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Mueller vs. Trump and more national and international storylines to know for 2019

A quick guide to what's sure to be a busy year, from Robert Mueller's Russia investigation to the presidential campaign trail to Brexit.

Special counsel Robert Mueller and President Donald Trump.

Special counsel Robert Mueller and President Donald Trump. Photo Credit: AP / Charles Dharapak; Getty Images / Win McNamee

This year looks like it will be a fast and furious one for news, given what January has brought so far.

With so much happening — from a partial federal government shutdown with no end in sight to political upheaval in Britain — it's hard to keep track of it all.

With that in mind, here's a look at four major national and international storylines to know about for 2019 — plus wild card candidates for a fifth.

1) Mueller vs. Trump

Special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe has loomed over President Donald Trump's tenure. This year it will probably take center stage.

  • A report by Mueller could be submitted as soon as mid-February, according to NBC News. A judge recently extended Mueller's grand jury in Washington for up to six months, however.
  • The report would go to acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who currently oversees Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference — unless Trump’s choice for the permanent role, William Barr, is confirmed beforehand and does not recuse himself. Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that it was in the public interest for Mueller to finish his probe, and that he would resist any order by Trump to fire the special counsel without cause. "I will not be bullied into doing anything that I think is wrong by anybody, whether it be editorial boards or Congress or the president," Barr said on the first day of his confirmation hearings. He said he expected to produce his own report to Congress on Mueller's findings, and his goal is release as much information as possible to the public.
  • Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, is scheduled to be sentenced early this year. NPR highlighted something to look out for, asking if Manafort's sentencing hearing will "include new details about the core question that special counsel Robert Mueller's office is investigating: Did Trump's campaign conspire with the Russians who attacked the 2016 presidential election?"

2) Trump vs. House Democrats

Democrats in Congress had limited powers during the first two years of Trump's presidency, when Republicans held unified control of the federal government. But after their midterm election wins, Rep. Nancy Pelosi is back as House speaker and Democrats are vying with Trump to set the national agenda.

  • They've already strongly opposed him on the border wall funding during the shutdown fight, foreshadowing more battles on the president's powers and issues such as health care.
  • Two keywords for 2019 are oversight and investigations. Some key players among the new Democratic committee leaders include Rep. Jerrold Nadler of Manhattan, the House Judiciary Committee chairman; Rep. Adam Schiff of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee; and Rep. Maxine Waters of California, chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee. All three could wind up at the center of debates about the Mueller report or even the prospect of impeachment.

3) The 2020 presidential race

We barely had time to catch our breath after the midterms before another campaign began to take shape — the 2020 presidential race — though the first votes won't be cast for more than a year.

  • On the last day of 2018, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) effectively launched her presidential campaign by announcing the formation of an exploratory committee. She was the first major candidate to take that step.
  • The field is filling up fast. Recently, Democrats including Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii (just 37), Julian Castro and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have gotten in the race. And many more Democrats are considering a run, from former Vice President Joe Biden to Sen. Kamala Harris of California to Texas' Beto O'Rourke, who just left Congress.
  • On the Republican side, Trump doesn’t have a challenger yet. If he doesn’t get one in the GOP primary, a three-way race isn't out of the question for the general election if a viable conservative or centrist makes an independent or third-party bid.
  • The Democratic debates begin in June, and the Iowa caucuses will be here before you know it — in February 2020.

4) Economic tick tock

A roaring economy has been one of the high points of Trump's tenure. But how long will the good times last?

  • There’s Brexit, which is set to finally happen on March 29 — but what will it actually look like after Parliament shot down British Prime Minister Theresa May's deal with the European Union by a historic margin on Tuesday? May survived a no-confidence vote Wednesday. Brexit is expected to hurt the United Kingdom's economy; the question is by how much.
  • There’s the stock market, which has suffered from whiplash lately. The S&P 500 lost 6.2 percent in 2018, its worst year since the financial crisis in 2008. And there’s a global slowdown of the economy. The U.S. economy appears to have grown at about 3 percent in 2018, which would be its best year since 2005. There may not be a repeat, though. "Virtually everyone is expecting growth to slow this year, but how much and how far the slowdown takes us is still anyone's guess," said Chris Rupkey, the chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank. Aside from fears of a recession, will the trade war between the United States and China get resolved, or intensify?
  • But there are also plenty of reasons for optimism. The U.S. unemployment rate is a very low 3.9 percent, with employers adding a surprising 312,000 jobs in December. And there are more open jobs than the number of unemployed, recently released data from November showed.

5) Wild card possibilities

Those are the four storylines we're fairly sure about for 2019. Here are some wild cards that may rise to become another major storyline.

  • What's the impact of China continuing its rise as a global superpower rivaling the United States? (For example, The Daily recently took a two-part look at "What the West Got Wrong About China.")
  • Climate change will continue to impact both the environment and the economy, but will some catastrophic event or major policy breakthrough put it higher on everyone's radars?
  • Health care resonated with many voters in the midterms. Will a court decision or action at the local or state level vault it back into the spotlight?
  • In a divided government, our aging infrastructure again seems like the most natural big-ticket item that both parties could get behind. Can Republicans and Democrats agree on a major initiative?
  • And there’s the ever-present issue of gun control. Will another mass shooting, combined with Parkland activists, a Democratic House and Trump, result in some kind of change this year, or will the status quo remain?

With Heather Doyle, and reporting from The Associated Press

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