Auld Lang Resign: Topsy-Turvy Politics of '07

The year 2007 may be best remembered as one of political firsts.

The year that will soon pass marked the earliest, arguably most intense, and certainly most expensive presidential election campaigns in U.S. history.

It was also the first time a woman became a front-runner in the race for the White House -- and the first time a former first lady actively sought her husband's old job.

There was also the historic campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the first African-American to run a leading campaign for the Democratic nomination, and it was the year the first woman -- Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., -- was elected speaker of the House Representatives.

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Another record of sorts -- President Bush's low 33 percent public approval rating inched closer to Harry Truman's record as the postwar president to linger longest without majority public support.

The year 2007 was also the year the president found his veto pen, blocking the Democratic-led Congress on health coverage for more lower-income children, federal stem cell research and setting a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq.

Political scandal wasn't a first, but it certainly played a role in some of the year's most salacious news.

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No controversy or gaffe topped the disclosure that Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig pleaded guilty to a reduced charge following his June arrest in a Minneapolis airport men's room sex sting.

But for all the firsts, scandal and candidates, Washington, or at least Congress, was known more for what it didn't do than for what it accomplished.

'Do-Nothing Congress'

Even lower than the president's approval rating is public sentiment toward Congress.

By more than a two-to-one margin, Americans gave both congressional Democrats and Republicans unfavorable ratings, according to a USAToday/Gallup poll.

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Voted into power by a war-weary public, the 110th Democratic-led Congress soon found it didn't have enough of a majority to make most of its priorities a reality, including bringing the troops home.

In July, Democrats rolled out cots and ordered pizzas as they settled in for a marathon Senate debate on Iraq, but even that failed to resolve the partisan stalemate over how to end the war.

"Congress was in a tough situation because voters basically said stop the war, and they're not in a position to stop the war," said ABC News' Cokie Roberts, a veteran political correspondent.

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"They're Congress, they're not the administration, and they don't have the votes in the Senate to do it."

Labeled the "do-nothing Congress" by critics, members failed to pass immigration reform, spending bills, the farm bill and an alternative minimum tax proposal -- with immigration reform, renewal of a terror surveillance program, and a rewrite of federal farm programs all pushed to 2008.

There were some Democratic achievements, including the first minimum wage hike in a decade, enactment of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, increased college aid, and an energy bill that will increase motor vehicle fuel efficiency standards.

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Troop Surge

For President Bush, the year 2007 was again dominated by Iraq.

"The president has clearly bet his legacy and put all the chips in the pot on Iraq," said Stephen Hess, a presidential expert with the Brookings Institution in Washington, "and it looks better for him at the end of the year than it did at the beginning of the year."

In January, the president unveiled his troop-surge strategy, arguing more U.S. troops were needed to quell ongoing bloodshed.

"The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people -- and it is unacceptable to me," he said in January, announcing the administration was sending an additional 20,000 American troops to fight in Iraq.

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By September, the president was appealing to the nation in a primetime address – declaring the troop-surge strategy a success.

Bush announced some troops would be coming home and wouldn't be replaced, though his plan will leave 7,000 more troops in Iraq next summer than before the troop surge.

Former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, who resigned this year after being diagnosed with cancer and citing financial reasons, said people inside the White House were frustrated with the coverage of the war.

"One of the things that we saw in the White House when I was still there was an improving situation on Iraq," Snow said in an interview with ABC News. "It was frustrating for a long time because nobody would cover it."

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Toward the end of the year, however, news reports began suggesting the troop surge was working.

"That has taken Iraq off the front burner as an issue, and that's going to have all kinds of political implications in 2008," said ABC's Roberts.

Despite the reports of progress in Iraq, however, the families of U.S. soldiers cannot forget the human toll.

Almost 800 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq this year, and about 6,000 were wounded -- bringing the overall Iraq War total to almost 4,000 killed and 28,000 wounded.

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Political Controversy

This past year was also a year of political controversy.

Washington roiled in February with revelations of squalid conditions at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center, renewing focus on veterans' health issues.

And who could forget the contentious congressional testimony of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose explanation of his role in the firings of federal prosecutors and the surveillance program even angered Republicans on the Senate Justice Committee.

"It seems to me that it is just decimating, Mr. Attorney General, as to both your judgment and your credibility," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., when questioning Gonzales on Capitol Hill about his actions surrounding the domestic spying program.

In July, Bush outraged Democrats when he commuted the 30-month prison sentence of I. Lewis Libby Jr., the former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, who was convicted of four felony counts for lying during the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation.

"Libby's conviction was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq War. Now, even that small bit of justice has been undone," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Then there was the humorous, if not uncomfortable news video of Vice President Dick Cheney in October nodding off during an emergency meeting about the California wildfires.

Nothing, of course, topped the August news of Craig, who pleaded guilty to a lewd conduct charge -- a plea he would later try to overturn -- following his June arrest.

The bizarre case pitted Craig versus his home state paper, the Idaho Statesmen, and led to the senator's announcement that he would resign at the end of September. Soon, though, Craig regretted that pledge, returned to Capitol Hill and insisted he would serve out the remainder of his term but not run for re-election in 2008.

Craig is one of many Republican senators who have stated their intention to leave Congress, including Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., Sen. John Warner, R-Va., Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Sen. Pete Dominici, D-N.M.

There were also a number of prominent retirements in the House including former Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., all of which increase the Democrats' odds of holding on to at least their thin majority in Congress.

"It's not that unusual for people who end up in the minority to say, 'Shoot I don't like this anymore; it's much more fun in the majority.' So that's what you're getting," Roberts said. "That will have a big impact on the next election."

World War III

The year 2007 was also the year first lady Laura Bush seemed to find her foreign policy voice. After years of playing it safe, she weighed in on world affairs, deploring Burma's crackdown on an uprising by religious monks.

If the first lady found her voice on foreign policy, President Bush turned up the volume on his, raising the rhetoric against Iran.

In October the president warned publicly about a World War III if Iran didn't cease their weapons program.

"I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them [Iran[ from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon," he said.

However in December, the National Intelligence Report revealed U.S. intelligence agencies believed Iran's nuclear weapons program had been halted in 2003.

Reporters noted Bush continued to raise questions about Iran, even though White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said the president was told in August that Iran had halted its weapons program years ago.

Just days before the release of the report, Bush had convened an international conference in Annapolis to restart peace talks in the Middle East.

While the 24-hour meeting was billed as a conference to boost Israeli-Palestinian relations, in many ways the uninvited guests, most notably Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, garnered more attention from the meeting.

Ahmadinejad condemned the conference as a failure, using strong language to suggest that Israel will collapse. However, one major diplomatic development did emerge from Annapolis.

Bush announced that in January he would make his first visit to Israel as president.

White House Exodus

The year 2007 included a second-term staff exodus from the White House, prompting White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten to tell staffers in September that if they stayed past Labor Day he would expect them to stay until the end of the president's term.

Bush's longtime political aide Karl Rove left the White House, as did White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.

The goodbye list also includes terrorism adviser Fran Townsend, senior adviser Dan Bartlett, legislative affairs director Candida Wolff and embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The president got some good news in 2007 -- he'll be welcoming a new member of the family in 2008.

Jenna Bush, announced her engagement to longtime boyfriend Henry Hager, though the Bushes continue to play coy on whether there will be a White House wedding.

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