2021’s biggest US politics stories

While President Joe Biden used his inauguration speech to call for unity, division has run through nearly every aspect of US politics.

The unprecedented attack on democracy, which began as members of Congress worked to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, commanded the nation’s attention as violent scenes of rioters attacking officers and destroying parts of the Capitol were broadcast live across the country.

The ensuing chaos led to the deaths of multiple people the day of the attack or shortly thereafter, while several officers who responded during the Capitol attack later died by suicide.

More than 700 people have been charged by the Justice Department in connection with the riot.

Still, Republicans in Congress have repeatedly downplayed the attack and largely remained loyal to former President Donald Trump, who continues to be an immensely popular figure in the party.

In the latter half of the year, the House select committee investigating the riot has drawn attention for its aggressive legal posture and dramatic showdowns with Trump allies.

Text messages relayed by the panel this month show that Donald Trump Jr., Fox News personalities and lawmakers unsuccessfully implored then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on January 6 to get Trump to stop the violence unfurling at the Capitol. But further revelations will have to wait.

The panel is working toward a goal of releasing an interim report with initial findings by the summer, a committee aide told CNN, with a final report following next fall.

Committee members have said they hope to present more of their work in a public setting next year, which would include hearings that outline the story of what occurred on January 6. The specific timing of these hearings has not yet been set.

Covid-19 pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic continued to impact nearly every aspect of life.

The promise that surrounded the US vaccination campaign early in the year was met with more formidable variants that have dashed any hopes of quickly moving past the virus that has killed more than 820,000 in this country.

The President had alluded to brighter days ahead in early July, when transmission was low, asserting that “Together, we’re beating the virus.”

“Today, all across this nation, we can say with confidence: America is coming back together,” Biden said in remarks outside the White House at the time. “Two hundred and forty-five years ago, we declared our independence from a distant king. Today, we’re closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.”

The US, he said, is seeing “the results of the unity of purpose.”

But the Delta variant, slow vaccine uptake and a widespread return to pre-pandemic behavior brought a new wave of infections that knocked the President’s aspirations well off course. And now the country enters a new year under the cloud of the Omicron variant, which has helped push US daily cases to grim new heights.

“It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen, even at the peak of the prior surges of Covid,” Dr. James Phillips, who works in Washington, said Wednesday, when the nation hit a new pandemic high of 300,886 average new daily cases over the prior week, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
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The Omicron-fueled surge comes as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention closes out the year under heavy scrutiny.

New guidelines from the agency allow for people who test positive for Covid-19 to leave isolation after five days if their symptoms are gone or getting better, so long as they wear masks around others for at least five more days.

As for quarantine, people who are fully vaccinated and have received booster doses are advised that they may safely stay out and about, even if exposed to the virus, as long as they wear masks when around others for 10 days. Even the unvaccinated may leave quarantine after five days.

“We are very much trying to digest it now and what it means and how to communicate it effectively,” Lori Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN on Wednesday.

The confusion has left the CDC open to accusations that the decision was made based on politics or lobbying pressure, Freeman said.

Restrictive new voting laws

If the US Capitol insurrection signaled a misinformation crisis around voting, then the restrictive state-level election laws that followed have confirmed it.

Some 19 states have passed 34 new laws this year that make it harder to vote, a December report from the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice showed.
  • Four states bundled together arrays of new voting restrictions into single omnibus bills: Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Texas.
  • Many state laws hit on common themes. Seven, for instance, imposed tougher identification requirements to cast ballots. Seven states also shortened the window to apply for mail-in ballots.
  • Another analysis, from October, showed that four states — Arizona, Arkansas, Montana and Texas — passed multiple laws to restrict voting.

The trend isn’t likely to slow down in the year ahead. Lawmakers in four states already have pre-filed at least 13 bills for the 2022 legislative sessions that would make it harder to cast a ballot, according to the Brennan center.

In five states, six pre-filed bills would allow “audits” or reviews of election results, and some 88 restrictive bills that were introduced but failed to become law in nine states this year are expected to carry over into legislative sessions set to begin early next year, the analysis found.

Extreme weather (without extreme action)

The climate crisis took a catastrophic toll across the globe in 2021, with acute consequences in the US, where historic flooding trapped and killed residents in submerged basements.
While the US in February officially rejoined the landmark international accord to limit global warming known as the Paris agreement, promises were largely not met with action in 2021, and humans are pumping more planet-warming emissions into the atmosphere than ever.
Experts now warn that the Earth is on track for 2.4 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels — far beyond the critical 1.5-degree threshold that scientists say we should stay under.

This year’s disasters are proof the climate crisis is intensifying and that the window is rapidly closing to slash our reliance on fossil fuels and to prevent changes that would transform life as we know it.

Afghanistan withdrawal

2021 also brought a deadly end to America’s longest war.

Nearly 20 years after the US invaded Afghanistan to avenge the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 — and strike at al Qaeda and the Taliban, who hosted Osama bin Laden — another American administration left the country in the control of Taliban militants, who still maintain close ties to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

Snapshots of people trying to flee the Taliban by congregating outside the gates of Kabul’s airport, along with images from inside American military planes filled with evacuees, were broadcast around the world in August. More than 150 Americans struggling to get to the airport were airlifted by helicopter off the roof of a nearby hotel. And 13 US service members were killed in a terrorist attack outside the airport’s gates, with more than 170 other people also dying in the suicide blast.

“My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over,” Biden said at the White House in August, marking a symbolic moment he said was long overdue.

“I’m the fourth president who has faced the issue of whether and when to end this war. When I was running for president, I made a commitment to the American people that I would end this war. Today I’ve honored that commitment.”

CNN’s Fredreka Schouten and Maggie Fox contributed to this report.

https://www.cnn.com/2021/12/30/politics/year-in-review-us-politics-what-matters/index.html