Reporting for Duty: The Presidency of John Kerry and Beyond

Chapter IV: March 2005.
Chapter Four:
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Congressman Stephen Lynch & businessman Charlie Baker faced off in a special election.
The spring presented the President with new opportunities as negotiations in Congress continued over the healthcare reform plan. On Tuesday, March 1st, Congressman Stephen Lynch defeated Congressman Jim McGovern in a heated primary to replace President Kerry, while the Republicans overwhelmingly nominated Charlie Baker over radically anti-gay pastor Scott Lively. Though Kerry remained officially neutral in the primary, it was no secret that the White House and the Democratic Party establishment preferred Lynch to the more progressive McGovern, viewing the more moderate Lynch as a more reliable voice in the Senate than McGovern. Lynch was also viewed as a more electable figure; by the standards of the reliably Democratic state of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker was a relatively strong candidate with an independent streak that threatened to lure away moderate voters who might otherwise support the Democratic Party. The conclusion of the Senate primaries set in motion a month-long campaign before the April 5th vote, with most polls showing Congressman Lynch maintaining a solid lead over Baker. Despite the endorsement of incumbent Governor Mitt Romney and the backing of wealthy donors, Baker struggled to galvanize voters in the President’s home state, where the administration was extremely popular.

The fight for an education overhaul continued, with Senators Castor (D-FL) and Gregg (R-NH) acting as conduits between the Republicans and the President. A compromise was reached after a month of negotiations behind the scenes in which the Republicans agreed to a National Education Trust Fund so long as state governments were guaranteed the right to use the funds on education programs tailored to their local school districts' individual needs. The compromise draft of the Great Teacher for Every Child Act was passed by the House of Representatives by a margin of 370-65 and referred back to the Senate, where it was quickly shepherded through the conference committee process. While some progressives in the Senate like Senator Boxer (D-CA), Feingold (D-WI), and Leahy (D-VT) voiced opposition to what they deemed Republican-lite legislation, it became increasingly likely that the bill would pass the Senate in early April. Congressional Democrats were more divided over how to move forward with healthcare. Secretary Dean found himself still largely sidelined during this process, being able to address his concerns with President Kerry only for brief moments at weekly cabinet meetings. His attempt to gain a private meeting with the President was stymied by Chief of Staff Alexis Herman, who was skeptical of Dean’s proposed public option. As Herman tightly controlled access to the Oval Office, Dean was effectively left out out of the drafting process from the very onset of the Kerry administration.

While Dean and the liberal wing of the party hoped to convince the President to intervene and push for a public option, the President’s reticence to interfere with the Democratic congressional caucus’s efforts to draft legislation did little to endear him to progressives in the party. Dean weighed resigning from the cabinet just two months into the President’s term, but ultimately decided to stay on in the hopes that progressive allies within the Congress would attempt to push for a public option themselves. But Secretary Dean’s fight for Medicare-for-All was not hampered by the President’s Chief of Staff alone. Senate Minority Leader Bill Frist, a physician by trade as well, had repeatedly expressed a desire to work with the administration in the pursuit of expanding coverage and insurance options for lower and middle class Americans. The possibility that Frist could bring in a large number of Republican Senators made it even harder for Dean to push for Medicare expansion due to the risk of alienating moderate Republicans who might be otherwise inclined to support the plan. Privately speaking to the GOP caucus of the Senate, Frist defended his support and warned that inaction on healthcare could impact the 2006 midterm elections. His remarks, ultimately, would be the seeds of his downfall. Within days, a number of conservative Republican politicians back home in Tennessee began criticizing the Senator more openly, and rumors of a primary challenger emerging discouraged bipartisan cooperation with the administration on the grounds that it could impact the GOP’s prospects in the upcoming midterm election. The meeting would prove to have long term consequences for the internal dynamic of the Republican Senate caucus. Many conservatives, already questioning Frist’s leadership, lost confidence in him. Back in Tennessee, a number of conservative Republican figures in the House and State Legislature began to sense vulnerability in Frist, who was up for reelection in 2006. It did not take long for Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to begin making his move to replace Frist, quietly sowing the seeds of support among the more conservative wing of the party.

Internationally, the world seemed as chaotic as Washington D.C. was. In Afghanistan and Iraq, insurgents continued to inflict casualties on NATO coalition forces in both countries. While the war in Afghanistan was quieter, having largely devolved into a cat-and-mouse game with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, Iraq was seemingly getting worse by the day. Sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni militias increasingly flared up while Iraqi security forces were helpless to stop it. After consulting with allied leaders (primarily with British Prime Minister Blair, French President Chirac, and German Chancellor Schroder), the President announced a plan to replace the western military presence with an Arab Stabilization Force that would be composed of peacekeepers from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. A small American garrison in Baghdad would be retained in order to help train and equip the new Iraqi army, who would eventually take on the duties of the proposed Arab Stabilization Force. The plan was pushed before the United Nations by Ambassador Richard Morningstar, who promoted what President Kerry and Secretary Holbrooke called “the roadmap to peace” fiercely before the United Nations Security Council.

In the backdrop of the war, the Pope’s health began to turn for the worse. Having been significantly weakened by pneumonia, Pope John Paul II returned to the Vatican after several weeks in the hospital. His body began to fail him as he developed septic shock, and for days he drifted in and out of consciousness. Crowds began to pack Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican to hold vigil for the ailing Pontiff, but finally, on the night of March 31st, Pope John Paul II at last relinquished his soul. The death of the beloved Pope sent the Catholic world into deep mourning as President Kerry, himself a Catholic, led the world’s tribute to the Polish born Pope in the aftermath of his demise. The Pope’s demise sparks a flurry of speculation about the ensuing election of a successor in the coming weeks.
 
Kinda funny I see this as I plan on doing a Al Gore 2004 timeline about I am done with my Miracle Man John McCain 2008 timeline!
 
Chapter V: April 2005.
Chapter Five:
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Pope Benedict XVI.

The month began with the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II, which was conducted at the Vatican basilica with a large number of world leaders in attendance. President Kerry was joined by Presidents Jimmy Carter, George HW. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush as he led the American delegation to the funeral in his first overseas trip as President. Fifteen days later, white smoke began to pour out of the Vatican's famed Sistine Chapel as bells tolled and crowds flocked to Saint Peter’s Square once more to witness the announcement of a new Pope. For two weeks, the media speculated that Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany or Cardinal Bergolio of Argentina were leading contenders for the Papal Crown, and after multiple rounds of balloting, it was Cardinal Ratzinger who prevailed over several other potential contenders. Taking the name Benedict XVI, the Pope paid homage to his predecessor in his first remarks as Pontiff as talk of canonization of the late John Paul II spreads among the Cardinals. Like his predecessor, Benedict XVI is a relatively conservative figure within the Catholic Church, and is anticipated to be an institutionalist in terms of his style of managing the Church's affairs.

There were wedding bells tolling elsewhere. At Windsor Castle, Prince Charles marries his longtime companion Camilla Parker-Bowels in a civil ceremony. Due to their respective divorces, it was agreed that the Prince’s new spouse would take the title of Duchess of Cornwall rather than Queen upon the Prince of Wale's eventual succession to the British throne. The British public largely supports the marriage in spite of the controversial divorce of the heir and the late Princess Diana, who subsequently died in a 1997 car crash. Despite the lingering legacy of Diana, the scaled down royal wedding is marked as a happy and unifying event, and the British public by and large is supportive of the union. While the royal wedding was the subject of considerable media attention, Capitol Hill was abuzz with activity that went mostly unnoticed.

One political story that was not ignored however was the high profile race to replace John Kerry in the Senate. With interim Senator Shannon O’Brian’s tenure set to come to end, Democratic nominee Stephen Lynch handily defeated Charlie Baker. Lynch’s victory ensured that the Democrats would continue to hold on to the seat all the way through 2008, and prevented the Republicans from gaining a majority in the upper chamber. A moderate Democrat by the standards of the Bay State, Lynch is sworn in the following day by Vice President John Edwards and immediately took his seat in the Senate. The Democratic victory in the special election was never really in any doubt, though the partisan makeup of the Senate ensured that the race received an unusually large amount of coverage from the media. In addition to being well publicized, the special election was also abnormally expensive, with both parties dumping millions of dollars into the race.


2005 MA Senate Special Election.png

The spring saw a lot of diplomatic activity as Secretary of State Holbrooke’s staff and lower level appointees began to assume their offices. Holbroke was dispatched to Beijing in mid-April with the mission of securing Chinese support for economic sanctions against North Korean until the regime of Kim Jong Il dismantled his nuclear program. This was a tall order; the Chinese regime had no desire to have a united, American aligned Korea on their border, seeing North Korea as a useful bulwark against America. Yet the enigmatic and unpredictable regime in North Korea also presented the even worse threat of nuclear war along their border. The Communist Party elites in Beijing were keen on upholding the status quo, which meant that North Korea for the time being would be continually dependent on Chinese aid, which kept them (mostly) compliant while also keeping the South Koreans, Japanese, and Americans on their toes. While Holbrooke’s efforts failed in Beijing, he had better luck in Seoul and Tokyo, where a tentative agreement to construct a missile defense shield in and around the Sea of Japan was reached. Days later, an infuriated North Korea launched a missile over Japan as an open display of their nuclear ambitions and military capability.

April saw the debate surrounding healthcare reform continuing to rage. While the Democrats in the House and Senate were divided over whether or not to pursue a public option, the Republicans were unified in their opposition to what they deemed “socialist medicine.” House Speaker Dennis Hastert declared that any attempt to “federalize” healthcare would be dead on arrival, before demanding greater concessions from Democrats that would empower state governments by offering block grants to each state. Minority Leader Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid both outright rejected Hastert’s proposal, with Pelosi claiming that the GOP was holding healthcare hostage. As it became increasingly clear that both parties were fracturing over the issue with competing visions, the President began to ponder whether or not his initial strategy of giving Congress autonomy over the drafting of the plan was worthwhile. With his approval ratings slowly declining just four months into his term, the minds of many in Washington were thinking about the not so immediate future.

Though the 2006 midterms were over a year and a half away, the President’s lackluster first one hundred days began to excite prospective Republican candidates. In Florida, Congressman Adam Putnam announced he’d seek the Senate seat held by Bill Nelson, setting him on course for a clash with Lt. Governor Toni Jennings and Congressman Mark Foley in the Republican primary. Lt. Governor Michael Steele of Maryland was also recruited as a candidate, giving the GOP a shot at picking up a seat in the state for the first time in decades. Some Republican incumbents like Lincoln Chafee faced primary challengers from the right, while others like Rick Santorum and George Allen both face strong Democratic opponents in the form of Bob Casey Jr. and Jim Webb, a former Navy Secretary. In Vermont, Republican Governor Jim Douglas was set to face off against independent Congressman Berne Sanders, a self described socialist. All the while, the Republican grassroots, still aggrieved over President Bush’s defeat, began questioning Kerry’s motivations in pursuing healthcare. This election based anger, combined with the anxiety and jingoistic mindset of post-9/11 America, formed a perfect storm that was about to uproot Washington.

While healthcare was a polarizing issue, the education plan remained popular. After the House and Senate worked in conference to hammer out a final agreement on the bill, the Great Teacher for Every Child cleared the Senate by a 63-37 vote. Signing the bill into law surrounded by children from a local D.C. elementary school, the President and Secretary of Education Shaheen hailed the passage of the bill as a major step forward in improving the education system. With his first major legislative victory now behind him, the President's first 100 days or so in office concluded with only minimal progress being made. Hoping to reset his administration's direction, the President looked towards settling the war in Iraq once and for all...
 
Chapter VI: May 2005.
Chapter Six:
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President Kerry and President Saakashvili of Georgia.
On May 1st, as President Putin oversaw the annual May Day military parade from the Kremlin, President Kerry found himself enroot to Europe for his first overseas trip as President. The annual May Day parade in Moscow was larger than usual, with nuclear capable missiles being paraded through Red Square in a manner not dissimilar to North Korea. This was no coincidence - as President Kerry watched the parade from Air Force One as it glided over German airspace bound for the Ukraine, his National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Secretary of State Holbrooke explained the significance of the threat. President Kerry hastily rewrote his arrival speech to affirm the administration’s commitment to NATO expansion and a nuclear shield in Eastern Europe in response to Putin's not so discrete signaling, as well as embracing Yulia Tymoshenko, the reformist, pro-EU Prime Minister of the Ukraine, as an important regional ally. Tymoshenko, who had expressed support for Ukraine obtaining NATO membership, was known to be a fierce opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his regional ambitions. Though President Kerry was eager to see both Ukraine and Georgia admitted to the treaty, Tymoshenko’s Russian funded opposition vowed to stall or stop Ukrainian membership in the nation’s legislature.

The President’s visit to Georgia would be defined by a notorious and harrowing incident; having addressed a crowd in Tblisi’s Liberty Square, President Kerry was seconds away from exiting the stage with the Georgian President when Vladimir Arutyunian, aged 27, pulled the pin from a hand grenade and hurled it towards the stage. The subsequent explosion, which occurred within fifty feet of Presidents Kerry and Saakashvili killed a French photographer and injured 31 additional people. Within seconds, Secret Service Agents rushed both men off stage and evacuated the President and First Lady to an unknown location as American and international news channels broke into their coverage to discuss the assassination attempt as the status of the President's condition was unknown. It soon became clear that the President had escaped injury, and despite the assassination attempt (the first time in nearly 25 years that a President came under direct attack) Kerry continued onward with the visit and spoke critically of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alleged support for separatist groups in Abkhazia and Ossetia.


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Would-be assassin Vladimir Arutyunian seconds before the incident.

Back in Washington, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) introduced the Healthy Children and Families Act, which quickly became known as the Clinton-Tauscher Act in political parlance. The plan would require Congress to dramatically raise funding of the Children’s Health Insurance Plan creating what Clinton deemed “kiddy-care,” a plan which would use Medicare funds to cover all medical, hospital, and pharmaceutical expenses for children and teens under the age of 18 within the United States. The plan immediately won the support of Secretary Dean, who viewed the proposal as a chance to expose the American populace to the benefits of a public option. Both Clinton and Tauscher took to the airwaves and media in order to highlight the plan, with Senator Clinton appearing on programs like CNN’s Larry King Live, and NBC’s Meet the Press. On the other side of the aisle, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) led the charge in opposition, warning that the CHIP expansion plan was essentially a dry run towards a Canadian style single payer healthcare system. Other Senators, including Allen (R-VA), Brownback (R-KS), Coburn (R-OK), DeMint (R-SC), and Sessions (R-AL) rallied together against the Clinton-Tauscher plan.

Fired up by radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, and television hosts like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly, the conservative wing of the Republican Party roared in disapproval of the plan. Within days of the bill being introduced, small, sporadic protests across the country began to pop up. Growing in number, marchers in cities and suburbs took to the sides of roads, court houses, and state legislatures with handmade signs, most of which read some sort of variation of “hands off my healthcare.” These protests became something of a movement over the course of May, with the largest gathering taking place in Boston, where demonstrators clad in colonial era garb dumped thousands of bottles of Iced Tea into the harbor. Thus, the “Tea Party” movement was born. It did not take long for the growing number of outraged conservatives to flock to organizations like Freedom Works or Americans for Prosperity, both which became powerfully effective grassroots organizations.

Back in the former Soviet Union, events began to escalate when demonstrators took to the streets in Uzbekistan, having been inspired by the recent Orange Revolution in Ukraine. The country’s leader Islam Karimov ordered troops to open fire on the crowds of demonstrators, resulting in an unknown number of civilians being massacred. Worsening the situation was a surge of activity among the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who used the chaos to launch several attacks on Uzbek military forces near the southern border of Afghanistan. The reports trickling out of the central Asian nation progressively worsened, with rumors of arrested demonstrators being tortured and even boiled alive by the regime. After President Kerry spoke out forcefully against the human rights abuses and called for sanctions, President Karimov, acting perhaps on the behalf of Vladimir Putin, ordered the United States to abandon its military facility at Karshi-Khanabad Air Base. President Kerry and Secretary of Defense Sam Nunn were compelled to comply, in spite of the strategic value of the location. The expulsion forced the State Department to rapidly work to construct another regional airbase in one of the more friendly neighboring Central Asian nations, while the Secretary of Defense hurriedly worked to evacuate US personnel and technology located at the Uzbek airfield.

The month saw some political activity, with the primaries for the 2005 New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections being held. In New Jersey, former US Attorney and establishment favorite Chris Christie bests former Mayor Steve Lonegan in a heated GOP primary while Senator Jon Corzine went unchallenged on the Democratic side. Down south in Virginia, Richmond Mayor Tim Kaine and State Attorney General Jerry Kilgore won their respective primaries over minor perennial candidates. Though neither race would be decided until November, the off-year elections were widely expected to be an early referendum on the first year of Kerry’s tenure. As the month of May came to a close, the President looked ahead with a degree of angst to a long, drawn out summer.
 
@Nazi Space Spy

I like what you’re doing with this TL. Kerry in ‘04 has major consequences that America just four or eight years later would radically different politically yet it’s been unexplored besides two TLs I can recall. The research on the chapters from what I see is pretty good and I’m excited to see the future of the TL.
 
Chapter VII: June 2005.
Chapter Seven:
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Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine.
In June, the healthcare fight came to a standstill. After months of intraparty feuding, the President had lost confidence in Congress’s ability to craft a comprehensive healthcare reform bill. As a result, the President deployed his Chief of Staff Alexis Herman and his brother Cameron Kerry (who served as the most influential domestic policy adviser) to unite the Democratic caucus around a common goal. To accomplish this, Senator Clinton and Congresswoman Tauschers’ plan was integrated as the basis for the reform package, which would grant Medicare coverage to all American children. In addition, adults aged eighteen years and older were required by an individual mandate to purchase health insurance, though an amendment was added which allowed young Americans to stay on their parents insurance until the age of 25 later on. A number of tax cuts, loophole closures, and rebates were implemented to ease the burden on working class families trying to purchase health insurance, while companies were required by law to no longer discriminate against those with preexisting conditions. Lastly, online insurance market places and cooperatives were established to make it easier for those subject to the individual mandate to find affordable plans. The Affordable Care Act, as it was officially titled, was at last brought forward for a vote in the Senate on Wednesday, June 15th, after a robust debate, where it passed 54-46 after Senators Chafee (R-RI), Collins (R-ME), Snowe (R-ME), and Specter (R-PA) broke ranks with the Republican leadership. Despite this victory, the Republican controlled House remained skeptical at best and outright opposed at worst. The “Hastert rule” was employed once again, with the Speaker refusing to bring the bill up for a vote, stalling the process much to the White House's dismay.

With the White House now unwillingly in the mix due to the failure of Congressional Democrats to craft a bipartisan bill, President Kerry employed his long history in Washington, reaching out to moderate Republican Representatives in the hope of attracting the twelve Republicans votes needed to overcome the GOP majority. As opposition to the plan increased among the Republican base, it became harder and harder for some, such Congresswoman Connie Morella (R-MD), to cross the aisle due to the risk of a primary challenger emerging from the right. The White House began an aggressive campaign against what the President deemed “a do nothing Congress” while aligned PACs began flooding the airwaves to counteract the Republican led media campaign against the Affordable Care Act. Negotiations with Speaker Hastert as well as Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA), Tom DeLay (R-TX), and Roy Blunt (R-MO) broke down on day one after the Republicans made it clear that any form of a public option would simply not be entertained.

The President distracted himself with foreign policy concerns; traveling to the Middle East, Kerry visits Israel, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia for high level talks with the Saudi King, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari about the future of the American military presence in the region. With Iraq teetering on full blown civil war between Shia and Sunni militias, Secretary of Defense Sam Nunn warned that an early withdrawal of troops from Iraq would only worsen the situation and give rise to greater Iranian regional influence. Instead, both Secretary Holbrooke and Secretary Nunn argued that the American presence in Iraq should continue until 2007 at the earliest. Secretary Nunn even raised the possibility of using a “surge” strategy to weaken Al Qaeda and stabilize the country before a “Arab Security Force” composed of Kuwaiti, Omani, Saudi, and UAE troops who would take over the role of the NATO coalition forces.

While Republican and conservative anxiety ran at an all time high over the healthcare effort, the pro-war fervor of the Republican Party began to abate. With casualties in Iraq growing worse, the American public became increasingly confused and cynical about the end-goal of the operation while the continuous search for the supposed weapons of mass destruction turned up empty handed. On the other hand, a majority of Republicans and Democrats alike still supported the war in Afghanistan and viewed the elimination of Al Qaeda as a top national security priority. The war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda has been largely quieter than Iraq, and progress was being made as the western coalition in stabilizing large parts of the country. Whereas Kerry was committed to ending American involvement in the war in Iraq, he was less keen on withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan as long as Osama Bin Laden remained on the run.

As June gave way to July, it was clear that the “honeymoon” phase of Kerry’s presidency had ended. Despite the popularity of the Great Teacher for Every Child Act, its provisions either had not taken effect yet or failed to make any immediate substantial changes. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Edward McElroy remained an outspoken critic of the bill, warning that the legislation would ultimately tie teacher’s salaries to the academic performance of their students. Labor Secretary Richard Gephardt attempted to reconcile the administration and the AFT, meeting privately with members of the AFL-CIO board, of which the AFT was a major component. Yet the Secretary of Labor, despite his long record in Congress as a stalwart of the union cause, was unable to bridge the divide. Similar talks with Education Jeanne Shaheen failed to bring any change, with the Secretary explaining afterwards that
“sometimes you gotta say no to your best friends.”
 
Chapter VIII: July 2005.
Chapter Eight:
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The 2005 Tea Party March on Washington.

The summer was well underway for millions of American school children, who in about six weeks time would be returning to a changed education system. As America prepared to mark Independence Day, Congress remained hard at work as the August recess neared. The fight for healthcare reform had largely stalled, and there was little hope that some form of legislation, compromise or not, would pass before summer’s end. The administration remained dedicated to the passage of healthcare reform, using the summer slowdown as a means to put pressure on wavering opponents as they prepared to return to their districts after Congress adjourned. But they were not the only ones engaged in the process. On Independence Day, hundreds of thousands of American conservatives and “Tea Party” activists converged in Washington for a massive demonstration against healthcare reform. Organized by the Koch funded Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, the crowd was addressed by a number of rising conservative figures, including Texas Governor Rick Perry, Senator George Allen, Senator Rick Santorum, and Jim DeMint, Congressman Ron Paul, and former Congressman Jack Kemp among other notables. The rally, the biggest of its kind since the burgeoning Tea Party movement began, was a galvanizing experience for Republicans in the House and grassroots activists alike.

The previous month had seen the President traveling to the Middle East, where he outlined his objectives and recommitted the United States’ mission to leave Iraq as a more stable and more democratic nation than before the 2003 invasion. He recommitted the United States to this goal at the G8 Summit in Scotland, where he joined his allied counterparts to lay out his vision for the future; all the while a figure from Iraq’s past, Saddam Hussein, continued to linger within the confines of a prison cell until his trial began, which was to commence in October. Secretary of State Holbrooke returned to Baghdad once again for the first round of high level talks with the Prime Minister about the possibility of reaching a status of forces agreement within two years. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, was hesitant about the Secretary of State’s advice to accept more American troops in Iraq however. Despite fierce fighting between Iraq’s two main religious sects, al-Jaafari insisted that Iraq could handle such affairs on their own. But the Prime Minister's position was alarming to Washington, particularly due to al-Jaafari’s longstanding ties to Shia cleric Al Sadr. At the advice of National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Secretary Nunn, the President agreed to slow down negotiations until a solution to restore security in Iraq could be reached.

On July 7th, the War on Terror’s epicenter shifted from Iraq and Afghanistan to the London Tube when Al Qaeda trained suicide bombers detonated themselves on subways and on a double-decker bus. The blasts killed 60 people and injured hundreds more in the worst Al Qaeda attack since 9/11 and the Madrid train bombings. Speaking with Prime Minister Tony Blair on the phone, the President offered the full services of the FBI and CIA in conjunction with Scotland Yard to root out any existing terror cells remaining in the United Kingdom. The attacks enraged Britons across the island, but support for continued British involvement remained at an all-time low. Largescale anti-terror raids take place across the United Kingdom in the weeks following the 7/7 bombings, resulting in the disruption of several other Al Qaeda cells active in Britain. In the United States, the terror threat level is increased as security precautions are taken in major American cities to avoid similar attacks on key transport hubs.

Former President George W. Bush came out of retirement for the first time since leaving office, speaking to NBC’s Matt Lauer in a widely watched interview aired on primetime television. Bush refrains from attacking the President, instead choosing to praise him for his education initiative and his work continuing the fight against AIDs in Africa. Though the President refrained from criticizing his successor, he did weigh in on the 2008 election, in which he publicly encouraged his younger brother Jeb Bush to seek the Presidency, ruling out a political comeback on his part. The former President also spends a considerable amount of time highlighting his various activities in retirement, such as promoting charitable efforts to support wounded veterans and first responders as well as his personal endeavors, such as managing his ranch in Crawford. The interview sees a minor boost in the former President's approval ratings, ironically coming at a time when Kerry’s approval ratings were beginning to erode.

Presidential Approval Rating (July, 2005)

Approve: 49%
Disapprove: 41%
Undecided: 10%
 
Chapter IX: August 2005.
Chapter Nine:
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Protests at a town hall hosted by Senator Barack Obama (D-IL).
August was arguably the most strenuous month of the President’s first year in office. For starters, the ongoing fight for healthcare reform was stagnate due to Congress vacating Washington for the summer recess. Across the country, hundreds of “town hall” events were being hosted by members of Congress, with healthcare dominating almost the entirety of the discourse. In a weird paradox, Republican incumbents found themselves under fire from progressive activists while many Democrats, even those in solidly supportive districts, faced the wrath of the burgeoning Tea Party movement. The unifying factor of these events were the partisan tensions that surfaced and all too often boiled over into altercations and even a handful of brawls. With over a hundred arrests at various town-hall events, the Senate evenly split, and with Kerry’s approval ratings hovering at 50-50%, it seemed as if America was only becoming more and more divided.

Events abroad were as chaotic as the town hall meetings were. On August 1st, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia died, resulting in the Crown Prince (and de-facto regent) Abdullah taking the throne. The King was promptly buried as per Islamic custom, and the new King quickly renewed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to combating radical Islam and countering Iranian meddling. Tensions were flaring up in the Holy Land, with a suicide bomber striking Tel Aviv in retribution for the recent murder of three Palestinians by an Israeli settler on the West Bank. Secretary Holbrooke encouraged Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to show restraint, but low scale clashes and street fights continued as Palestinians took to the streets on the West Bank to protest Israeli encroachment.

In Washington, rumors begin swirling that Supreme Court Justice Sandra O’Connor would soon announce her retirement. The rumors were so widespread that President Kerry and Attorney General Eric Holder began to vet potential appointees to the court, but their efforts proved to be pointless when Justice O’Connor confirmed she would not retire from the bench even though her husband was in poor health and battling dementia. The media speculation about Justice O’Connor dominated much of the last week of August, with occasional reference to the small tropical depression approaching Florida.

In the Gulf of Mexico, a storm was brewing. Tropical Storm Katrina had soaked southern Florida before moving westward towards the Gulf, where it rapidly increased in speed and intensity, virtually overnight transforming into a monster category five storm that was on a collision course for New Orleans. The interstates leading out of the city were jammed as tens of thousands prepared to evacuate the city, creating a sense of panic and impending disaster. Many of the city’s most underprivileged and impoverished residents were simply unable to evacuate due to a lack of a vehicle or refused to leave out of fear that their homes would be looted. The Governor, Kathleen Blanco, attempted to remedy the crisis by commandeering hundreds of school buses, but many were unwilling, unable, or unconcerned and thus refused. The National Guard set up an emergency shelter at the New Orleans Superdome, though the site was far from suited for such an event. Thousands of desperate citizens took refuge in the Superdome throughout the storm, lingering for days in squalid conditions as the storm raged around them.


The storm tore its way across the Gulf Coast, leaving devastation in its wake. The levees which surrounded the Big Easy were built to prevent such severe flooding, but they failed quickly as water began pouring into a city which was famous worldwide for being below sea level. Thousands of families were forced up into their attics or even onto the roofs of their homes as the water levels rose, and many drowned in the streets that just days earlier were packed with fleeing vehicles. At the Superdome, a portion of the roof itself was peeled away leaving those inside both in terror and partially exposed to the elements. But as the storm blew northward, it rapidly lost speed and was quickly downgraded. As the National Guard began rescue operations and attempted to resupply the people stuck in the desperate situation at the Superdome and other shelters, looting broke out across the city. Hundreds were missing or feared dead, with famed musician Fats Domino being one of the casualties. The National Guard units arriving in the city at times came under fire, with one guardsmen being killed by a looter who had joined a mob that was rampaging through a partially flooded Walmart. That same night, police on the Danzinger bridge open fire upon an advancing crowd of protesters, many of whom were angered by the poor response by FEMA. Four people were killed and three others injured, sparking racial tensions that threatened to boil over into outright disorder. Hours after that, a helicopter trying to land near the Superdome fell under fire from an unknown sniper.

As the recovery began, many citizens of the city returned to find their homes destroyed or underwater. The sheer amount of damage resulted in a massive population shift from New Orleans to other nearby cities like Birmingham, Memphis, or Houston. The reconstruction was estimated to cost billions, and Congress was hastily reconvened to push a relief bill as quickly as possible. Driven by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Congressman Bobby Jindal (R-LA), the reconstruction of the city would include a complete overhaul and strengthening of the surrounding levees as well as a more efficient evacuation and preparedness plan among other provisions. While Congress hurriedly worked on a relief package, FEMA head Setti Warren fell under fire from critics who claim FEMA was vastly unprepared. As residents of New Orleans returned to their destroyed homes and flood ravaged city, many questioned if the Big Easy would ever be the same again.

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Flooding in New Orleans.
Sweltering in the summer heat, destitute citizens of the city began to turn on President Kerry, Director Warren, Governor Blanco, and Mayor Ray Nagin. Senator David Vitter also was criticized due to his lack of involvement in the Jindal-Landrieu recovery package. Black Americans, who were politically the very beating heart of the Democratic Party’s coalition, grew increasingly outraged at the lack of an effective response. Civil rights leaders like Al Sharpton called for the President to travel to New Orleans, but White House Press Secretary Dag Vega insisted at the daily White House press conference that the President would eventually visit the city in early September, for fear that his presence in the city would detract from necessary relief efforts. Throughout the storm and the aftermath, President Kerry would be criticized for his seemingly aloof nature and perceived indifference to the situation in New Orleans. His response to the Hurricane would come to haunt him in coming years, and the President himself would years later describe the days following the storm as the low point of his Presidency.
 
. His response to the Hurricane would come to haunt him in coming years, and the President himself would years later describe the days following the storm as the low point of his Presidency.
I wonder what was the response to Katrina that would make people happy? that is a genuine catch-22, short of the president playing first responder (and that move would be heavily criticize too) no one would have been happy
 
Chapter X: September 2005.
Chapter Ten:
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The late Chief Justice.
Katrina was bad enough, but the President had new concerns to be worried about. While meeting in the Oval Office with the entirety of Louisiana and Mississippi's’ congressional delegation to hear the needs and concerns for the rebuilding process, Deputy Chief of Staff and presidential counselor Mary Beth Cahill quickly entered, whispered into the President’s ear, and then left without saying a word; it turned out that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, had died at the age of 80 after a battle with thyroid cancer. With Congress returning from the August recess (which had been cut short at the end of August due to Katrina), the President now had to fight a three front war. With the Republican House being intransigent towards healthcare, the ongoing reconstruction and rescue operations in New Orleans, and the incoming battle to replace Rehnquist on the Supreme Court. With the help of Eric Holder, the Attorney General, a list of potential candidates was drafted and the vetting process began. A previous bout of speculation over the future of Justice O'Connor ensured that such a list was already in place, streamlining and expediting the process of selecting a replacement.

Later on in that same week, the President at last travelled to New Orleans, doing a flyover of the flooded city and the failed levees which surrounded it. Afterwards, the Presidential party landed and promptly boarded a helicopter which took them to the Superdome, now devoid of people but still damaged and still filled with abandoned cots. The smell of urine and feces lingered from a makeshift latrine, with flies buzzing about it in the sweltering heat. It was a scene of desolation and squalor during the storm, and the odor that remained stood as a testimony to the situation. The public reaction outside of New Orleans was even worse, as Americans supportive and critical of the president alike felt the federal, state, and local governments had failed to both prepare and properly respond to the storm.

The UN General Assembly convened in New York not long afterwards in mid-September. A number of foreign antagonists such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took swipes at the Kerry administration’s response to the storm. These remarks caused the US delegation to walk out of the assembly hall in protest, and Kerry used the time to hold one-on-one talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair instead. UN Ambassador Caroline Kennedy - daughter of the former President - led the United States response to the heated rhetoric of Chavez and Ahmadinejad, and vowed to use America's veto power on the UN Security Council to prevent China and Russia from strengthening these anti-American leaders and their regimes. Discussions between the President and global partners, particularly British Prime Minister Tony Blair, result in an agreement to launch a NATO led "mop up" operation within Iraq aimed at disarming the Shia and Sunni militias that have been fighting each other in the streets of Baghdad and other major cities.

With Katrina, the UN General Assembly, the wars, and the four year anniversary of 9/11 being observed, it was a surprise to no one that little traction would be made towards healthcare reform in September. Though President Kerry remained dead set on passing a healthcare bill before his first year in office came to a close, the ball was in the Republican's court, and they were determined to show the President that a public option simply was not on the table. As time passed, September soon gave way to October, with the onset of autumn nipping at the heels of the fading summer. The Jindal-Landrieu Relief and Reconstruction Act was quickly shepherded through the House and the Senate, passing 401-34 in the House and 99-0 in the Senate, an effort that took up most of the Congress's collective energy. Signed into law by the President, the plan appropriated $100 billion to the states of Mississippi and Louisiana. Though the storm was long over by early October, New Orleans remained scarred, battered, and devastated.
 
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Chapter XI: October 2005.
Chapter Eleven:
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President Kerry and Iraqi PM al-Jaafari.

In the wake of Katrina, the President was facing intense criticism even from some quarters of his own party. It was the worst possible timing, but also, the last possible chance, for the President to announce another unpopular decision: a surge in Iraq. Though withdrawal from Iraq was a critical goal of the administration, the President explained in a Rose Garden speech that it was simply impossible given the state of the country two years past the invasion and removal of Saddam Hussein. Thus, four battalions of American soldiers were deployed into Iraq in the beginning of October, as part of the effort to combat insurgent and sectarian violence. The President’s popularity, which was already fading from his post-inauguration peak, began to sink even faster as progressives and anti-war Democrats became frustrated by the lack of a withdrawal plan ten months into his term. Negotiations between Prime Minister al-Jaafari and Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke seemed to be going nowhere, worsening the sense of stalemate. Worried that al-Jaafari was becoming increasingly partial to Iranian influence and Shia clerics like Muqtada al-Sadr, the President instructed CIA Director Lee Hamilton (a former Congressman from Indiana) to begin covertly influencing activities in the Iraqi parliament with the hope of eroding his base of support in the legislature.

The deployment of additional troops initially only resulted in an increase of attacks on American military personnel. The chief of the Department of Defense’s central command was John Abizaid, the top general in charge of operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq, who was tasked with overseeing the mission to disarm the militias and stabilize the country. The American reinforcements were scattered across the country, with the bulk of the new arrivals finding themselves stationed in Baghdad, where the violence was most pervasive. It took only a week for General Abizaid to devise a largescale sweep of Baghdad to root out terrorist cells. First, known hideouts and bomb making factories were targeted, followed by raids on hidden militia armories and stockpiles across the city. These raids resulted in several armed paramilitary factions losing a considerable amount of supplies and ammunition.

While Iraq dominated the headlines, the President and Attorney General had at last found a candidate to fill Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s seat on the Supreme Court. Born in Puerto Rico, Jose Cabranes studied law at Columbia, Yale, and Cambridge before being appointed to the federal judiciary by Jimmy Carter. Having risen as a prominent lawyer and crusader for civil rights, Cabranes career in the judiciary continued until he reached the status as judge on the Second Circuit’s Court of Appeals. The Judge’s moderate record and academic bonafides made him a less controversial nominee than some of the others considered, including Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan and Judges Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Wood.

Republicans in the Senate were pleasantly surprised by the Cabranes nomination, as he was considered a moderate with a maverick streak that would often put him on the conservative side of the judicial system from time to time. The President, having been locked in a year long dual with Congress, was in desperate need of an easy win. Despite this, many progressive Democrats bemoaned what they perceived to be a wasted opportunity. The President defended the nomination in his first Meet the Press appearance on NBC, the first since taking office, claiming that Cabranes was a politically unbiased and well qualified candidate to replace Rehnquist. Within a week's time, Cabranes was before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) worked with Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) to push the nomination through committee with a final vote of 15-1 (the lone dissenting vote was cast by Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama). Afterward, Cabranes’s nomination went before the Senate for a full vote, where it took only a day of debate before a final vote was called. Confirmed by a vote of 91-9, Carbranes would be promptly sworn into office at the White House’s East Room the following day. Assuming the office of Chief Justice at the age 64 after a lengthy career in law and the judiciary, Carbranes made history as the first Latino to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.


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Chief Justice Jose Cabranes.

As this played out in the backdrop, gubernatorial elections in New Jersey, Virginia, and a mayoral race in New York City neared. While Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a lock for reelection, the races in New Jersey and Virginia were closer. In New Jersey, bombastic former US Attorney Chris Christie was gaining ground against Senator Jon Corzine, while Virginia’s Attorney General Jerry Kilgore found himself leading Richmond Mayor Tim Kaine by a narrow margin. As these elections approached, a flurry of potential 2008 candidates made themselves available. In Virginia, Senator George Allen campaigned vigorously for Kilgore, while former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Governor Mitt Romney raced to the aid of the Christie campaign. It became clear that the two elections were not just referendums on the President, but also an early indicator of how the GOP will proceed in the post-Bush era.
 
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dcharleos

Donor
I wonder what was the response to Katrina that would make people happy? that is a genuine catch-22, short of the president playing first responder (and that move would be heavily criticize too) no one would have been happy

That's what LBJ did when Betsy, I think it was, hit us back in the 60s.

Unsurprisingly, people like it when it seems like the President cares if they live or die.
 
Chapter XII: November 2005.
Chapter Twelve:
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Governor-elect Chris Christie celebrates his victory in New Jersey's gubernatorial election.
The off year elections in New Jersey, New York City, and Virginia have typically been viewed as an early test for a new administration’s popularity. In 2005, the verdict of the voters was loud and clear. In New Jersey, bombastic former federal attorney Chris Christie defeats Senator Jon Corzine by a vote of 50-46%, while in New York, Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg is reelected to another term by an overwhelming margin. Lastly, in Virginia, Republican Attorney General Jerry Kilgore beats Richmond Mayor Tim Kaine 50-47%. The exit polls in all three elections point to healthcare being the main driving force for conservative/Republican voters, who went enthusiastically to the polls in order to deliver a stinging blow to the Democratic administration.

With the off-year elections a sign of things to come in the 2006 midterms, the administration found itself still in a rut over healthcare. Congressional leaders led by House Minority Leader Pelosi, privately urged the President to again water down the bill in order to increase the likelihood that it passes through the Republican controlled House, but President Kerry insisted that it was unlikely that a true compromise bill could be developed by this point in time. Citing both regional concerns and economic data provided to him by Treasury Secretary Eizenstat, the President insisted that CHIP should be funded and expanded as per the original part of the bill. Republicans seethed, and the gridlock was destined to continue for the time being. "Kiddy Care," the President insisted, was non-negotiable.

With both the approval rating of the President and Congress dropping fast, it became clear that there was no other option than to push it through for an up and down vote. While Kerry needed only 23 votes to pass the bill, the GOP delegation in the House were much more unified around Hastert than the Senate Republicans were around Frist. At the prodding of his brother Cameron and Deputy Chief of Staff Mary Beth Cahill, the President began inviting bipartisan delegations of Congressmen to the Oval Office for a series of meetings in which he threw out every promise he could hurl. To a delegation of House members representing large swathes of rural America, he promised the creation of the Medibank as a means to expand access to healthcare in underserved agricultural areas. To members from suburban districts, he promised free healthcare for children and tax-free health services. In the cities, he promised further infrastructure funding and greater federal support for urban programs.

Finally, after addressing numerous House members over the course of mid November, the President took one final step to pushing through the healthcare bill. From the Oval Office, the 44th Commander-in-Chief took to the airwaves for a live address from the White House. In his 45 minute long speech, Kerry carefully deconstructed Republican talking points with almost surgical precision and outlined clearly what exactly was and wasn’t part of the changes being proposed. Dismissing theories about “death panels” and “rationing,” the President ended his remarks by asking viewers to call their congressman or woman and insist that the bill be brought forward for a final vote once and for all. The response unnerved Hastert, who did not predict the amount of support the bill had in many Republican districts, particularly suburban swing seats. Within days, many Republican members of Congress had joined in the call demanding a floor vote on the bill, even from some opposed to the legislation. Final debate on the bill concluded, and the chamber fell quiet as the vote went underway. Anxious to be back in their districts ahead of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, the increasingly close results as the vote continued kept the nation transfixed. As the CSPAN cameras trained themselves on the Speaker, the final result was read. The Affordable Care Act had been passed by a vote of 222-213 on November 23rd, and was signed into law the following day at a Rose Garden ceremony.

The defeat was a humiliation for Speaker Hastert, who decided days later to stand down as Speaker and from Congress after the 2006 elections. This was not immediately announced, but Hastert wasn’t alone. Senator Frist, having been instrumental in getting the bill through the Senate, announced he’d keep his term limit promise and would not seek reelection in 2006. He also confirmed his intention to stand down as Minority Leader, with Senator Mitch McConnell being elected 45-0 as his successor (Senators Chafee, Collins, Gregg, Snowe, and Specter abstained). Replacing McConnell as whip was Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, while Rick Santorum continued as Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

The healthcare fight, which had consumed the entirety of Kerry’s first year in office, exposed deep flaws and divisions within both parties. The President had hoped after his election victory in 2004 that he’d be able to appeal to both the third way Clinton wing of the Democratic Party as much as he did with the liberal and progressive wing represented by the likes of Howard Dean, Russ Feingold, and the late Paul Wellstone. The fight to unite the Democrats around a common healthcare bill had only resulted in chaos, with Senator Clinton, Secretary Dean, and Senator Frist all competing with one another over which version of the bill should be passed. The infighting among these three competing bills became so convoluted that President Kerry, who initially was aloof from the process, was forced to parachute in and hammer out a compromise plan.

The Republicans were also facing whiplash, with Speaker Hastert and Senator Frist both being effectively powerless in the wake of the healthcare defeat. With the support of Tea Party activists, Mitch McConnell ascended to the position of Minority Leader and stated clearly his mission: “I am here” began McConnell in his first speech to the Senate in his new capacity, “to make sure that John Kerry will be a one term President.” A new era in Washington had begun, characterized by increasing hyper-partisanship, mutual mistrust, and shifting political coalitions. The healthcare fight would prove to be just the beginning.
 
Chapter XIII: December 2005.
Chapter Thirteen:
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Incoming Federal Reserve Chair Robert Rubin.
The Federal Reserve’s top post was emptied over the Holiday Season after longtime Chairman Alan Greenspan announced his intention to retire. Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin was soon afterwards announced as the President’s pick for the Federal Reserve Board's Chairmanship, with the Senate Finance Committee scheduling hearings for early in January. With his long history in the realm of American politics and expertise in crafting financial policy despite his career as a lawyer, the appointment of Rubin to head the nation’s central banking system was not particularly controversial. Despite the bipartisan support for Rubin, he was not without his critics. Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and George Allen (R-VA) tried to galvanize conservative opposition, but their vocal protests were ignored by the majority of the Senators. In the House of Representatives, Congressman Ron Paul was the most outspoken opponent of Rubin's nomination, and he pressed the Republican majority to pass legislation that would allow for the auditing of the Federal Reserve system. But being a member of the House, Paul had no vote in the confirmation process, which was exclusively in the domain of the Senate. Despite this, the nomination of Robert Rubin brought increased attention to the libertarian leaning Texas Congressman, who became a more nationally known figure on the right as a result.

On the international stage, there was a new face making headlines. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a fierce critic of the United States and Israel, publicly called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” in a fiery anti-Semitic speech. As an unrepentant Islamist and a nationalist, Ahmadinejad’s voice quickly became prominent worldwide, which at times would put him into conflict with the Ayatollah himself. With a gift for invective that was matched only by North Korean propaganda broadcasts, the new Iranian President (who by trade was a scientist) was a cheerleader for a nuclear Iran and very autocratic in his ruling style. Ahmadinejad would be the latest entry into what Secretary of State Holbrooke jokingly called “the axis of anger.” Among Ahmadinejad’s peers included Burma's Than Shwe, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Libya’s Muammar Qadaffi, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Syria’s Bashir al-Assad, Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov, and Venezuala’s Hugo Chavez, all of whom were united against what they denounced as American and NATO imperialism.

The hard fought battle for healthcare reform had seriously impacted the President’s perception of Washington. Originally believing that policy initiatives should begin organically in Congress, the President learned the hard way that the general disunity and factional infighting within his own party only exposed the futility of so high an expectation. The President, seeking to build on his momentum, called a meeting with the top Congressional Democrats in order to plot out the next move on their agenda. Encouraged by House Minority Leader Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the President had settled on immigration reform as his next political project. Both Pelosi and Reid believed that the DREAM Act could be passed with the help of Republicans, many of whom believed that immigration reform was vital for increasing agricultural yields and economic growth. Preparing for his first State of the Union address on February 2nd, Kerry extensively laid out the case for a comprehensive immigration reform plan, one which would increase border security in exchange for a path to citizenship.

Christmas was marked in the White House by the First Family with a quiet sense of calm and relief. The President’s first year in office was a constant series of soaring victories and crashing defeats. He had grown into the role, finding that not all of his expectations were realities. One notable change in the Kerry White House was the growing influence of Alexis Herman; the Chief of Staff was originally hired to manage the White House’s executive functions while Mary Beth Cahill would handle his outside political operations. Yet Herman, who implored Kerry to adopt a more streamlined style of management, had largely eclipsed Cahill and adviser Bob Shrum by the end of the year. Herman had carefully groomed and coaxed the President’s most trusted adviser, his brother Cameron Kerry, into supporting her efforts to rein in and organize the White House staff, with some in Washington even referring to her as “the Prime Minister” due to her increasing policy influence.

Presidential Approval Rating (December, 2005)

Disapprove: 44%
Approve: 43%
Undecided: 13%
 
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