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While you were underground: A political update for cicadas

Past 17 years show that fortunes can change, several times

ANALYSIS — After living underground for 17 years, cicadas must find the political world a confusing place. So if you see any perplexed cicadas flying around the Washington area, wondering how things changed since the spring of 2004, just send them a link to this quick update. 

Considering Republicans were in control of the House, the Senate and the White House the last time Brood X emerged, obviously things are different. The period of time is also a prime example that there is no permanence in politics as the political fortunes for Republicans and Democrats have turned multiple times in the past 17 years.

So let’s bring the cicadas up to speed on each branch of government.

The White House

President George W. Bush went on to win reelection in 2004, which would be the last time a Republican won the popular vote in a presidential race. Nevertheless, his job approval rating continued to slide as Americans soured on the war in Iraq and his handling of Hurricane Katrina to the point that Bush became a liability for congressional Republicans in the 2006 midterm elections. (On a side note, the president’s 22-year-old daughter, Jenna, is now Jenna Bush Hager, a co-host on NBC’s “Today” show.)

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry secured the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination and lost the general election to Bush. He is now the United States special presidential envoy for climate under President Joe Biden, the former senator from Delaware. 

Vice President Dick Cheney became one of the most hated men in Democratic circles. His daughter Liz Cheney was elected to Congress from Wyoming in 2016 and rose to the third-highest leadership position among House Republicans. Now she’s one of the most hated people among Republicans for being insufficiently loyal to former President Donald Trump. More on that later. 

Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama gave a remarkable speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that vaulted him onto the national stage, and he got elected to the Senate later that year. Four years later, Obama became the first Black person elected president, defeating Sen. John McCain. He won reelection in 2012.

It’s been quite a ride for Trump, the New York real estate mogul/Democratic donor/reality TV host who had just finished crowning Bill Rancic as the champion of season one of “The Apprentice.” A dozen years later, Trump was elected president of the United States as a Republican over former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who served as Obama’s secretary of State. 

And while Trump fired contestant Omarosa Manigault in Week 9 of “The Apprentice,” he later hired her as a White House adviser. Trump went on to lose reelection in 2020 to Biden, but the former president continues to be the most popular Republican among GOP voters, and he could run again in 2024. Oh, and some of his supporters invaded the Capitol while Congress attempted to ratify the certified election results. 

Over the past 17 years, Democrats have won three of five presidential elections and the White House changed party hands three times. 

Senate

Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist remained majority leader until the 2006 midterms, when Democrats took control in a wave election after voters rebelled against Bush’s GOP. Frist also didn’t seek reelection that cycle and was succeeded by Republican former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker, who was succeeded by another Republican, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, after 2018. 

Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota went on to lose reelection in 2004 to GOP Rep. John Thune. In fact, while North and South Dakota combined for four Democratic senators when the cicadas last went underground, there aren’t any now. Each state sends two Republican senators to Washington.

New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer just became majority leader after Democrats won both of Georgia’s Senate seats in a pair of runoffs this January. Yes, that’s the same Georgia where Republican Saxby Chambliss defeated Democratic Sen. Max Cleland by 7 points in 2002. 

Majority Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky went on to become leader of the Senate Republican Conference, minority leader, majority leader when Republicans won control of the chamber in 2014 and then back to minority leader when they lost control to Democrats in 2021. Overall, control of the Senate has switched party hands three times in the past 17 years. 

Mitt Romney was Massachusetts governor and a rising GOP star in 2004. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was the 2012 GOP presidential nominee (he lost to Obama) and is now a senator from Utah, after winning in 2018.

And, by the way, spending in Senate races is completely different. In 2002, Republican Elizabeth Dole and Democrat Erskine Bowles combined to spend $27 million in North Carolina. In South Carolina in 2020, Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Jaime Harrison combined to spend $227 million.

House

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois left Congress after Democrats won control of the House in 2006. But he also spent more than a year in federal prison after being convicted of paying hush money to cover up his molestation of kids as a wrestling coach before he was elected to office.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California made history by becoming the first female speaker of the House after the Democratic wave of 2006. She went back to minority leader when Republicans won control in 2010, and was elected speaker again when Democrats took over after 2018. 

House Education and the Workforce Chairman John A. Boehner of Ohio became speaker when Republicans took over after the 2010 midterms. He held that post until 2015, when something called the tea party thought he was too liberal for the GOP. Boehner left Congress altogether and is now a lobbyist for the National Cannabis Roundtable, which seeks to legalize marijuana. 

Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan, viewed as one of Republicans’ rising stars, won a fourth term in 2004 and later became chairman of the Budget Committee. He was the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2012, then succeeded Boehner as speaker and is now chastised by Trump for being insufficiently Republican.

California state Assembly Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was elected to the House in 2006 and became majority leader in 2014 after Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor lost his primary in one of the biggest upsets in recent political history. Now McCarthy is the minority leader and hoping midterm trends work in the GOP’s favor and vault him to the speakership. Overall, control of the House has switched party hands three times in the past 17 years.

Fourteen-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., grew up to be a bartender in the Bronx and an organizer for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and then defeated longtime New York Rep. Joseph Crowley in a 2018 Democratic primary. She is now one of the most influential politicians in the country.

Supreme Court

The bottom line is there’s been a lot of turnover on the Supreme Court over the past 17 years. There are just two familiar faces: Clarence Thomas and Stephen G. Breyer.

Justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David H. Souter, Anthony M. Kennedy and Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist have been replaced, in order of seniority, by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

But don’t worry, cameras are still not allowed in the courtroom of the country’s highest court, so nothing much was missed on that front.

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