President Donald Trump's second year in office saw a historic summit with North Korea, an epic Supreme Court confirmation battle, a continuing strong economy, a contentious midterm election — and a slowly unfolding investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller that loomed over everything else.
Here are 12 moments that tell the story of President Trump, Year 2, which began Jan. 20, 2018.
Gun control debate reintensifies
Seventeen people, mostly students, were killed in a high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine's Day in 2018. Grieving students from Parkland immediately mobilized, bringing the push for gun control back to center stage and launching the March for Our Lives. Trump called for arming teachers at schools and criticized the FBI after the revelation that it did not pursue a tip about the suspect. The president promised to ban bump stocks on guns, a regulation that will take effect in March.
Family separations at the border
Under the "zero-tolerance policy" announced by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April, the Trump administration separated more than 2,400 migrant children from parents when they were detained illegally crossing the United States-Mexico border. Images emerged of children being housed in large chain-link cages by the Border Patrol. After an uproar, Trump halted the family separations with an executive order June 20. “We’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together," he said.
A tweet the next day distilled his view of protecting the border: "We have to maintain strong borders or we will no longer have a country that we can be proud of — and if we show any weakness, millions of people will journey into our country."
The Trump-Kim summit
Back during Year 1, in his first address before the United Nations General Assembly, Trump threatened to "totally destroy North Korea" if necessary and lobbed a series of insults at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Tensions remained high, and in January 2018 Trump and Kim even jousted over who had the bigger "nuclear button." Then came a surprise June 12 summit in Singapore, the first meeting ever between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader. Trump promptly declared via Twitter that the North Korean nuclear threat was over, but it's unclear what resulted from the summit.
The Helsinki summit
The setting: The first summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a neutral European capital, on July 16. After a two-hour meeting between the leaders, accompanied only by interpreters, they appeared at a news conference where Trump questioned U.S. intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to his benefit — and sided with Putin. "I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump said. “He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be."
Businessman Trump's economy
President Trump has consistently trumpeted the strong economy during his tenure. In September, the U.S. unemployment rate continued its yearslong trend and dropped to 3.7 percent — the lowest since 1969. Since March there have been more open jobs than unemployed Americans, which is unprecedented since the government began tracking job openings in 2000. The economy, charged by Trump's tax cuts, appears to have grown at about 3 percent in 2018. "The only problem our economy has is the Fed," Trump tweeted in December.
Trump has often promoted the stock market's performance, but the S&P 500 lost 6.2 percent during 2018 as the economic recovery hit year 10.
U.S.-China trade war
Year 2 brought a trade war between the world's two biggest economies over technology and industrial policy, with several tit-fot-tat tariff increases. Things escalated in September, before Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to postpone further tariff hikes on Dec. 1. High-level trade talks on Wednesday and Thursday in Washington made progress, but "much work remains to be done," the White House said in a statement.
The Kavanaugh confirmation battle
In gripping testimony in October, Christine Blasey Ford accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's Supreme Court nominee, of sexually assaulting her at a party in high school in the early 1980s. Kavanaugh angrily defended himself, Republicans accused Democrats of character assassination, and key swing vote Sen. Jeff Flake was confronted by two sexual assault victims while he was in an elevator. Trump called Blasey Ford a "very credible witness," but then mocked her at a Mississippi rally.
Ultimately, Trump, McConnell and the GOP got what they wanted: Justice Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, giving it a 5-4 conservative majority.
Mueller, Russia and Michael Cohen
The special counsel's Russia investigation proceeded methodically and largely in the background during Trump's second year, but the information that Mueller's team made public in indictments and court cases has added pressure on Trump, who has called it a witch hunt. Then there's the Michael Cohen case, which was referred by Mueller to federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Trump's former personal lawyer pleaded guilty to felony campaign finance violations — with Cohen and prosecutors saying that Trump (a.k.a. "Individual-1") directed him to make hush-money payoffs to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Year 3 of Trump’s presidency may well be defined by the contents of Mueller's report.
The president defended himself following a New York Times report about an FBI counterintelligence investigation of him, saying Jan. 14, 2019, "I never worked for Russia." The Times reported that after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017, the bureau "began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests."
In his first response to the story, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro asked Trump if he is or ever has worked for Russia. The president did not directly answer, but told the TV host, "I think it's the most insulting article I've ever had written, and if you read the article you'll see that they found absolutely nothing."
Democrats won back the House with their "blue wave," making Nancy Pelosi speaker again with a 235-199 majority. Their margin of victory was 9.5 million votes, beating the previous midterms record of 8.7 million from 1974 just after Watergate, NBC News reported.
But Republicans added to their majority in the Senate after Trump doubled down and campaigned in red states, and made an issue of migrant caravans heading to the U.S. border. GOP victories were later confirmed in the high-profile, left vs. right governor's races in Florida and Georgia.
Trump's aggressive trade posture produced a different result with Canada and Mexico: a successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement that gives American dairy farmers more access to the Canadian market, and has a provision meant to bring car production back to the U.S. or Canada.
Trump called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement a major victory for workers. What he branded the USMCA is meant to bring manufacturing back to the U.S., but it is expected to bring mostly incremental change. It still needs legislative approval from each country.
Notable departures, Year 2
High turnover in Trump's administration continued in his second year in office. Consider these high-profile departures during Year 2: Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, and forced out Attorney General Jeff Sessions and chief of staff John Kelly. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in protest, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster's job security finally ran out. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned while under investigation. And Trump loyalist Hope Hicks left the White House.
Longest government shutdown in U.S. history
The partial government shutdown that began Dec. 22 became the longest ever, lasting 35 days, before President Trump signed a bill to temporarily reopen the government without funding for his border wall. His second year in office ended in the midst of that shutdown.
Trump has followed through on a number of his campaign promises, and seems determined to add building a border wall to that list. Democrats have said they will not fund it. The three-week deal that ended the shutdown expires Feb. 15.
With The Associated Press