1. Republicans take control
The 114th Congress is set to convene today with an even bigger Republican majority in the House of Representatives and with control of the Senate now in their hands following their victories in November's midterm elections. What will they do with all that power? This is the Republicans' chance to show what they can do before the 2016 election and it is Mitch McConnell's time to shine. The new Republican leader in the Senate has always wanted the job and now he's got it. To what degree the White House and Congress fight or co-operate and strike deals will be something to watch throughout the year.
2. Decision time for Hillary Clinton, and other presidential contenders
Will she or won't she? At some point in 2015 the former secretary of state will have to officially put an end to the speculation about her running in the 2016 election. Potential candidates who are mulling running for the Republicans — Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and the list goes on and on — will also make their intentions known.
3. Keystone XL's fate
The pipeline decision that never ends might finally be put to rest in 2015. The State Department's review of the proposal has been delayed pending a Nebraska Supreme Court decision, which could be handed down any time between now and the summer. The outcome will partly determine what happens next, but the Republicans are also intent on putting Keystone-passing bills on President Barack Obama's desk — they are vowing to make it one of their first priorities in 2015 — and the president will have to choose whether to use his veto power.
4. Immigration reform
The executive actions Obama took on immigration reform in November will take effect in 2015 — but not if Republicans get their way. Obama is bracing for a political and legal battle over the measures, which are expected to shield millions from deportation. The Republicans will likely try and reverse Obama's actions through legislation or by denying funding for the departments that have to carry them out. If Republicans scrap what Obama has done though, they must have a Plan B, some kind of immigration reform bill of their own, and that's something the party has had trouble reaching agreement on among its members.
5. The mission against ISIS
The U.S. spent the last half of 2014 building an international coalition, which includes Canada, to fight the group known as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). It was a big deal for the White House to send troops back to Iraq after Obama pulled them out a few years ago. There is no clear end date to the U.S.-led campaign and while there has been both public and political support on Capitol Hill for it, that could change in 2015 if it drags on and concerns about mission creep come to fruition.
6. Racism and policing in America
The police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown not only set off riots in Ferguson, Mo., but a national debate about racism in America and police tactics. One of Obama's final actions before leaving Washington for Christmas holidays was to sign an executive order that created a task force that will make recommendations on policing to the president. What he chooses to do and whether any real changes will come of the controversies over Brown's death and other police shootings will be a story to watch in 2015.
7. The NSA surveillance debate
Key sections of the Patriot Act, a controversial law passed in the wake of 9/11 that grants surveillance powers to law enforcement, expires in June so we can expect the debate to be back on Washington's agenda in the spring. Will Congress let the National Security Agency continue the program, which includes bulk phone data collection, or will it fade away? Replace it with something else? It's a matter that privacy and civil liberties advocates, law enforcement and intelligence agents, the White House and Congress will be debating.
8. The economy
The American economy wrapped up 2014 on a positive note with good job numbers reported for November and average hourly earnings going up. In general, there were positive economic indicators throughout the year that the White House will be touting as 2015 gets underway. But the turmoil in global oil markets could threaten the improving American economy and the other key thing to watch is what the Federal Reserve will do with interest rates — will they finally be raised?