DC Year In Review: 2021 Will Be Year To Remember

Monday, December 27th 2021, 5:25 pm


While 2021 ends with the Covid pandemic, fueled by the latest fast-spreading Omicron variant, again grabbing the bulk of the headlines, the year started with an uneasy optimism brought on by the initial distribution of vaccines and, for some, the promise of a new administration.

And then came January 6.

Thousands of supporters of then-President Donald Trump, urged on by the president's unrelenting but unfounded claims of a stolen election, marched from a rally at the Ellipse, where Trump told them to "fight like hell," to Capitol Hill where several hundred brutally assaulted police officers and then breached the Capitol itself.

Oklahoma Senator James Lankford was on the Senate floor, in the middle of a speech in which he was joining other Republicans in contesting the accuracy of the electoral college results, when the session was abruptly gaveled to a halt. A Senate page hurrying up to the lectern informed Sen. Lankford, "Protesters are in the building" and the chamber quickly emptied.

A more dramatic scene played out in the House chamber where Capitol police and a handful of members, including Oklahoma Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK2), were in a standoff with rioters who were attempting to force their way in. Just a few feet away, a rioter was shot and killed attempting to break into the Speaker's Lobby, which would have given the mob direct access to the chamber.

Five people, including one police officer, died as a direct result of the Capitol assault. Scores of other police officers were injured.

Once the order was restored, horrified yet determined leaders called both the Senate and House back into session to complete their constitutional duty of certifying the election results. Sen. Lankford again took the floor, but was one of two Republican Senators who decided, in light of the day's events, not to oppose certification.

"Why in God’s name would someone think attacking law enforcement and occupying the United States Capitol is the best way to show that you’re right? Why would you do that?" Lankford said. "Rioters and thugs don’t run the Capitol. We’re the United States of America."

Lankford joined Sen. Jim Inhofe in voting to certify the electoral college results. Each Oklahoma House member, including Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK5) who had been sworn in just three days earlier, contested the results.

Exactly two weeks later, with the Capitol and surrounding grounds fenced off and under the watch of thousands of National Guardsmen and women, Delaware's Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.

President Biden called for unity in his inauguration speech: "This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge...and unity is the path forward."

Unity, however, was hard to come by in 2021. Republicans opposed Biden's first big initiative, $1.9 trillion in additional Covid-19 relief, leaving Democrats to pass Biden's American Rescue Plan on their own in March.

When Biden laid out his multi-trillion-dollar Build Back Better plan in a speech to a joint session of Congress in April, not only was it universally panned by the GOP, but fractures within his own Democratic caucus began to appear. Concern from moderate Democrats in the Senate eventually helped lead to Build Back Better being split into a more traditional $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which Congress approved in November, and a more ambitious and progressive climate and social action package.

Negotiations on that legislation, between the White House, the House Progressive Caucus, and moderate Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Krysten Sinema (D-AZ), spanned much of the summer and fall and reduced its scope and price, over ten years, from about $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion. Among other things, the bill would provide universal pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds, expand health care coverage to seniors, help lower drug prices, lower the cost childcare for low-income Americans, and incentivize reductions in carbon emissions.

BBB would be paid for, the administration says, by increasing taxes on big business and the wealthiest Americans -- making them pay their fair share.

Oklahoma members say the higher taxes will hurt all taxpayers and that this would hurt the economy: "You're getting a smaller group at the top paying more and more of the taxes," said Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK1).

Crises at the southern border and in the withdrawal from Afghanistan this spring and summer began chipping away at the president's approval rating. Controversial vaccine mandates and inflation not seen since the early 1980's added to Biden's public relations woes this fall.

Also this fall the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in cases that could lead to the overturning of Roe v Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion nationwide.

All this led to a hectic two weeks in December where Congress actually displayed bipartisanship on several fronts -- raising the debt ceiling, keeping government funded into February 2022, and passing the National Defense Authorization Act.