobbyist, and are distancing themselves from him. DeLay is also linked to the investigation as his former aide, Michael Scanlon, who was Abramoff's partner, pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to bribe public officials.
In a possible plea deal under discussion, an anonymous source said last week that Abramoff could plead guilty to settle the criminal case against him in Florida and other possible charges in exchange for helping the Justice Department in a congressional corruption probe.
10. Professional Athletes Testify About Steroids
In March, professional baseball players testified before the House Government Reform Committee about the use of steroids in baseball. Former St. Louis Cardinal Mark McGwire avoided questions about his own steroid use while fellow players Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling also attended the hearing. Palmeiro even waved his finger at committee members while saying he never tried steroids. Months later, he was suspended from the Baltimore Orioles after testing positive for the performance-enhancing drug. He claims someone must have shot him up with the steroid rather than the Vitamin B he thought he was getting.
The committee's push for tougher standards on drug testing and stronger penalties, along with threats to create legislative remedies, helped light a fire under Major League Baseball owners and the players union, which announced new guidelines in November. Some of the harsher penalties include a 50-game suspension for a first offense, 100-game suspension for a second offense and a lifetime ban from the game for the third offense. Congressional lawmakers are now turning their attention to other professional sports' drug-testing policies.
Other Big Political News in 2005
Rice Becomes Secretary of State
Jan. 26: Condoleezza Rice became the 66th secretary of state when the Senate confirmed her in an 85-13 vote. Rice, who promised to tackle Bush's foreign policy agenda, served as national security adviser in Bush's first term.
Democrats Pick Dean to Lead Party
Feb. 12: Former presidential candidate Howard Dean became the Democratic National Committee chairman, the leader of the Democratic Party. Dean, also a former Vermont governor and 2004 presidential candidate, pledged to address the party's problems in the most conservative regions of the country and encourage more influence on policy.
Chertoff Takes Over Department of Homeland Security
Feb. 15: The Senate confirmed Michael Chertoff, a federal appeals court judge and former Justice Department official, as Homeland Security Secretary. Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik was the first nominee for the job, but withdrew his name from consideration after reports said he hired an illegal nanny along with other questionable behavior.
Congress Debates End-of-Life Issues
March 31: Some lawmakers joined the debate over end-of-life issues after a Florida woman's struggle made national headlines. Efforts by some Republicans to block doctors from removing the feeding tube of Terri Schiavo, a severely brain-damaged woman, failed. Schiavo died nearly 14 days after the tube was removed that had kept her alive for 15 years. The conflict sparked debate on living wills and the role of the courts in family decisions.
Negroponte Appointed National Intelligence Director
April 21: The Senate confirmed U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte to be the first director of national intelligence. The position was created out of recommendations by the Sept. 11 commission.
Gonzales Gets Big Brother on Sex Offenders
May 20: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales responded to increases in child abductions by launching a new government-run Web site that publishes state-by-state information on sex offenders.
Gang of 14 Negotiate Deal
May 24: A group of moderate senators in the Gang of 14 used their power to push for reconciliation and averted the employment of the "nuclear option," which would have prevented Democrats from using filibusters. In exchange, several Bush nominees for the federal bench were approved.
Durbin Apologizes After Remarks
June 26: Sen. Dick Durbin issued an apology after he compared interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center in Cuba to Nazis.
Ten Commandments Display Debate
June 28: An ongoing debate over Ten Commandments displays was struck down by the Supreme Court. The court ruled in favor of allowing a 6-foot granite replica on state government land in Texas, but not for displays in Kentucky courthouses.
FEC Battles Bloggers
June 29: The Federal Election Commission debated blogging rules over the ability of Web sites to give unregulated benefits to election campaigns.
FEMA Director Steps Down
Sept. 13: Hurricane Katrina plowed problems into Congress and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown resigned amid criticism for his actions during the government's underwhelming response.
Reports of Secret CIA Prisons Draws Attention
Nov. 2: A report in the Washington Post stirred national debate over secret CIA prisons that hold terror suspects in Europe. Rice responded to the reports saying the United States "will use every lawful weapon to defeat these terrorists." She added that "we cannot discuss information that would compromise the success of intelligence, law enforcement, and military operations. We expect other nations share this view." Rice made the statement before she began a trip to Europe, which proved successful in assuaging concerns.
Democrats Take Charge in Off-Year Elections
Nov. 8: Democrats kept both gubernatorial seats in New Jersey and Virginia. Sen. Jon Corzine defeated his Republican candidate in New Jersey while Tim Kaine also won over his GOP opponent in Virginia. In other elections, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger saw all four of his ballot initiatives fail while Republican Michael Bloomberg won re-election for New York City mayor.
Cunningham Pleads Guilty to Taking Bribes
Nov. 28: Former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham entered a guilty plea to taking bribes such as a luxury yacht and antiques, and to violating tax laws in the sale of his home to a defense contractor. Cunningham shed some tears before reporters when he announced his resignation from Congress.
Patriot Act Debate Rages in Senate
Dec. 16: Senators blocked the renewal of the USA Patriot Act to reauthorize 16 expiring provisions of the anti-terrorism law. Lawmakers debated into late December over extending the law as Democrats threatened a filibuster. In the end, the House and Senate agreed for a five-week extension of the existing act so negotiators could work out differences on the new legislation.
Questions Linger Over NSA Spying
Dec. 19: President Bush defended authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on international calls without a court warrant. Bush called the leak about the program "shameful" while some lawmakers called for an investigation into the legality of spying on people in the United States without a judge's permission.