2010s in United States political history

2010s in United States political history is a narrative summary of major political events and issues in the United States from January 1, 2010, through December 31, 2019. The first part is divided chronologically by Congressional sessions and the second part highlights major issues that span several years or even the entire decade. There are links for further information.

History by eraEdit

2009–2011, 111th CongressEdit

Democrats swept into 2009 with control over the White House and both Houses of Congress. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was Speaker of the House of Representatives and Harry Reid (D-NV) was Senate Majority Leader. The Democratic supermajority in the Senate was guaranteed with the election of Al Franken (D-MN) in January and when Republican Arlen Specter (D-PA) switched to the Democratic Party. Major legislative victories included the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (providing equal pay for women), American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (designed to preserve existing jobs and to create new ones), Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (extending health-care coverage to millions; popularly called "Obamacare"), Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the first major financial reform since the 1930s), Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 (providing financing for small businesses), 2010 Tax Relief Act (temporary tax relief for the middle class), Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 (allowing gay, lesbian, and transgender people to serve openly in the military), and the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act (provides support for first responders who survived the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks).[1]

The Senate confirmed the appointments of two women to the Supreme Court: Sonia Sotomayor (the first Latino to hold the post)[2] and Elena Kagan.[3]

President Barack Obama's September 9, 2009, Congressional address promoting health care reform was interrupted by Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) who shouted: "You lie!" when Obama said his health care plan would not cover undocumented immigrants.[4] The Democrats' supermajority in the Senate ended on February 4, 2010, with the election of Scott Brown (R-MA).[5]

President Obama unsuccessfully tried to close Guantanamo Bay detention camp for suspected terrorists.[6] Conservative opponents of Obama formed the Tea Party movement in February 2009. Obama was granted the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, despite presiding over the war in Afghanistan and the Iraq War.[7] The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a major ecological disaster from April through September 2010.[8] A renegotiated free trade agreement with South Korea went into effect on December 3, 2010.[9]

The 2010 United States elections resulted in major victories for the Republican Party.[10]

2011–2013, 112th CongressEdit

Following the 2010 elections, Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives while the Democratic majority in the Senate was narrowed. John Boehner (R-OH) was Speaker of the House and Harry Reid (D-NV) was Senate Majority Leader. The Congress was unproductive, passing only 219 bills that were signed into law, compared to 383 in the 111th Congress. Congress failed to pass legislation to keep the Postal Service solvent, and they allowed the Violence Against Women Act to lapse for the first time since it was passed in 1994.[11]

The United States entered trade agreements with Colombia[12] and Panama.[13] Payroll Taxes were cut and the low income tax rates established by the George W. Bush administration were kept in place. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 not only provided funding for the DoD and authorization for state governors to request military help in the case of natural disasters but also controversially contained anti-terrorist provisions that allow the indefinite detention of American citizens on American soil. The Budget Control Act of 2011 called for a reduction in spending in order to lower the federal debt.

Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) and nineteen other people were shot in Tucson on January 8, 2011.[14] Twenty children and six adults were killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, sparking a debate about gun laws.[15]

The United States joined NATO in military intervention in Libya,[16] which led to the death of Muammar Gaddafi.[17] In May 2011 Navy SEALS killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. On September 11, 2012, members of Ansar al-Sharia attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, resulting in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.[18] The United States stepped up drone attacks in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, targeting Yemeni-American Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki on September 30, 2011.[19] His 16-year-old son, American-born Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was killed two weeks later.[20]

The popular movement against income inequality known as Occupy Wall Street began with a march on Wall Street, New York City in February 2011.[21]

Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. The killing received widespread attention focusing on aspects including the possible role of Martin's race and the initial lack of prosecution against Zimmerman, and it raised questions about Florida's "Hold your ground" gun law.[22]

In June 2012, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker won a recall election against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.[23]

President Obama was reelected in 2012, defeating Republican Mitt Romney.[24] Democrats gained two Senate seats.[25] Democrats won the popular vote and eight House seats, but it was not enough to regain control of the lower chamber.[26]

2013–2015, 113th CongressEdit

The Senate had a Democratic majority, but the House had a Republican majority. Harry Reid (D-NV) was Senate Majority Leader and John Boehner (R-OH) was Speaker of the House.[27] The 113th was one of the least productive in history, notable for brinkmanship (shutting down the government for 16 days in 2013 and almost shutting it down again in 2014). According to Gallup (company), only 15% of Americans approved of the Congress' work, only 1% more than the all-time low of the 112th Congress. The Senate passed immigration legislation but House Republicans killed it; the House passed gun control legislation, but it did not pass the Senate. House Republicans offered legislation on the economy and health care (voting 50 times to repeal Obamacare), but these did not pass the Senate. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) filibustered the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director for thirteen hours.[28] Ted Cruz (R-TX) wasted a record 21 hours of the Senate's time by reading Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss as a complaint (but not a fillibuster) against health care.[29] Senator John McCain (R-AZ) called the Senate's lack of work "disgraceful."[30]

Among the few bills passed were a five-year farm bill and reform of VA benefits.[30] They reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act[31] and the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act.[32] They supported the government of Ukraine[33] and the opposition in Venezuela.[34]

Information about global surveillance was released in June 2013.[35] The Supreme Court overturned key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Republicans swept the November 2014 elections.[30]

2015–2017, 114th CongressEdit

Republicans controlled the House of Representatives with John Boehner (R-OH) as Speaker until October 29, 2015, when Paul D. Ryan (R–WI) was chosen to replace him.[36] Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was Senate Majority leader.[37]

The USA Freedom Act was an updated version of the Patriot Act with certain restrictions on spying on American civilians. President Obama threatened to veto the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, but the bill passed the Senate 98-1 and Obama withdrew his threat. The Every Student Succeeds Act replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which allows survivors of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, which passed over Obama's veto. Obama also vetoed a bill authorizing the Keystone Pipeline.[38] The Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act provided $305 billion for highway improvement without increasing the gas tax.[39] The Internet Tax Freedom Act made the prohibition on taxing Internet services permanent.[40] The Sexual Assault Survivors' Rights Act provides increased rights for victims of sexual assault.[41] The 21st Century Cures Act was a victory for Big Pharma, allowing new drugs to get on the market more easily.[42]

The Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu was invited by Speaker Boehner to address a joint session of Congress regarding sanctions against Iran without consulting President Obama in March 2015.[43] Other world leaders to address Congress were Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani (March 2015),[44] Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe (April 2015),[45] Pope Francis (September 2015),[46] and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi[47] addressed joint sessions of Congress. President Obama thawed relations with Cuba, removing the country from the list of state sponsors of terrorism,[48] reestablishing diplomatic relations,[49] and ending the wet foot, dry foot policy that gave preferential treatment to Cuban immigrants.[50] The United States joined the Paris Agreement to lower carbon emissions in an effort to keep the global average rise in temperatures below 2 °C on September 3, 2016.[51]

In June 2016, a domestic terrorist killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in the Orlando nightclub shooting. When Speaker Ryan refused to allow debate on gun legislation, 60 Democratic House Members staged a 2016 United States House of Representatives sit-in[52] but failed to force a vote.[53] In the Senate, Chris Murphy (D-CT), successfully launched a 15-hour filibuster that led to two votes on gun control, barring guns from suspected terrorists and expanding background checks on gun purchasers.[54] Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blamed "Republicans who take their marching orders from the National Rifle Association" for the defeat of both bills.[55] In March 2016 Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland, 63, to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Antonin Scalia, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold hearings or bring the nomination up for a vote. Short-handed, the court deadlocked on a number of issues and declined to hear others.[56]

In an upset victory, Donald Trump (R) defeated Hillary Clinton (D) in the 2016 United States presidential election. Clinton won the popular vote (62,523,126 to 61,201,031) but Trump won the Electoral College (306 to 232) and the election.[57] There were seven Faithless electors in the 2016 United States presidential election.[58] Democrats gained two Senate seats but Republicans retained control.[59] Democrats had a net gain of six House seats but Republicans retained their majority.[60] Each party won six of the twelve gubernatorial elections.[61] Six states approved ballot measures liberalizing marijuana use, five passed gun or hunting legislation, and four increased the minimum wage.[62]

2017–2019, 115th CongressEdit

The inauguration of Donald Trump (R) as 45th President was on January 20, 2017.[63] The 2017 Women's March on January 21, 2017, involved between 3.3. million and 4.6 million marchers and was the largest demonstration in American history.[64]

Republicans controlled the House of Representatives with Paul D. Ryan (R–WI) as Speaker.[65] Mitch McConnell (R-KY) continued as Senate Majority leader.[37]

The 115th Congress reformed the federal criminal justice system, responded to the opioid crisis, imposed sanctions on Russia, North Korea, and Iran, and legalized industrial hemp via the 2018 farm bill. They passed tax reform legislation, which is expected to increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion. Despite multiple attempts, they failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, pass comprehensive immigration reform, or restrict SNAP benefits. The government was shut down three times:[66] in January 2018 over a dispute about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals DACA) and the Mexican border wall,[67] Senator Rand Paul's (R-KY) tantrum on February 9,[68] and the December 22, 2018, to January 25, 2019 shutdown over the border wall. The last resulted in Trump's declaration of a State of Emergency on February 15.[69] Day Without Immigrants 2017 protests were held throughout the United States in February 2017 to demonstrate the importance of immigration.[70]

On June 14, 2017, Congressman Steve Scalise (R-LA) and two aides were hit by gunfire during a practice session for the annual Congressional baseball game.[71]

President Trump nominated and the Senate approved two Supreme Court justices: Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh's Judiciary Committee was concerned primarily with allegations of sexual misconduct.[72] The Music Modernization Act modernizes music copyright laws and America's Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 relaxes water pollution restrictions.

Trump signed a number of executive orders to overturn actions undertaken by President Obama, prioritizing economic expediency over environmental concerns. He withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and restricted immigration by refugees. He began construction of the border wall and instituted a Temporary ban on immigration from several Muslim majority countries.

Allegations about Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections and during the November 2016 – January 2017 transition period surface, resulting in the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. FBI Director James Comey is fired because of the way he handled the investigation. The first call for the impeachment of President Trump is issued on May 7, 2017.[73] Robert Mueller began his investigation on May 17.[74]

2019, 116th CongressEdit

Democrats controlled the House of Representatives[75] with Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as Speaker.[76]

Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ) changed from Democrat to Republican on December 19, 2019.[77] Mitch McConnell (R-KY) continued as Senate Majority leader.[37]

History by issueEdit

Environment and climate changeEdit

Foreign and military policyEdit






Latin AmericaEdit







Recession of 2008Edit

The Great Recession was a severe financial crisis from December 2007 to June 2009 that began when the U.S. housing market crashed, and large amounts of mortgage-backed securities and derivatives lost significant value. The United States lost 8.7 million jobs and U.S. households lost $19 trillion of net worth.[78]

The Obama administration spent much of its time and effort into improving the economy and addressing the issues that led to the recession. Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Act on July 21, 2010, to give the government expanded regulatory power over the financial sector. Real GDP regained its pre-recession peak in the second quarter of 2011, and in March 2013, the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke its 2007 high. Workers and households did less well. The unemployment rate was at 5% at the end of 2007, reached 10% in October 2009, and did not recover to 5% until 2015. Household income in the United States did not surpass its pre-recession level until 2016.[78]

Rights and freedomsEdit

LGBTQ rightsEdit

Voting rightsEdit

Women's rightsEdit

Trade and tariffsEdit

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit