Reporting for Duty: The Presidency of John Kerry and Beyond

This timeline will go from 2005-2013 in After 1900 followed by part II, which shall be posted in chat in accordance to the rules about current politics.

2004 Election True Grit Infobox.png

(The map used in this infobox was created by TrueGrit - credit goes to him!)
The 2004 Presidential Election was close, but fortunately, not too close. Election Day began as the sun rose over the east coast to find long lines at the poll. This was an early sign of the voter turnout, which had skyrocketed five points higher than in 2000. The day continued to see extensive waits in precincts across the country while both President Bush and Senator Kerry made last minute appeals to the few remaining undecided voters. By the time the polls closed, there was still great uncertainty among the public. It was directed not so much against who'd win, but rather, by how big of a margin they’d win by. But the anxiety over another possible scenario in which neither candidate emerged outright as victor was not the only fear of the electorate.

Just three years since the 9/11 attacks and the War on Terror that was subsequently declared, America was still stuck in the horrid throes of war. Though the NATO coalition’s invasion of Afghanistan was quick, the elusive Bin Laden escaped into the mountains while the Taliban regime that had fallen quickly regrouped and launched a guerilla insurgency against the western occupiers. Just over a year later, the long simmering crisis over Iraq’s use, possession, and construction of weapons of mass destruction came to a head. NATO forces, led by the United States, launched an invasion to disarm Iraq and bring about Saddam Hussein’s downfall once and all. Though their superior air power (displayed in a massive bombing campaign against Iraqi military installations in Baghdad called “shock ‘n ‘awe) and better equipped and trained ground forces were quickly able to route the Baathist regime of President Hussein, the subsequent occupation of Iraq and the dissolution of their military only contributed more to the chaos.

At home, the situation was only just a little bit brighter. The President had passed a major Education reform package commonly known as No Child Left Behind, had shepherded controversial tax cuts through Congress, and presided over a still booming economy. Though
there was increased chatter about the possibility that the housing bubble’s burst could throw the economy into a tailspin, the stock market was still soaring and the good times never seemed so good. Throughout the 2004 campaign, the President had used the economy’s growth as a distraction from the administration's controversial foreign policy. His opponent, Senator Kerry, continued to warn against the unilateral neoconservative foreign policy throughout the campaign. The chasm between these two candidates was wide, as was the divide between their supporters. If the Republicans were drunk on post-9/11 jingoism, the Democrats were wired with increasing anxiety over the Bush administration opening up a third war in Iran or North Korea. Republican voices, particularly on conservative talk radio, called those Democrats who spoke out against the war as “traitors.” Democrats, particularly those in Hollywood, bemoaned Bush supporters as “rednecks.”

When election day finally neared, every American voter was given the chance to privately vent their frustration or to place their hope in a candidate. Polling showed the race was a dead heat, though strong polling out of Florida - the state known for the 2000 recount debacle - showed Bush holding a near seven point lead. This early lead was an optimistic start to election night for Bush’s team, who were expecting the race to be wrapped up by midnight, even if the popular vote totals were tight. Kerry, however, was not deterred. His own internal polling showed him gaining more ground in the rust belt than expected in the waning days of the election, and it was believed at Kerry’s campaign headquarters that Ohio would be the tipping state of 2004 rather than Florida. This would prove to be true.

By 1:00 AM on election night, the optimism at Bush headquarters evaporated slowly as the returns came in. While Bush had won an overwhelming victory over Kerry in Florida due to traditionally conservative Democrats from the northern portion of the state crossing over to support the war-time Commander-in-Chief. Bush’s efforts to portray Kerry as a tax-and-spend liberal also contributed to the surprisingly high support for the President. But Ohio was still too close to call. This was not expected by Bush’s campaign staff. There was also the possibility that Kerry could win the popular vote (the Senator had held a steady lead all night among the raw vote totals), which would result in Bush earning the distinction to be the first president ever to be elected without winning the popular vote in either of his campaigns. As Ohio’s final precincts began trickling in, the Kerry lead expanded, and it was not long after that the Associated Press would call the election for the Senator from Massachusetts. In his concession speech, President Bush gracefully called for his supporters to unite around President-elect Kerry, while President Kerry likewise hailed the man he’d soon succeed for his work in Africa fighting HIV/AIDS as well as for his response to the 9/11 attacks. The 2004 campaign would ultimately be defined as a public rebuke of the neoconservative ideology that permeated throughout the Bush White House. The approach offered by Kerry (a more pragmatic and less unilateral policy) was seen as more feasible in a world that was only increasingly unstable, offered the chance to “reset” the global situation. Bush would later write in his memoirs Decision Points that he had placed too much confidence in the public’s post-9/11 perception of him, wrongfully believing that his reelection prospects were stronger due to him being a wartime President when in fact many were questioning the direction of the country and America's role abroad.

As George W. Bush prepared to ride off into the political sunset, John Kerry tied on his necktie and put his suit jacket on as he prepared to report for duty.
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All I can think is Conan O Brien when I hear “I’m John Kerry and I am reporting for duty”
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Deleted member 141906

Wait a minute. The Republicans should be red and the Democrats should be blue.
It's atlas colors, and the creator of the map tool made it in the 90s, he still updates it but for reasons that I have forgotten, he didn't update the colors.
This should be interesting. Kerry I suspect will handle certain affairs better and he may be able to delay the Financial Crisis coming (it’s somewhat inevitable, but he can still lessen the impact I feel).

I don’t think he’d get blamed, but if he does, I see 2008 going to the GOP and then 2012 going to the Dems after the GOP screws up the economy/worsens it
It's atlas colors, and the creator of the map tool made it in the 90s, he still updates it but for reasons that I have forgotten, he didn't update the colors.
It associates with international standards, where everywhere outside of the US (at least anglosphere) the conservative party is blue and the major left party is red.
good luck with the TL, if anything 2008 is wide open(unless kerry reverse bush tax cuts..that might delay the crash, but not that much...)
Oh man... Dubya dodges the second term slump and Kerry drinks deep that 2004 term poison chalice.

Katrina, the housing bubble bursting, the coming recession, and likely screwing up a pullout of Iraq? All you need is John Edwards to say, cheat on his dying wife with a staffer, and the Dems will be lucky if the GOP doesn't get a supermajority in Congress when they retake the White House in 2008.
Would be interesting to see how Kerry handles the GFC and Hurricane Katrina. A GOP Congress doesn’t bode well for him.

Dubya gracious in his concession speech.
Would be interesting to see how Kerry handles the GFC and Hurricane Katrina. A GOP Congress doesn’t bode well for him.

Dubya gracious in his concession speech.
Dubya doesn’t strike me as the type to make personal petty attacks or try to undermine someone who beat him.
Oh man... Dubya dodges the second term slump and Kerry drinks deep that 2004 term poison chalice.

Katrina, the housing bubble bursting, the coming recession, and likely screwing up a pullout of Iraq? All you need is John Edwards to say, cheat on his dying wife with a staffer, and the Dems will be lucky if the GOP doesn't get a supermajority in Congress when they retake the White House in 2008.
A supermajority is out of question. America is too polarized to elect a Republican supermajority. I think that the Republicans win 60 seats in the Senate and 270 in the House at best.
Chapter I: December 2004.
Decided to revisit this. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter One:
Alexis Herman.png
The Kerry transition team was hard at work in Washington, where the outgoing Bush administration continued to work cooperatively as promised by the President in his concession speech. Though the outgoing President was less than thrilled about being relegated the same political fate as his father before him - that of "one termer" - he was also sincerely invested in ensuring that the handover of power played out without acrimony, as his own transition had been plagued by tensions with the departing Clinton staffers. So bitter were they over the President's controversial victory in 2000 that they had actually gone as far as to remove the W keys off the computer keyboards across the White House in one final slight to the new President. Determined to avoid such gimmicks, Bush's administration stridently worked to cooperate and brief incoming appointees to the fullest extent possible. As a result of the commitment made by Bush, the incoming Kerry administration was able to quickly vet and announce a number of new officials at all levels of government. The President-elect, seeing the influence held by advisers like Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney during the previous four years, planned for a new culture of transparency and openness that promised an "open door" system in which he'd more accessible to aides and less dependent on his Chief of Staff to act as "gatekeeper." But this promise would be dispelled as fantasy from the immediate start of the transition process.

Former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman was announced as the next Chief of Staff, but her main priority was managing the administration’s relationship with the federal bureaucracy rather than engaging in political or electoral fights. Campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill was quickly named as the next White House Deputy Chief of Staff shortly after Herman's appointment, with Cahill taking on a more political role that allowed for her to function as both an ideological hatchetwoman and political strategist. Also named as Senior Advisers to the President-elect were Cameron Kerry, his brother, along with longtime friend and aide David McKeen. The communications team saw Stephanie Cutter assume the role of Communications Director whereas campaign spokesperson Dag Vega was named press secretary. Bob Shrum meanwhile was given the newly created title of “Chief Strategist,” a vaguely defined position which gave him the ability to work both in the White House and inside Kerry’s other political aspirations, such as shaping the groundwork for the eventual reelection campaign in 2008. His influence and power was tempered by the presence of Cahill, and Shrum was largely reduced to being a mouthpiece for the President whose primary function was to defend the administration on friendly television programs on networks like MSNBC.

At the helm of the transition process was Jim Johnson, a former executive at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as an important adviser to the campaign. The Minnesota lawyer and executive has long been rumored to be seeking a top post in the administration, and it was well known within the Beltway even before the election that Johnson was interested in the Treasury. Thus it was not a surprise when the President-elect announced Johnson would indeed take on the role of Treasury Secretary in mid-December, the first official announcement about the cabinet. Immediately after the announcement, the Johnson nomination was met with a chorus of opposition. Senate Republicans seized upon the fact that the nominee had received exuberant bonuses during his tenure at Fannie Mae, in which he allegedly deferred over $200 million in federally appropriated funds to reward top executives. Johnson was not the only cabinet nominee who had their hands in the cookie jar; the President-elect's rumored choice for Attorney General was also tangled up in the Fannie Mae bonuses scandal. Jamie Gorelick, who cut her teeth as Deputy Attorney General under Janet Reno, was unveiled as the President-elect’s choice to head the Justice Department, but she too fell under intense scrutiny. Unlike Johnson, Gorelick was in tune with the political reality. Choosing to withdraw her name from consideration as the next Congress prepared to convene, the President-elect’s transition team quickly found a replacement: taking Gorelick’s place would be one of her successors in the Justice Department’s second highest ranked position, former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder. Johnson however refused to take his name out of consideration initially, insisting that he had done no wrong and had nothing to hide.

Other nominees were less controversial. Former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke was nominated to serve as Secretary of State, which was well received by Republicans in the Senate. So was the nomination of former Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, who was selected to serve as Secretary of Defense. But the President-elect also sought out former rivals from the primary process, with former Vermont Governor Howard Dean being controversially nominated for the Department of Health and Human Services while former Congressman Richard Gephardt was selected to serve as the next Secretary of Labor. Other more notable nominations included Tim Wirth as Interior Secretary, Governor Gary Locke of Washington as Secretary of Commerce, Congresswoman Juanita Millender-MacDonald being placed at the Transportation Department, and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack being named Secretary of Agriculture. King County Executive Ron Sims was tasked with taking over the Department of Housing and Urban Development, while former Governor Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire agreed to lead the Department of Education. Wounded war hero Max Cleland was placed in charge of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, while longtime Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts took over the Department of Energy. Lastly, Congresswoman Jane Harman was nominated to serve as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Less notable positions also needed to be filled. Diplomat Richard Morningstar is appointed Ambassador to the United Nations, while the Environmental Protection Agency was left in the hands of Gina McCarthy, a longtime friend and environmental official who had served in the state government of Massachusetts. Fred Hochberg, the former Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration during the final two years of the Clinton presidency, was promoted to the top job at the SBA.

The cabinet choices by the incoming President reflected the pragmatic brand of liberalism that he intended to bring to Washington. But even early on during the transition process, a troubling duality seemed to emerge in his administration that would be a harbinger of things to come. While Commerce Secretary Gary Locke was tasked with pursuing economic growth and greater investment into small or locally owned businesses, Secretary of Labor-designee Richard Gephardt was already privately warning that Locke’s more lax approach to confronting China on the global marketplace could erode protections for American workers. Gephardt’s warning to the President-elect was weakened by the soon to be White House Chief of Staff Alexis Herman, who limited his access to Kerry to the point that he considered withdrawing his name from consideration before being convinced by Vice President-elect John Edwards to stay.

Other early examples of discord during the transition team included the rivalry that had arisen between Howard Dean and Senator Hillary Clinton over healthcare reform. The President-elect was anxious to start on a healthcare reform package that would dramatically expand insurance coverage to millions of Americans, a key campaign promise of his. It was no secret that Senator Clinton of New York, who herself led a failed effort to devise a universal healthcare system during her husband’s first term as President, was eying a spot in the cabinet. While Kerry considered Senator Clinton to be more than qualified, he saw a much better opportunity in his former primary rival Howard Dean. The former Vermont Governor was better suited to unite the party, and on top of that, he was a physician himself. Though Kerry’s ideal healthcare plan was more palatable to moderates and tied to the market, he admired Dean’s quest to introduce some form of public option and trusted the incoming HHS Secretary to help formulate and push such historic legislation through Congress. There was only one hang-up however - Congress was still mostly in Republican hands. The effective tie between Republicans and the Democrats left Vice President Edwards the tie breaking vote in the Senate, but the Republican House majority ensured that any major policy endeavor of the kind would need bipartisan support.

Of course, there was news going on outside of Washington once the election had ended. The Christmas holiday through New Years Eve offered the President-elect a chance to enjoy one final sojourn to Martha’s Vineyard for one last vacation as a private citizen. A new video tape of Ayman al- Zawahiri, the deputy leader of Al Qaeda, emerged during this period in which he egged on insurgent attacks against American troops in Iraq and also called for young Arabs to launch a wave of attacks against Israel as well. There was also the matter of the President-elect’s Senate seat, which he resigned from on December 26th. In an effort to bolster his bipartisan credentials and win over Democrats ahead of his 2006 reelection bid, Governor Romney angered many in his party by appointing Shannon O’Brian to the seat. Romney, who had defeated O’Brian in the gubernatorial election, also signed a bill passed by the state legislature scheduling a special election to replace him in the Senate for the duration of his term. Immediately, Republican businessman Charlie Baker announced he’d run for the seat as a Republican, while the interim Senator O’Brian took her name out of the running, perhaps hoping for a rematch against Romney in 2006. O'Brian's decision left moderate Congressman Stephen Lynch in a heated primary battle with the more progressive Congressman Jim McGovern for the Democratic nomination. The race, which was set to take place in March, immediately became the subject of scrutiny as the press declared it to be an indicator of the Democratic Party’s base’s leanings as well as a referendum on Kerry’s first hundred days in office. As 2004 turned towards 2005, the President-elect was soon back hard at work as he returned from Martha's Vineyard to began drafting his inaugural speec, while the incumbent prepared to return to Texas to live out his remaining days as a painter and fundraiser for various veteran’s causes. The President and First Lady, per tradition, hosted the Kerry family at the White House as the final days of the 43rd President’s spectacularly controversial term came at last to it’s final standstill. As Kerry took his final glimpses of the White House as a visitor, his mind turned towards the pressing realities and responsibilities that would so very soon fall upon him.

Kerry Cabinet.png
Chapter II: January 2005.
Chapter Two:

President-elect Kerry arrives at his inauguration.

Only two weeks before the inauguration of President-elect Kerry, the 109th Congress opened on January 3rd, with Hastert returning as Speaker while Harry Reid emerged as Majority Leader in the Senate (though his majority was not affirmed until the swearing in of Vice President Edwards at the inauguration seventeen days later). The Democrats were ecstatic that they had retaken the Presidency, but it didn’t take too long for their hopes to turn to frustration. 55 Republican Congressmen signed onto a challenge to the certification of Ohio’s electoral votes, citing allegations of voter fraud and other irregularities. Led by Senator Jim Inhoffe (R-OK), their efforts to force Speaker Hastert to hold a vote on the matter ultimately failed. Though they could not stop the transfer of power to President Kerry, they did succeed in energizing the conservative wing of the party. Amplified by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck on the airwaves, the rumors of electoral fraud in Ohio took on a life of its own. In the most extreme conservative quarters of the Republican Party, there was a pervasive concern that the man who would soon be the 44th President was not legitimately elected to the office that he was about to assume; of course, there had been just as many if not more Democrats who were bitter about the controversial Bush vs. Gore ruling four years earlier, an argument that many Republican leaders seized upon and used to dismiss media concerns over the increasingly conspiratorial rhetoric coming from the right.

On January 2nd, 2005, just a day before the Congress was to convene, the President-elect resigned his seat in the Senate. The following morning, incumbent Republican Governor Mitt Romney surprised and angered many in his party when he announced he would appoint his former rival in the 2002 gubernatorial race to the seat instead at a time when a tie existed in the chamber. Naming Shannon O'Brian to the seat, Governor Romney argued that it was unfair to appoint a Republican to a seat that had been in Democratic hands for decades, instead claiming that it was the duty of the people to determine the next Senator at the polls. Thus, the Governor pushed for the legislature to schedule a special election for March to fill the seat through 2009. O'Brian, who indicated upon her appointment that she would not run in the special election, prepared to go to Washington as speculation mounted over who would take the President-elect's Senate seat. Congressman Jim McGovern and Congressman Stephen Lynch entered the race, setting up a primary battle between the more progressive minded McGovern and the centrist Lynch on the Democratic side, while businessman Charles Baker was unopposed in the Republican primary. Though the Democrats were favored, the divided partisan makeup of the Senate ensured that the special election for the President-elect’s seat was widely watched.

As the inauguration neared, the Kerry transition team was in full gear. With all nominations to executive and diplomatic positions made, there was hope that the President could hit the ground running with a fully staffed team within a week after taking office. It was in the final week before the inaugural festivities when the Washington Post began dredging up old controversies related to Jim Johnson’s bonuses at Fannie Mae. Republican Senators were galvanized by the new information, which had shown that Johnson had significantly downplayed the amount of money he received from Fannie Mae as bonuses by nearly $15 million dollars. Several progressive Democratic Senators including Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) publicly called for Kerry to pull the nomination in response, and the President-elect dispatched Mary Beth Cahill to Capital Hill in a desperate effort to smooth over the situation with liberal Democrats. The meetings proved fruitless, and the controversy continued to grow. On January 19th, with less than twenty four hours before the inauguration to go, Jim Johnson announced he would remove himself from consideration as Treasury Secretary, thus sending the President-elect and his team back to the drawing board to find a suitable nominee.

The following morning, the President and President-elect made the traditional trip with one another to the capital. Their conversation was light, almost jovial as if between two lifelong friends, as they progressed towards the Capitol building. The crowds cheered as President-elect Kerry was administered the oath of office, with the applause matched by the roar of the military band striking up a rousing rendition of Hail to the Chief. On the national mall, a 21 gun salute to the new Commander in Chief was fired in celebration as President John Kerry prepared to deliver his inaugural address. In his speech, Kerry reaffirmed America’s commitment to NATO as the newly minted President vowed to pursue a new approach to foreign policy, vowing to lead by conviction and work constructively with allies. His speech, which was generally well received by the public and press, was followed with a whirlwind of parades and black tie inaugural balls. But when the sun rose over Washington the next day, the reality of the responsibilities of the Presidency set in. Determined to start his Presidency with bold moves, the new President launched his term by signing a string of executive orders, including a reversal on the “Mexico City” policy which allowed for the funding of birth control and abortion procedures in foreign countries, as well as another order that called for an internal audit of the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping, which acting Attorney General James Comey complied with. Afterwards, an Oval Office meeting with top aides was conducted to coordinate the early stages of an effort to work with Congress to pass a healthcare reform bill.

They would find that this would be easier said than done.

Though the new President was a twenty year veteran of Congress whereas Bill Clinton was a former Governor and spent his career mostly outside of Washington, the healthcare issue was a touchy and delicate one which inspired passionate debate among Americans. Having watched from the Senate as then First Lady Hillary Clinton led the White House’s unsuccessful effort to pass healthcare reform in the early 1990s, Kerry was determined to do things differently. The President believed that the Congress should lead the effort to pass such legislation, and that the White House’s role would be to mediate. Trusting in his fellow Senators, the President encouraged Senator Reid and the Democratic caucus to reach out to moderate Republicans like Susan Collins and Arlen Specter in order to put the Republican led House on the defensive rather than offensive. This decision ultimately proved to be more divisive within his administration than it was in Congress. Senator Clinton, citing her previous efforts, quickly inserted herself into the drafting of the bill and became the de facto leader of the effort, with only Senator Reid himself having the power to rein her in. This left Health and Human Services Secretary Howard Dean cut off from the process, and though he used the early cabinet meetings to argue before the President the case for universal coverage via a public option, it was of little use. Knowing that such a plan could never pass through the Republican controlled House of Representatives, the President denied Dean’s ambitions to lead the charge on healthcare, which quickly left the former Vermont Governor and one time presidential rival in a powerless, boringly bureaucratic role in a process that should have demanded his oversight. Dean’s exclusion from this process was an early example of the 44th President’s management style. With Alexis Herman taking on the role of Chief of Staff, the White House saw a return to a more traditional role for the position. Acting both as gatekeeper and a top adviser, Herman quickly took to acting as a barrier between the President and many members of his cabinet when dissent emerged within the administration. This would prove to be a point of contention within the Kerry White House as the President’s term wore on.

While the Senate Democrats worked incrementally on healthcare, there was more luck in pushing an education bill. With the active help of Jeanne Shaheen, the Education Secretary, Senators Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Betty Castor (D-FL) introduced the Great Teacher for Every Child Act. The legislation would raise teacher salaries in underperforming schools by $5,000 dollars a year, which was met with opposition from the teacher’s union because it would entangle school performance and teacher salaries. The bill would also establish a National Education Trust Fund. which would exist to help fund schools in states facing budgetary cuts, a proposal that many Republicans believed to be unnecessary. But the overall plan was acceptable to many Senate Republicans, even as many of the body’s more conservative members (particularly Senators Allen (R-VA), Coburn (R-OK), DeMint (R-SC), and Sessions (R-AL) complained about the bill’s nearly $230 billion dollar price tag. After a short period of debate, the Senate adopted the act by a vote of 69-31, sending it to the Republican controlled House of Representatives after eleven days of debate. The Republican controlled House quickly fractured along factional lines during the early phase of the Great Teacher for Every Child Act, a sign that Speaker Hastert’s caucus was increasingly ungovernable in the wake of President Bush’s defeat. Conservative Republicans, already fired up against President Kerry’s proposed healthcare overhaul, were quick to vocalize their opposition to what they perceived as a federal takeover of education. With his caucus clearly at odds with the National Education Trust Fund, several Republicans proposed that the National Education Trust Fund be used to keep schools in compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act. On January 31st, the new President met privately with Speaker Hastert and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid to work out a possible compromise.

Presidential Approval Rating (January, 2005)

Approve: 55%
Disapprove: 37%
Undecided: 8%

Credit to @Sabot Cat for some of the domestic policy ideas here.
What were the different congressional results?
Sorry, can't believe I didn't realize that I didn't include that in the initial post!

2004 Senate Race

2004 Senate Elections:
Republican: 50 (-)
Democratic: 49 (-)
Independent: 1 (-)

Freshman Senators (2005): Ken Salazar (D-CO), Betty Castor (D-FL), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Barack Obama (D-IL), Daniel Mongiardo (D-KY), David Vitter (R-LA), Erskine Bowles (D-NC), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Jim DeMint (R-SC), John Thune (R-SD)

2004 House Elections
Republican: 228 (-1)
Democratic: 206 (+1)
Independent: 1 (-)
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Chapter III: February 2005.
Chapter Three:

President Kerry and Treasury Secretary designee Stuart Eizenstat.
The winter snow flurried down over Washington as January turned to February. While the new President had made marginal progress on some agenda items through use of executive orders, the Republican majority in the House and the Senate being tied 50-50 ensured that any real progress would come only after a protracted political fight. But while Kerry had gotten off to a slow start, there was still plenty of reason to be optimistic. Senate Minority leader Bill Frist (R-TN) had expressed interest in pursuing a plan similar to the health insurance program in Massachusetts, the brainchild of Republican Governor Mitt Romney. But Frist's desire to work with the administration on healthcare came at a cost. Immediately, there was conservative outcry as Republican incumbents were deluged with letters from constituents voicing their anger at any potential compromise. Egged on by radio hosts and television pundits, the conservative wing of the Republican Party, embittered by the defeat of President Bush and emboldened by the GOP's hold on Congress, declared war on the nascent administration as the healthcare fight got underway,

After Jim Johnson’s nomination was rejected by the Senate, President Kerry was forced to seek a new appointee. Though he had initially offered the job to Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, the Senator declined. Unknown to the public was the fact that the longtime Senator, who had maintained deep ties with the finance industry, was the beneficiary of a program called "Friends of Angelo" at CountryWide that offered mortgages on favorable terms to several figures. Knowing that the revelation of such information would surely derail his nomination and embarrass the administration, Dodd chose to remain in the Senate, and instead suggested the President appoint Larry Summers, a former Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton and well known Harvard economist. But Kerry found an alternative in Stuart Eizenstat, a former adviser to President Carter who served as Deputy Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton. Though Republicans raised their concerns and criticized his record, he ultimately cleared confirmation by a vote of 62-38 after a series of relatively smooth hearings and a robust debate within the Senate.

But public attention soon shifted from Washington to Rome, where Pope John Paul II battled pneumonia in the ICU of a Rome hospital. As the ailing Pontiff's health failed, America’s second Catholic President led the nation in prayer for the Pope at his first National Prayer Breakfast at the White House. The rumors trickling out of the Vatican were of personal interest to the President, and the continuously declining health of the popular leader of the Catholic faith remained largely a somber backdrop to other events playing out at home and abroad. The President found himself praying for others beyond the Pope; with each passing week since taking office, there was at least one soldier injured or killed. It was only the fifth day of his Presidency when he was, for the first time, forced by tragic circumstances to write the family of a fallen service member killed by an improvised explosive device in Iraq. By the end of February, he had written over a dozen or so letters of this nature.

The administration’s national security team had spent much of the first month clarifying strategic foreign policy goals and recalibrating the nation’s approach to using military force. Vowing to adopt a multilateral strategy, Secretary of State Holbrooke was dispatched to Brussels on February 7th to confirm the new administration’s commitment to NATO and the War on Terror. In his private conversations with Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom, the President reportedly gave the UK the greenlight to begin their own draw-down of forces from Iraq. Though the contents of their discussions were not disclosed officially to the public, a leak from Downing Street claims that Kerry had told Blair of his intention to remove American forces from Iraq by the start of 2008. The White House denied these reports, but insisted that the eventual withdrawal of American combat forces remains the ultimate foreign policy objective of the new Kerry administration. Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke made an official tour of the Middle East, stopping off in Afghanistan, Jordan, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to inform critical regional leaders about the redirection taken by the administration in regards to Iraq.

The fight for control of Iraq, much less Baghdad itself, remained as fierce as it was under the previous President. In fact, the changing of the guard in the Oval Office resulted in a resurgence of insurgent and militia activity across Iraq, with Islamists eager to prove their devotion to the cause of Jihad to the new President. Sunni insurgents were not the only hostile enemy in Iraq; sectarian militias, long repressed by the now imprisoned Saddam Hussein, now roamed the streets of Baghdad with Iranian supplied rifles. Desiring to both defend the Iranian revolution and the rights of the Shia majority, these militias in Iraq became increasingly influential, and their willingness to fight coalition forces as well as the Iraqi government was an alarming sign to the NATO commanders on the ground.

It was not long after Holbrooke returned from the Middle East that the White House announced plans for an early March summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin to be held in Slovenia. A firm believer in the Clinton administration’s approach to NATO expansion, the President was wary of the former KGB agent turned Russian President. Citing Iranian nuclear ambitions, the preceding administration had worked with Poland and the Czech Republic to develop a missile shield. but President Putin was not fooled; after all, Russian intelligence, like American intelligence, signaled that Iran was still years away from constructing an atomic bomb. In the eyes of the Russian government, the shield was just further NATO encroachment on the former Soviet Union. It was the hope of the President that a deal could be reached with Putin in order to isolate the Iranian nuclear program, though both UN Ambassador Richard Morningstar and Secretary of State Holbrooke warned Kerry that Putin simply could not be trusted. The nuclear shield in Eastern Europe would prove to be the biggest obstacle to the President's efforts to diplomatically isolate Iran; within the confines of the Oval Office, the new President was indecisive over the utility of the missile shield, wavering on whether or not isolating Iran was worth alienating Russia any further.

The fight within Congress was easing up; while healthcare and education programs continue through the long drafting process, another opportunity for bipartisan cooperation presented itself. In introducing the Military Families Bill of Rights to the House of Representatives, Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL) joined Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) sought new protections and rights for military families. Democrats and Republicans quickly flocked around the idea, which among other provisions increased death benefits for American personnel killed in action from $12,000 to $250,000 dollars. The legislation also guaranteed war widows the right to remain in government housing for a year after and established a “Military Families Bill of Rights.” Another component of the bill, which would have automatically made the children of fallen soldiers eligible for the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP). Despite having a price tag of over $10 billion dollars, the plan was well received nationally and promptly passed by the House on February 396-39 on Monday, February 28th, 2005. February ended with progress being made as the President was hailed for his success in pushing the Military Families Bill of Rights through the Republican dominated House of Representatives by a vote of 429-0, though six members of the House were absent. Though the Senate still had to approve the bill, the broad support among both parties for the legislation ensures that it will reach the President’s desk in a matter of days. As winter began to turn towards Spring, the Kerry administration both reveled in this early victory as well as much as they dug in for the education and healthcare fights still to come.

Relying on @Sabot Cat's timeline for detail here on some domestic policy issues again. "The Real Deal" inspired a lot of the domestic policy aspects of this timeline, though events of the timeline are dramatically different (sorry, no Gore '08).