Special: Biggest Surprises of 2015 & Star Wars Storm Troopers Invade the White House

Dec. 18, 2015 AT 9:51 p.m. EST
2015 is drawing to a close, and the Washington Week reporters take stock of the biggest surprises of the year. From the rise of Donald Trump to Obama's energy accomplishments to the aftershocks of the the 2008 financial collapse to no government shutdown fights, 2015 has had a lot to remember. Plus, as the newest Star Wars movie is released, the Storm Troopers showed up in an unlikely place -- the White House briefing room.

Get Washington Week in your inbox


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

ANNOUNCER: This is the Washington Week Webcast Extra .

MS. IFILL: I’m Gwen Ifill. And I’m joined around the table by Eamon Javers of CNBC, Peter Baker of The New York Times , Amy Harder of The Wall Street Journal , and Dan Balz of The Washington Post .

We’re going to look back on the year just past, the biggest surprises, the biggest accomplishments, the stories that tell us about 2015. Starting with you, Dan. (Laughter.) You should have felt that one coming.

MR. BALZ: We’ve had quite a year on the campaign front. (Laughter.)

MS. IFILL: Yeah. Yeah. You got to say Donald Trump was the biggest surprise.

MR. BALZ: Oh, no question about it. I mean, the degree to which Trump has shaped the race, shaped the discussion, and defied all the expectations is – you know, I mean, it’s a remarkable story. You look back, there isn’t a political reporter or a political prognosticator who had any sense of the impact he was going to have, or the length to which he has been able to have that impact.

MS. IFILL: We’ve all been wrong multiple times, and will continue probably to be wrong as well.

MR. BALZ: Multiple times. And no doubt we’ll be wrong once we get into the new year. And the other thing that’s interesting is, you know, Hillary Clinton started the year as the story, right? She was the – she was the big dominant celebrity politician in the race. And she’s been overshadowed, perhaps to her benefit, by what’s happened in the Republican race. But the Republican race –

MS. IFILL: When the attention is on her, it’s on emails and negatives. When it’s off of her it’s off of her. That can’t hurt.

MR. BALZ: Yeah. So it’s – where we’re going is – you know, is really anybody’s guess. I mean, the national polls say Trump is the clear front-runner. And the Iowa polls – the most recent good Iowa poll from the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg shows Ted Cruz with a 10-point lead over Trump. Ben Carson, who had his moment, has faded. But in New Hampshire, the contest now in that kind of establishment lane – you know, you’ve got Rubio, you’ve got Christie, you’ve got Kasich. And Bush, who was very – you know, very strong in the debate going after Trump and has continued it in the days after that debate, may, you know, see some new life for him. You know, not clear that he can make up the ground that he’s lost throughout the year.

MS. IFILL: His video taking Trump on for some of the things he said during the debate was better than a fact check, I thought. (Laughter.)

Amy, what surprise struck you from 2015?

MS. HARDER: Well, you know, what surprises me is the last six months and everything has been accomplished on President Obama’s climate and energy agenda. Starting with August 1 st , he announced the final Clean Power Plan, which is the big EPA regulation cutting carbon emissions from power plants. It’s really the architect of his – the architecture of his climate agenda to the Paris climate talks. And then several weeks later we had the final rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. Now, it was an open secret by then among most that he was going to reject it, but the fact that he finally did it after seven years. And then a couple weeks later you had Paris. And you had him fly to Paris and strike that deal. And then just now he has this big spending bill which –

MS. IFILL: That’s a lot, actually, on his agenda, when you think of it that way.

MS. HARDER: In six months. I’ve been – I’ve been pretty busy. (Laughter.) And so it’s just all of that together is really – you know, after he didn’t do much on his – on this issue in the last six years, he’s really kind of turning up the volume. And so that surprises me. I wonder what he’s going to do next year.

MS. IFILL: That’s what he’s wondering too.

Eamon, what about the economy?

MR. JAVERS: You know, I think what’s fascinating is that we are still living with the aftershocks of 2008. And you’re seeing it playing out on the campaign trail now. I mean, if you think about the economic collapse of 2008, it was arguably nearly entirely responsible for Barack Obama getting elected to the White House, when that stock market collapse happened and we saw the way in ’08 Obama handled it versus McCain handled it. That’s when you started to see the separation and Obama get to the White House.

Today, I think the decimation of the American middle class over the past number of years is playing into the politics that we’re seeing out on the campaign trail that you guys are out there covering. You know, you see Donald Trump leading in the Republican Party. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton seems to be a lock, but they’ve also got an avowed socialist running in the Democratic Party, who is the physical embodiment of everything that you think a presidential candidate would not be in this year of the outsider. And he is doing very, very well. And in fact, the Hillary campaign seems a little bit nervous about him.

I think that the American middle class is deeply unsettled by these changes that have happened and they’re looking for something new. And we’re seeing it in both parties and we’re going to see it all throughout 2016.

MS. IFILL: Peter.

MR. BAKER: Well, I think one big surprise is that we’re going to see the president – he just left for Hawaii – and the Congress is going to go home pretty soon, and the government is still open. (Laughter.) And there has – you know, somehow we avoided Armageddon, you know, that we always seem to predict and often come close to this time of year. At the same time, the whole Republican race has been as boisterous as it has been, has been as, you know, loud and rambunctious and confrontational as it has been. The president of the United States and the Congress of the United States have been quietly able to actually get a few things done.

Amy talked about a few of them on some, you know, energy and climate-type things, but it’s been across – and the budget – but it’s been across the board on a number of things where they have actually realized there are things that they actually agree on. Now, they’re not a lot and they’re not some of the things their various, you know, parties would like it to be, but in the seventh year of his presidency when he no longer poses a threat, he no longer has an election ahead of him, people are looking to finally get some things done.

MS. IFILL: And when you’re in the seventh year of your presidency, you can do things like bring “Star Wars” characters into the briefing room at the White House.

MR. BAKER: That was the least surprising thing we saw today, come on. (Laughter.)

MS. IFILL: Oh, come on you “Star Wars” fan.

MR. JAVERS: I’m a huge “Star Wars” nerd. I’ll admit it. I love the moment. But you wonder if Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, realized at that moment that those were the bad guys. (Laughter.) The dark side of the force.

MS. IFILL: I think at this point the White House will take the bad guys, the good guys. They’ll take whatever they can.

MR. BAKER: Right. They’re going to work with whoever they have to work with.

MR. JAVERS: It’s a PR op.

MS. IFILL: Exactly. Get it done. (Laughter.) Thank you, everybody. We didn’t use the word legacy once. (Laughter.) We’re off to drink eggnog now, but you can check out more on our website, including my take this week, and why you really should calm down and stop reading the polls. That’s my gift to you. (Laughter.) And we’ll see you next year on the next Washington Week Webcast Extra .


Support our journalism

Washington Week Logo

© 1996 - 2024 WETA. All Rights Reserved.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization

Support our journalism


Contact: Kathy Connolly,

Vice President Major and Planned Giving

kconnolly@weta.org or 703-998-2064