Americans are a forgiving lot, a country of second chances. Many public figures have gotten second and third chances to get elected, recover from a scandal or refurbish their public image. In 2015, there will be some opportunities for those who have fallen short before, some in spectacular fashion.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who concocted a weak argument to save Obamacare from being struck down on constitutional grounds, gets his judicial do-over this year. On March 4, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in King v. Burwell, in which challengers assert that the statute allows subsidies to be given out only in state-run exchanges. The case is a cleaner, easier matter of legislative interpretation that could restore Roberts’s reputation as a straight-shooter, rather than an amateur politician trying to keep the court in the public’s good graces.
Senate Republicans get a second chance to govern. Incoming majority leader Mitch McConnell recently told the New York Times, “The Senate basically didn’t do squat for years. I don’t think most members of the Senate wanted it run that way.” He is going to re-empower committees, bring legislation to the floor without “filling the tree” (i.e. allow, if need be, hundreds of amendments) and let members exhaust themselves with votes until they settle down to forge deals. (“It will more chaotic, there will probably be later nights. The goal is to let the Senate express its views.”) If he succeeds and if backbenchers in the GOP can contain themselves, real progress could be made on energy, education, defense spending and even tax reform.
Senate Democrats get another chance to stand up to the president, reassert control over Iran policy, block a bad deal and up the ante on sanctions. For six years, they have talked a good game about Israel and foreign policy in general but never really confronted the president on policies they know to be deeply misguided. Now they can provide more than lip service in the critical task of preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.
Hillary Clinton gets her second crack at the presidency. Her preseason book tour was a semi-disaster, and she has yet to present a rationale (other than “I’m Hillary!“) for her potential campaign. Her association with a failed foreign policy (she recently has backed the president on his half-baked strategy against the Islamic State, his ill-advised policy toward Iran and his unconditional restoration of relations with Cuba) and her ties with Wall Street present hurdles, to be sure. Republicans, however, had better come up with a plausible alternative and an agenda that appeals broadly to working-class Americans.
On the GOP side, Texas Gov. Rick Perry gets the mother of second chances, the opportunity to redeem himself after the 2012 run. He knows the margin for error will be tiny, but he is preparing rigorously, traveling widely and sounding impressive on a range of issues. Be it on his state’s economic record, on sending troops to the border or on navigating through the Ebola crisis, Perry has powerful examples of executive leadership. Like his favorite Dallas Cowboys, however, he will need to execute and exceed expectations to have any chance at rising to the top of the pack.
House Republicans have another shot at getting immigration reform right. Pass a border security bill. Pass a bill for E-Verify. Pass another one for tracking down people who overstay their visas. Pass another to expand H-1B visas and allow foreign students with academic credentials to remain in the United States. And then, House Republicans can set a timeline for addressing those here illegally. Doing nothing means the president has the final say on unilateral deferred deportation. Republicans can solve a key issue, reassert Congress’s role in legislating and make a powerful argument that they can govern from the center-right. It also might help sustain economic growth and boost revenue, as the Congressional Budget Office determined would be the case with the Senate’s immigration bill.
In many ways, 2015 may turn out to be a year in which those who have come up short before get a rare second chance at success. We will be watching to see who can make the most of it.