Year of the storm

Hurricanes displaced political storms as the stories that dominated the nation’s agenda in 2005. The year went into the record books as the stormiest since the government began collecting data in the 19th century and established a new record for hurricanes.

But while Katrina wrought the greatest destruction, other storm clouds darkened the American landscape: Two Supreme Court vacancies whipped up a storm of hot air and controversy on Capitol Hill and beyond, the Bush administration was lashed by plummeting public confidence and _ perhaps the darkest cloud of all _ the American death toll in Iraq reached 2,000.

Here’s a look at the top 10 national stories of 2005:

1. Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast Aug. 29, all but destroying New Orleans and forcing a lengthy relocation of more than 1 million people. President Bush promised to “do what it takes” to rebuild the region, but the price tag estimated at more than $200 billion not only makes it the most costly natural disaster in history but dissipates political interest in paying the bill. There were 26 named storms during the season, surpassing the record of 21 set in 1933. Of those, 14 became hurricanes, beating the previous record of 12 set in 1969.

2. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s decision to retire changed the Supreme Court lineup for the first time in 11 years. Her July 1 announcement, and the Sept. 3 death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, prompted John Roberts’ swift confirmation as Rehnquist’s successor. But conservative opposition to Harriet Miers forced Bush to withdraw that choice and nominate Samuel Alito instead.

3. The 2,000th American soldier died in Iraq, and debate intensified over when the United States should withdraw. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a hawk on defense policy and friend of the Pentagon, stunned the White House by calling for redeployment of all troops as quickly as possible, and President Bush made a series of speeches _ including a prime-time television address, in an attempt to build confidence in his policy.

4. Bush’s 2004 election victory failed to translate into a successful 2005 agenda. Questions about the Iraq war, soaring energy prices, bungled federal hurricane response, lack of robust economy and a failed Supreme Court choice caused Bush’s poll numbers to tank and sapped his GOP congressional support.

5. Congressional Republican leaders came under legal fire with Tom DeLay forced to step aside as majority leader after his indictment by a Texas grand jury on charges of election-law violations. Senate leader Bill Frist also came under investigation for insider stock trading. While he hangs onto his leadership post, the probe may have killed his 2008 presidential chances. In another blow to Republicans, Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Calif., pleaded guilty to taking more than $2 million in money and goods from military contractors in exchange for helping them obtain Pentagon contracts.

6. Americans were shocked by skyrocketing prices at the gasoline pumps. The startling increases were partly caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which temporarily stopped Gulf Coast production. The average price of regular gasoline rose from $1.78 a gallon on Jan. 3 to as high as $3.07 a gallon on Sept. 5. Also on the increase were prices for natural gas, home heating oil and petroleum-based products.

7. Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was indicted on charges of lying to the grand jury in the CIA leak investigation that became known by some as “Plamegate.” The grand jury was investigating whether White House officials illegally disclosed the identity of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame. She’s the wife of retired diplomat Joseph Wilson, who accused the administration of twisting intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear ambitions. New York Times reporter Judith Miller spent 12 weeks in jail for refusing to testify before the grand jury.

8. The fate of brain-damaged Terri Schiavo ignited a tug-of-war between Congress and President Bush and the federal judiciary. Lawmakers, including House leader Tom DeLay, threatened judges for not keeping her on life support despite her husband’s wishes and a Florida court ordered that she be removed. Schiavo died after becoming the centerpiece of a national right-to-die battle.

9. The longest-kept secret in Washington was revealed when Vanity Fair identified retired FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt as “Deep Throat,” the anonymous source who led Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to unmask the Watergate scandal that eventually brought down President Nixon in 1974.

10. Michael Jackson was acquitted on all charges of child molestation brought against him by a California D.A. whose earlier case against the entertainer had been frustrated by an out-of-court settlement.

(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)