Politics, shotgun marriage in government, war shaped in 2014 already loom for 2015

Published Dec. 22, 2014

WASHINGTON — Tumultuous 2014 is not even in the books, and already the shape of 2015 looms. The new year promises more war, when the plan was for less. It brings a new order in government, with an institutionally weakened president and strengthened opposition.

And it rings the bells for the 2016 presidential race, which colors everything in the center of power.

A look at what's in store from Washington in 2015, from Associated Press writers who cover the White House, the Pentagon and politics:

The new order

Voters gave the country a shotgun marriage in the November elections — Obama and a new Republican-controlled Congress. It won't always be pretty, but they will have to cohabitate. Dishes will be broken, voices will be raised, and they will occasionally look for reasons to make up.

It's likely to start confrontationally. And each side will have to deal with its own internal fissures.

At the top of incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's list is legislation authorizing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project opposed by environmentalists that would send oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Republicans also want to try to reverse Obama's executive actions on immigration and undo Obama's health care law.

But as McConnell emphasizes, only one Democrat counts: the president. His veto pen, little used in his first six years, would become his weapon of choice.

Obama and Republicans also share some common ground.

Trade: The administration is working on one major trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim countries and another with Europe. Obama seeks authority to negotiate agreements that Congress must approve or reject but cannot change. Most Republicans support such a fast-track approach, but Democrats and their labor and environmental allies do not. Obama has chided Democrats, urging them not to "fight the last war" on trade.

Roads, bridges, ports: Both sides would like to see infrastructure spending. But they can't agree how to pay for it. Obama says a way might be found by reworking the tax system.

Tax overhaul: The U.S. has the highest corporate taxes in the industrialized world, though many corporations use tax breaks and other benefits to reduce or even eliminate their tax burden. Obama and Republicans say they want to make the system fairer and the U.S. more competitive.

Immigration: For all the anger over Obama's solo actions, some Republicans still want to address what they call a broken immigration system. But both sides remain far apart, and Obama has said "temperatures need to cool a little bit." An overhaul is a long shot.

The on-ramp to 2016

For the next presidential campaign, 2015 is the Big Sort.

Democrats have been fixated for months on Hillary Rodham Clinton, the party's dominant candidate if she decides, as expected, to seek the White House again. Republicans enter the year with their most unpredictable presidential contest in a generation.

At this stage, the two names that matter the most are Bush and Clinton.

For Republicans, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has signaled that he may enter the GOP primary field. If he does, his name recognition and deep establishment ties — he's the brother and son of the last two Republican presidents — would make him a formidable candidate.

Bush's decision could affect the calculations of others, among them Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a longtime Bush protege, and some of the Republican governors who've been gauging their support. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is another major GOP personality who could be affected by Bush's moves.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has prepared for a 2016 campaign for months. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and governors John Kasich of Ohio, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Mike Pence of Indiana, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Rick Snyder of Michigan are also in the potential mix. And still more.

If she enters the field, Clinton would bring four years at the State Department, nearly a decade in the Senate, eight years as first lady and a lifetime in politics. Not to mention the wiles of former President Bill Clinton and her 2008 presidential campaign experience.

Her candidacy, said Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter, would be "the restart of a conversation that was started almost eight years ago."

How she addresses a populist streak running through the party could signal how she might run. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of liberals, could complicate Clinton's path by entering the field. So far, no Obama-like figure has emerged to do what he pulled off in 2008 — an upset of Clinton the favorite, then and again now.

War without end

Back in early January, Obama declared that America's 13 years at war would end this month, with all U.S. troops out of Iraq and the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan over.

Twelve short months later, U.S. troops are again on the ground in Iraq, the counterterrorism fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan will continue, and U.S. forces are launching airstrikes against a new al-Qaida affiliate — the Islamic State group — in both Syria and Iraq. Now, Obama talks of a turning point, a time when large ground war deployments are over, even as he pledges action to keep past military gains from slipping away.

U.S. forces have trickled back into Iraq, following the launch of airstrikes in August against Islamic State militants. At first there were a few dozen, then a few hundred. Now, about 1,700. The president has authorized a total of 3,000.

Their mission is to train and advise Iraqi troops, not to engage an enemy on the ground, but they will be armed and prepared to protect themselves.

In Afghanistan, the number of U.S. troops has dropped to a bit more than 11,000 from about 38,500 in January. But the plans to go to 9,800 by the end of the year and limit forces to advising the Afghans and only fighting al-Qaida — not the Taliban — have changed. About 1,000 additional U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan for a few months to fill in for other coalition forces, and the U.S. will continue to target Taliban insurgents who threaten either Afghans or Americans.