The new year brought a new game and new players to Washington: a fresh crop of Democrats who have made Congress younger, more ethnically and religiously diverse ("a huge win for Muslim feminism," wrote Rafia Zakaria), more female, more gay, more dance-happy and -- they insist -- more inclined to get things done on behalf of women, working people, immigrants and the environment.
The Democrats, who now control the House and all of its investigative resources, may be the greatest challenge yet for President Donald Trump, who presides over a government that is partly shut down and an administration full of strife -- and already facing multiple investigations.
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"It's unclear whether Trump has grasped the full meaning of the new environment in Washington," Errol Louis pointed out. Impeachment or not, newly elected Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already "let President Trump know that that his days of dominating the national political agenda with bluff, bluster and bullsh** have come to an end."
And though Pelosi didn't sign on to it, newly sworn-in Rep. Rashida Tlaib captured the mood of many progressives when she proclaimed on Thursday "we're going to impeach the motherf****r."
Her F-bomb made some Republican heads explode and upset some Democrats, but when pressed to make nice and apologize, Tlaib declined. "Disgraceful," Trump complained. (Holly Figueroa O'Reilly countered on Twitter with a highlight reel of the President's expletives.)
Four billion miles away, a NASA robotic probe was taking New Years' day pictures of the most distant celestial body any man-made object has ever reached.
Happy New Year!
Pelosi's opportunity and challenge
David Gergen and James Piltch wrote that there's no denying Pelosi's central role "in an unfolding drama" that turns on one big question: "Whether the flood of new women into Congress this year can begin the renewal of the badly broken political system that is increasingly holding back the country."
One problem facing Pelosi, warned Russell Berman and Elaine Godfrey in the Atlantic: The shutdown "could sap much of the spotlight from the Democrats' policy agenda, muddling their opportunity to drive the national debate, at least on their own terms."
Even after that, Pelosi won't exactly be able to skate, wrote Scott Jennings. He recalled how the GOP's just-powerful-enough Freedom Caucus tormented her predecessors John Boehner and Paul Ryan, denying the ruling party the votes to pass a farm bill, raise the debt limit or fund the Homeland Security Department. Pelosi has it worse with her "three-way split" among a dwindling conservative wing, New Democrats...and progressives, who smell impeachment. And if that happens, it "could easily backfire and cost her party dearly in 2020," Jennings said.
New York's freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez continues to drive her critics on the right crazy. How crazy? Someone tweeted out a dance video she made in college eight years ago, apparently hoping to humiliate her ("Here is America's favorite commie know-it-all..."). It went viral Wednesday, and tons of people found it ... delightful. "Well, @AOC is officially done. She'll never recover from the world seeing her... (watches video) ...dancing adorably and having fun with her friends...?" tweeted Patton Oswalt. Then Ocasio-Cortez clapped back with a cheerful video of her dancing outside her new congressional office. "I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous," she tweeted.
Virginia Heffernan, in the Los Angeles Times, welcomed the new dynamic that has women like Ocasio-Cortez using social media to run rings around terrified men. "By turning up the volume on the Republicans' terrified sexism, as a digital native does best, she's made quick work of her haters."
Republicans are making a mistake here, argued Julian Zelizer. "By vilifying Ocasio-Cortez, the GOP is helping to turn her into one of the political superstars of 2019. They are giving her more time in the spotlight and unifying Democrats around someone who does come from a left-of-center perspective," and is pushing, for example, a Green New Deal.
Here comes Elizabeth Warren
The Democratic senator from Massachusetts announced via video that she was forming an exploratory committee for the presidency. "A brilliant beginning," Jill Filipovic cheered. "Warren has done us all an immense favor" by setting up the race and "insisting it focuses on class and race, economic inequality and gender inequality."
In the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin warned that Warren is a "less formidable candidate than she was a year ago." She "at times hectors rather than inspires, sounding more like an activist/law professor than a compelling leader," and flubbed her DNA-test response to Trump's "Pocahantas" jabs, offending Democrats and others, Rubin wrote.
David Axelrod served in the White House when Warren, as a House counsel, "was pummeling Treasury officials over treatment of Wall Street executives who were culpable in the financial crisis." Some may find her "edgy and dogmatic vision of capitalism" off-putting, he wrote. But "the cause of the embattled middle class is a natural one" for her, a janitor's daughter lifted by her intelligence and tenacity "from modest beginnings to this moment. These are indispensable qualities any winning candidate for president of the United States must own."
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders, faced allegations that there was sexism and harassment in his 2016 campaign. Sally Kohn found his apology on Anderson Cooper's show, in which he cited his campaign's "gold standard" for principles, defensive and totally inadequate. "The gold standard is taking responsibility for the culture you as a leader create and doing everything in your power, rhetorically and otherwise, to root out toxicity within it."
I'm a Brit, and America, your health care system is torturing me.
How do you stand it? asked Rob Crilly, who recently tried to get his bum knee fixed in America and found dealing with insurers and doctors' offices and New York's Obamacare exchange like entering a maze from Kafka. "What no one had briefed me on was the sheer bewildering complexity of it all," he wrote. "So, what is the solution? Medicare for all, which progressives are pushing, sounds like a possibility. Maybe it could work, like it does in Britain."
The Nixon letter he couldn't forget
Memory is a slippery thing. CNN's Michael Smerconish thought he recalled vividly seeing a 1987 letter from Richard Nixon to Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo right after Rizzo lost re-election. Nixon wrote: "Dear Frank: I have learned that when you win you hear from everybody; when you lose you hear from your friends. Count me in the latter category." Or did he? Smerconish tried to get the letter as a memento after Rizzo's widow died. What he learned took him down a rabbit hole of recollection — and Nixonian etiquette. It's a good yarn.
What the Navy kiss backlash is really about.
A TV station in Jacksonville, Florida, drew complaints after it aired video of a returning sailor kissing his husband at dockside — a re-enactment of Alfred Eisenstaedt's Times Square photo from V-J Day in 1945. The reaction troubled Danielle Campoamor, who lamented our "collective ability to overlook the facts." She noted that the Eisenstaedt photo might well have documented a sexual assault (the nurse in the photo, according to some reports, did not know the sailor who grabbed her). "If only people were outraged over a picture of a man forcibly kissing a woman and not a husband lovingly kissing his husband."
A snowman in space
Just 33 minutes after puny earthlings cheered the dawning of a new year (ET) this week, something actually incredible happened deep in outer space: NASA's New Horizon probe zoomed at 32,000 mph by Ultima Thule, a big frozen, snowman-shaped object left over from the primordial solar system, snapping pictures the whole time. It is "the most distant astronomical body ever investigated," marveled Don Lincoln, a senior physicist at FermiLab. Brian May — the guitarist for Queen and an astrophysicist -- even wrote a song about it.
Call it a triumph of robotics, which have let humans slip "the shackles of the inner solar system and, as the famed television show said, gone where no one has gone before," said Lincoln. "The impulse to explore seems to be hardwired in what it means to be human...With space, we're just getting started."
Gilbert Gottfried: Bob Einstein viciously insulted me...and I never laughed so hard.
He was Super Dave, the deadpan and hilarious fake stuntman who would show up in his jumpsuit on Letterman or Conan every so often, and he was Marty Funkhouser on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." And to comedian Gilbert Gottfried, Bob Einstein — who died Wednesday — was one of the funniest guys he'd ever hosted on his podcast. Einstein, whose TV-writing roots went back to the Smothers Brothers show, "was a complete cynic and a total wiseass...totally certain and completely confused at the same time. Even at his most forceful and energetic, he came across looking and sounding like a guy you woke up at three o'clock in the morning," wrote Gottfried. "I'm sad to say farewell."