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A look back at some of the top political stories of 2023

President Joe Biden walks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral on a surprise visit on Feb. 20.
Evan Vucci
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AP
President Joe Biden walks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral on a surprise visit on Feb. 20.

The year was filled with lots of standout political moments and events.

Here's a look back at some of them, from Capitol Hill drama and another consequential Supreme Court decision to the Republican primary and the political toll of wars abroad.

The GOP primary begins

GOP presidential candidates (from left): former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum during the first Republican primary presidential debate in August.
Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Bloomberg via Getty Images
GOP presidential candidates (from left): former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum during the first Republican primary presidential debate in August.

With his quasi-incumbent status, former President Donald Trump maintains a big lead. Candidates have come and gone, including former Vice President Mike Pence. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is putting all his chips on Iowa, which kicks off voting in less than three weeks. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley gained momentum toward the end of the year and is hoping she can catch Trump and do well, especially in New Hampshire. Overall, the GOP candidates have spent $240 million on TV ads, largely in the two big early nominating states.

Trump becomes first former president to face criminal charges

This booking photo provided by the Fulton County Sheriff's Office shows former President Donald Trump on Aug. 24 after he surrendered and was booked at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta. Trump is accused by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis of attempting to subvert the will of Georgia voters in a bid to keep Joe Biden out of the White House.
Fulton County Sheriff's Office / AP
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AP
This booking photo provided by the Fulton County Sheriff's Office shows former President Donald Trump on Aug. 24 after he surrendered and was booked at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta. Trump is accused by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis of attempting to subvert the will of Georgia voters in a bid to keep Joe Biden out of the White House.

Trump is facing 91 federal and state criminal counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and engaging in a criminal enterprise by attempting to overturn the 2020 election, as well as willful retention of national defense information because of classified documents he didn't give back. Trump's team is trying its best to dismiss and delay the trials until after the 2024 election, and the GOP primary will likely be decided long before there's a verdict in any of his trials regardless.

The saga of Kevin McCarthy

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., during a voting on a motion to adjourn after the 14th vote for speaker in the House chamber as the House meets for the fourth day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress on Jan. 6.
Andrew Harnik / AP
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AP
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., during a voting on a motion to adjourn after the 14th vote for speaker in the House chamber as the House meets for the fourth day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress on Jan. 6.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., is restrained after getting into an argument with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., during in the 14th round of voting for speaker on Jan. 6 at the Capitol.
Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images
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The Washington Post via Getty Images
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., is restrained after getting into an argument with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., during in the 14th round of voting for speaker on Jan. 6 at the Capitol.

The California congressman started the year off by compromising his way into the speakership and weakened his hand so much it led to his undoing by the end of it. He lasted just nine months on the job and became the first House speaker removed from the job in U.S. history. A new speaker was sworn in – Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana – after multiple other possibilities were rejected by the hard right of the party.

A "Speaker of the House" sign is seen outside the office of Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 25. His election as speaker ended a messy three-week succession fight that paralyzed legislative work.
Ting Shen / Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Bloomberg via Getty Images
A "Speaker of the House" sign is seen outside the office of Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 25. His election as speaker ended a messy three-week succession fight that paralyzed legislative work.

The wars involving Ukraine and Israel

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy exits the Old Senate Chamber following a closed-door meeting, alongside Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 21. Zelenskyy made the case for more money to help in the country's war against Russia.
/ Tom Brenner for The Washington Post via Getty Images
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Tom Brenner for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy exits the Old Senate Chamber following a closed-door meeting, alongside Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 21. Zelenskyy made the case for more money to help in the country's war against Russia.

Ukrainians are still entrenched and trying to stave off Russia's nearly two-year attempted takeover of the former Soviet-bloc country. It has been able to do so with the financial backing – and arms – from Western allies. President Biden is promising more funding, but Republicans are growing weary of the extra spending. In Israel, Hamas' Oct. 7 killing spree and abductions of Israelis set off a bloody response from Israel that has divided Americans. Biden is having to watch his left flank, as younger Americans and voters of color are less likely to support standing firm with Israel, a longstanding U.S. ally.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hugs President Biden upon his arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport on Oct. 18, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hugs President Biden upon his arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport on Oct. 18, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas.

Biden announces run for reelection

President Biden announces his bid to "finish the job" with reelection in 2024 on April 25.
Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
President Biden announces his bid to "finish the job" with reelection in 2024 on April 25.

Despite his mediocre poll standings and many Americans believing he's too old to be president, President Biden announced in April he is running for reelection. The country is careening toward a 2020 rematch of Biden and Trump with both men unpopular and either at or approaching 80 years old. Biden has the lowest approval rating 11 months before a reelection bid of any president since Harry Truman. And Trump is even less liked. It could very well mean an ugly 2024.

George Santos was expelled

Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., speaks to reporters as he leaves the federal courthouse in Central Islip, N.Y., on May 10. The House Ethics panel in November issued a scathing report that accused Santos of committing a wide array of crimes, including that he spent campaign cash on personal items like luxury purchases and Botox treatments.
/ Barry Williams for NY Daily News via Getty Images
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Barry Williams for NY Daily News via Getty Images
Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., speaks to reporters as he leaves the federal courthouse in Central Islip, N.Y., on May 10. The House Ethics panel in November issued a scathing report that accused Santos of committing a wide array of crimes, including that he spent campaign cash on personal items like luxury purchases and Botox treatments.

Congress had had enough of the international man of mystery and kicked him out Dec. 1. He's only the third member of Congress to be booted since the Civil War – and the first to be without having been convicted of a crime first. Santos does face criminal charges and is expected to face a trial next year. Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey is also facing charges of acting as a foreign agent for Egypt, and some in his own party have called for him to step aside.

Supreme Court guts affirmative action

For the second year in a row, the conservative-leaning Supreme Court issued a controversial and consequential ruling. In 2022, it was the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and stripped away the guaranteed right to an abortion. That continued to reverberate in politics, helping Democrats win off-year elections in Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio. In 2023, it was an affirmative action ruling that effectively ended race-conscious admission programs at colleges and universities. The decision, which reversed decades of precedent, means colleges and universities can no longer consider race as one of many factors in admissions.

The age of aging lawmakers

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., reaches out to help Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after McConnell froze and stopped talking at the microphones during a news conference after a lunch meeting with Senate Republicans in July.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., reaches out to help Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after McConnell froze and stopped talking at the microphones during a news conference after a lunch meeting with Senate Republicans in July.

Biden has faced persistent questions about his age, but there are also lots of octogenarians serving in Congress. That was underscored by a moment in the halls of Congress when Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 81, of Kentucky froze during a press conference. It highlighted the advanced age of many in Congress and had many asking, how old is too old to serve in public office?

The loss of prominent women in politics

With her husband by her side and Dianne Feinstein's daughter Katherine, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lays across Feinstein's casket at City Hall on Oct. 4 in San Francisco.
Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
With her husband by her side and Dianne Feinstein's daughter Katherine, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lays across Feinstein's casket at City Hall on Oct. 4 in San Francisco.

This year saw the deaths of former first lady Rosalynn Carter, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and former Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Carter and her husband, former President Jimmy Carter, were married longer than any other presidential couple in history – 77 years. She was a noted mental health advocate and became known for her charitable works after leaving the White House.

O'Connor was the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and faced steep obstacles in getting there. Despite being a top student at Stanford Law in the 1950s, she struggled to find a job, eventually taking an unpaid position to work in a local district attorney's office, where she proved herself.

Feinstein was California's first female senator, authored the 1994 assault weapons ban and, as the first woman to chair the Senate Intelligence Committee, defied two presidents when she forced the release of her committee's investigation into torture used against terror suspects.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Heidi Glenn