— -- As the clock ticks down to midnight on Dec. 31, members of Congress are probably hoping for better approval ratings in 2016. A new CNN/ORC poll shows just 14 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing.
Despite those dismal ratings, 2015 was an eventful year on Capitol Hill. Here’s a look at some of the most important and surprising moments.
NUMBER 5: CONGRESS GOT SOME BIG STUFF DONE Despite Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid calling it “the most unproductive Senate in the history of the country,” this Senate – and House – actually passed a bunch of major bills, including a yearlong spending bill to avert a government shutdown, a five-year transportation bill, a replacement of the No Child Left Behind Act and a key trade bill that makes it easier for President Obama to complete a massive pacific trade deal, which he’s said is at the top of his 2016 agenda.
NUMBER 4: CLINTON BENGHAZI HEARING Members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi grilled former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for almost eleven hours about the 2012 terrorist attack on the diplomatic complex in Benghazi, Libya. Chairman Trey Gowdy later acknowledged that his panel hadn’t learned any new information about her involvement. The hearing was preceded by a series of gaffes by GOP members, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s suggestion that the investigation was politically motivated, which provided fodder for Democratic ads and sank McCarthy’s hopes for becoming House Speaker. "We put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are [Clinton’s] numbers today? Her numbers are dropping," he said on cable news. A second Republican, Rep. Richard Hanna, said in a radio interview he thought the panel was purposefully targeting Clinton ahead of 2016.
NUMBER 3: FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER HASTERT BECOMES FELONDennis Hastert, the longest-serving Republican House Speaker, pleaded guilty to evading bank reporting requirements by withdrawing $3.5 million in small amounts in order to pay hush money to allegedly cover up past sexual misconduct. While Hastert served as Speaker from 1999-2007, he spoke often about family values and sex scandals involving other members.
NUMBER 2: POPE FRANCIS CAPTIVATES CONGRESSIONAL AUDIENCE The Pope made history on Sept. 24 when he became the first pontiff to address a joint meeting of Congress. His Holiness seemed to cast a short-lived spell of bipartisanship over Capitol Hill as he urged lawmakers to “move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity.” But the serenity didn’t last for long at the Capitol, thanks to House Speaker John Boehner’s surprise resignation announcement the next day.
NUMBER 1: BOEHNER STEPS DOWN; MCCARTHY DROPS OUT; RYAN BECOMES SPEAKERFew people could have predicted the chain of events that followed Boehner’s (tearful – surprise, surprise) announcement on Sept. 25 that he would be retiring at the end of October. McCarthy, his deputy, quickly threw his hat in the ring, only to drop out two weeks later. Rep. Paul Ryan agreed to take up the mantle, but only if he had the support of the moderate and conservative wings of the Republican Party. Ryan ended 2015 with some legislative accomplishments under his belt, but he still has to keep the GOP together in a tumultuous election year.