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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

At the Trump-term midpoint, another volatile year awaits

The criminal probes are expected to conclude. The current government shutdown will somehow be resolved. President Donald Trump will pick a new defense secretary. While the economy and health care claim center stage, rival presidential candidacies will grow.

As the third year of this Trump term commences, a precise agenda appears elusive. Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives signals new checks on White House actions, while the GOP-controlled Senate under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has its own foreign-policy issues with the president.

The unique volatility of the first two years will likely persist. Many scenarios are now possible for Trump — resounding re-election, defeat, impeachment, acquittal, conviction, isolation or a miraculous surge in approval ratings. Only a pivot toward negotiation and unity seems unlikely.

The famously leakproof Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller generates the most suspense. "I think the biggest question is, is he going to present evidence that Trump committed crimes?" Alex Whiting, a Harvard law professor, told The Guardian. "That's as big as it gets."

The more immediate question is how events will unfold at the southern border, in the Mideast, and in trade confrontations launched by Trump. A new round of talks over tariffs and trade practices with Chinese president Xi Jinping is slated for some time in January. 

Other questions that will soon yield answers: Will Trump keep bashing Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell over an erratic stock market? Will controversy involving William Barr complicate his Senate confirmation for attorney general? Will the announced withdrawal of troops from Syria and Afghanistan go smoothly? Will North Korea keep its nukes? 

Candidates to challenge Trump on the Democratic ticket in 2020 are lining up, in a sharp contrast to the early deference national party players showed last time to Hillary Clinton's candidacy. New Yorkers with their names now in the mix include Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (who says he's not running).

On the Republican side, the nation should discover in the months ahead how seriously to take the prospect of a primary race against Trump. Departing Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake has visited the early primary state of New Hampshire and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who's leaving his current office due to term limits, said he's "seriously considering" another run for the White House.

For the first two years Trump let his vaguely outlined trillion-dollar proposal to rebuild infrastructure drift into vapor. With Democrats set to run the House, it may draw some new discussion. But don't expect results too fast.

Earlier this month Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said: "If the president wanted to earn Democratic support in the Senate, any infrastructure bill would have to include policies and funding that help transition our country to a clean-energy economy and mitigate the risks the United States already faces from climate change."

That position falls far short of aligning with the president's. Even with the advent of a new year, it remains a safe bet that Trump will resist any resolution to become a vocal environmental activist.

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