After a 2022 that saw Democrats celebrate passing key parts of their agenda and defy expectations in the midterms, the next year is set to bring about change in Congress and set the table for another big election year.
Tuesday will see the swearing in of a divided Congress. The 2024 presidential field will take shape as Republicans mull whether to take on former President Trump, while President Biden’s own future takes center stage for Democrats. And the Supreme Court could once again reshape the political arena with major rulings.
Here are six storylines to watch that will shape the year ahead.
Trump’s place in the GOP
Former President Donald Trump enters 2023 as politically vulnerable as he’s been since leaving the White House two years ago.
Trump’s highest profile midterm endorsements flopped, recent polls have shown many voters are ready to move on and his 2024 candidacy has thus far been marred by controversies around his dinner with a white nationalist and calls to suspend the Constitution to redo the 2020 election.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made clear he’s ready to move past Trump, predicting a crowded 2024 presidential field and describing Trump’s clout as “diminished.”
Trump is also facing the prospect of legal peril heading into the new year, with the Justice Department investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and his handling of classified materials that he took with him to his Mar-a-Lago estate after leaving the White House.
At the same time, Trump is the only declared candidate in the 2024 field, and he retains a formidable and energetic base that gives him a solid floor of support in a GOP primary. He also has plenty of allies on Capitol Hill, including House Republican leadership.
Of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over Jan. 6, only two will be in the next Congress after the rest either retired or lost primaries to Trump-aligned challengers.
Some in the party worry a third Trump presidential nomination could cost the GOP a shot at the White House in 2024. The battle within the GOP over Trump’s future will hover over nearly all the party does in 2023.
The rise of DeSantis
For Republicans hoping to move past Trump, all eyes in 2023 will be on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
DeSantis’ star rose in the conservative movement in 2022 like few others as he became a prominent foil to the Biden administration on COVID-19, LGBTQ+ issues and immigration. And his re-election romp in November cemented his status as a political force in Florida.
Many Republicans seeking a viable alternative to Trump believe DeSantis can carry on the former president’s brand of politics without all the baggage. A recent USA Today-Suffolk University poll found 56 percent of GOP and GOP-leaning voters would back DeSantis, compared to 33 percent who would support Trump.
Experts believe DeSantis could announce a 2024 bid sometime this summer after the Florida legislative session is out.
If he does so, DeSantis will face growing scrutiny as a candidate for national office. Trump is likely to go on the attack, and Democrats would almost certainly highlight DeSantis’ comments on vaccines and policies targeting discussion of gender and sexuality in the classroom to paint him as unfit for higher office.
Trump administration veterans such as former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley may also get into the 2024 contest, putting further pressure on DeSantis to solidify himself among voters outside of Florida and adding to the odds that a fractured field would ultimately benefit Trump.
Biden’s age and strength with Democrats
President Biden is entering 2023 with significant momentum after a slew of legislative achievements – many bipartisan – during his first two years in office.
Biden has said he will decide early in the new year about a re-election bid, but many Democrats and officials around the White House expect the president to seek another term.
Despite his successes, Biden will face questions, including from some in his own party.
Many candidates steered clear of Biden ahead of the midterms as Democrats overperformed expectations. He is 80 and is prone to the occasional high-profile gaffe, such as when he called out a congresswoman at a September White House event who’d died months earlier.
Biden will also have to navigate a divided Congress for the next two years, making the odds of any major legislative achievements slim and testing his foreign policy on matters like support for Ukraine. And the GOP-led House is likely to go on the attack, probing his administration over its withdrawal from Afghanistan, its immigration policies and potentially Hunter Biden’s financial dealings.
Polls still show many voters do not want to see Biden run for another term. A CNN poll conducted in December found 59 percent of registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would like to see someone other than Biden be the party’s 2024 nominee.
But Biden and his team have spent the last several years defying conventional wisdom and punditry, and believe strongly that his old-school brand of politics resonates with voters, especially outside of the Washington, D.C., bubble.
If in 2023 Biden is able to navigate a divided Congress, continue to strengthen the economy and avoid a recession while maintaining support at home and abroad for Ukraine, he will have a strong case that he is the only choice for Democrats to put atop the ballot in 2024.
McCarthy and the GOP
The year will begin with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) trying to win the Speaker’s gavel, something that has been no easy task in the weeks leading up to the new Congress.
McCarthy’s strength with his own caucus will be put to the test on Jan. 3. Even days before the vote, McCarthy still does not appear to have the 218 votes needed to secure the speakership as he scrambles to make concessions that appeal to hardline conservatives.
Whether it is McCarthy or some alternative candidate who has yet to emerge who holds the Speaker’s gavel, the year in Congress will be shaped largely by how Republicans govern in the House with a very slim majority.
McCarthy has pledged to remove certain Democrats, like Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), from committee assignments. He has vowed to investigate Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and create a select committee on China. And he has said Republicans will seek to roll back IRS funding and other key provisions of Democrats’ signature climate and health care bill that was passed in August.
The incoming House majority also features a number of skeptics of funding for Ukraine as it seeks to fend off a Russian invasion. The White House and top Senate Republicans have said they will continue to stand with Ukraine, but House GOP opposition could complicate matters.
Strategists and donors believe the House GOP majority must show the party is capable of governing, not merely opposing Biden, in order to create a strong argument for Republicans to retake the White House in 2024.
House Democrats begin life after Pelosi
For the first time in 20 years, Democrats will be led in the House by someone other than Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who will remain in Congress but will not serve in leadership.
It is a remarkable changing of the guard for a party that will also be grappling with serving in the minority for the first time since 2017.
Hakeem Jeffries, the 52-year-old New Yorker, will be tasked with managing a fractious caucus with diverse views, including a left-wing that has grown in numbers and influence in recent years.
Democrats will also be tasked with filling the fundraising void left by Pelosi, who was prodigious in her ability to bring in money for the party as its leader.
Jeffries and the rest of the revamped House Democratic leadership team will narrowly be in the minority, serving as a foil to the GOP majority and defending the White House against investigations while pushing for potential areas of bipartisan agreement.
A subplot will be the growing influence of the progressive wing of the party, which has allies in the White House and which has steadily grown its numbers in the four years since members like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) were first sworn-in.
Supreme Court poised to shift landscape again
The Supreme Court delivered a political earthquake in 2022 when it overturned the abortion protections established under Roe v. Wade, and it could create additional seismic shifts in 2023 with a slew of high-profile cases on the docket.
The court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, already heard arguments but has yet to rule in a case over whether Alabama’s 2021 redistricting plan violates the Voting Rights Act by drawing just one majority-Black district. The eventual decision could reverberate for years to come through redrawn congressional districts and as voting rights emerges as a key pillar of the Democratic platform.
The justices similarly already heard arguments in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, a case in which the court must determine what is covered under the Clean Water Act. Depending on the ruling, it could have major ramifications for which properties are subject to certain environmental regulations at a time when the White House is focused on combating climate change.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the coming year on cases regarding affirmative action in college admissions that could reshape the discussion around that process for years to come, as well as arguments from plaintiffs who have claimed President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan is unconstitutional.
Should the latter challenge succeed, it would strike a blow against a key selling point for Biden to young voters and potentially create chaos as borrowers sort through whether or not they must continue repaying their loans.
The court is also expected in February to hear arguments from GOP-led states who sued the Biden administration to keep in place Title 42, a policy used since the onset of the pandemic to quickly expel migrants under the umbrella of public health. The court’s ruling will either keep the measure in place, or finally allow it to expire, potentially creating a political headache for Biden at the border.