Frank James

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.

"The Two-Way" is the place where gives readers breaking news and analysis — and engages users in conversations ("two-ways") about the most compelling stories being reported by NPR News and other news media.

James came to NPR from the Chicago Tribune, where he worked for 20 years. In 2006, James created "The Swamp," the paper's successful politics and policy news blog whose readership climbed to a peak of 3 million page-views a month.

Before that, James covered homeland security, technology and privacy and economics in the Tribune's Washington Bureau. He also reported for the Tribune from South Africa and covered politics and higher education.

James also reported for The Wall Street Journal for nearly 10 years.

James received a bachelor of arts degree in English from Dickinson College and now serves on its board of trustees.

In politics, it always comes down to timing. And right now, it appears the timing just isn't right for congressional Republicans to take up an immigration overhaul.

If you read between the lines, that's what Speaker John Boehner was saying when he talked earlier in the week about how "difficult" the immigration issue is. And it's what GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell was saying when he indicated earlier in the week that he didn't see immigration overhaul happening this year at all.

The groundwork being laid for a Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016 overlooks a single, almost unthinkable scenario: What if she doesn't run?

After all, while that might sound like heresy to the various Democratic groups now raising money, locking down political talent and generally acting as a campaign-in-waiting on her behalf, it's not certain she will run.

It was annual Senate retreat time in Washington this week, a moment when senators get away from the U.S. Capitol, free themselves of their staffs and daily legislative, office and fundraising chores, and try to gain some fresh perspective.

They didn't go far, mind you. Senate Democrats met Wednesday at Washington Nationals Park about a mile and half away from Capitol Hill, still in sight of the Rotunda. Republicans merely repaired to their usual place across the street from the Capitol, the Library of Congress.

Much of politics is about symbols and gestures. And there were plenty of them at the historic Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., Tuesday.

Under Chairman Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee vows to be much more serious about outreach to African-Americans than ever before.

Much of what was in President Obama's fifth State of the Union address was expected — it was signaled for days leading into the speech. Even so, there were a few revealing moments.

Here are five that stood out:

As President Obama prepares to deliver his State of the Union speech Tuesday evening, he does it against a backdrop of some of the lowest voter-approval ratings of his presidency, with a divided Congress that has largely stalled his second-term agenda and with Washington's collective focus starting to shift toward the midterm elections and beyond.

Here are five things to expect from the president in his fifth State of the Union speech:

Michigan's Republican Gov. Rick Snyder was in Washington this week to talk about immigration reform. I got a few minutes with him before his appearance with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. So, of course, the first thing I asked was how the troubles of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell might affect the Republican brand.

Not surprisingly, Snyder, a very successful business leader in his first term as governor, politely sidestepped that question.

As if to underscore GOP efforts at outreach to female voters, a breakout session of the Republican National Committee's latest "rising stars" at the group's winter meeting Thursday in Washington, D.C., entirely comprised young women.

That President Obama could openly speculate about marijuana being less dangerous than alcohol — and embrace the state-level legalization of the drug — is a measure of just how far the nation has moved since the 1980s.

Back then, the Reagan administration's approach was absolute: "Just Say No." It's more complicated today.

If there was a consensus emanating from Congress Friday after President Obama's NSA reform speech, it was — not surprisingly — that Congress itself has a major role to play in the ultimate fix.

Whether from strong NSA supporters or agency critics, the reactions sounded similar: Congress intends to do much of the steering in the drive to overhaul the NSA's gathering of certain non-public information, especially consumer phone records, in the nation's counterterrorism efforts.

Even so, if you listened closely, you could hear the sound of politics in some of the reaction.

For President Obama and Senate Democrats, who gathered in a White House meeting Wednesday, it's all about mutual aid at this point.

If Obama is to maintain any leverage in Congress, he needs Democrats to keep control of the Senate since the House appears likely to remain in Republican hands. And if his second term agenda has any hope of being achieved — such as tackling income inequality, overhauling immigration or reaching a durable nuclear deal with Iran — he'll need a Democratic Senate majority working side-by-side with him.

Regular order. That phrase refers to Congress conducting business in a methodical way, like it used to back before "dysfunctional" came to seem an official and permanent part of Congress' name.

When the House and Senate appropriations committee chairs announced late Monday evening that they had agreed on how to allocate the $1.012 trillion in federal spending, it was yet another step on the path to regular order that Congress forced itself to return to after years of regular disorder, best symbolized by last year's partial government shutdown.

By most accounts, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie passed the leadership challenge posed by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

But the political storm created by the George Washington Bridge scandal is testing him in different ways, fueled by a combination of factors that make it difficult even for a politician as manifestly self-assured as Christie.

Christie will have a promising opportunity Tuesday to move beyond the mess caused by the politically inspired closing of toll lanes on the nation's busiest bridge in his State of the State speech.

Just as the Senate seemed to descend into another round of partisan gridlock, this time over extending emergency jobless benefits, the arrival of a surprisingly weak December jobs report raised the pressure on Congress to act.

The question is whether news that the economy created a mere 74,000 jobs last month — far fewer than the 200,000 forecasters predicted — delivered enough of a jolt to Capitol Hill, where what seemed like bipartisan progress on the issue early in the week had reverted to partisan nastiness.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has found the George Washington Bridge in his way on the road to a potential 2016 presidential run. Right now, it's still an open question whether he'll get over it.

Thursday's marathon news conference was certainly an important moment in that journey. The heretofore 2016 Republican frontrunner apologized and took responsibility for members of Team Christie exacting political revenge on the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., by closing lanes to the nation's busiest bridge in September, causing major traffic snarls.

In his new memoir, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a fairly serious charge against Hillary Clinton that likely will hound her if she decides to run for president in 2016: that she admitted in his presence that there were political considerations in her opposition to the U.S. military surge in Iraq.

As soon as the first excerpts of Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War surfaced, many Republicans pounced on Gates' recollection of the Obama-Clinton Iraq surge conversation.

When a reporter asked Reince Priebus Tuesday if Republicans would respond to a question about any issue by somehow directing the conversation back to the Affordable Care Act, the Republican National Committee chairman answered tongue-in-cheek.

"The answer is Obamacare," he said. "No, I'm just kidding."

Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, ended her Wyoming Senate primary challenge Monday, saying in a statement that a family health situation is responsible for her decision. (ABC News reports that sources close to Cheney said one of her daughters has diabetes.)

Even before family health issues arose, Cheney's apparently dimming prospects against GOP Sen. Mike Enzi would have been enough to give pause to many candidates.

Updated at 7:55 p.m. ET

When Congress returns next week, House Republicans will welcome their Democratic colleagues with a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't vote.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has let it be known that the House will vote on legislation ostensibly meant to protect Americans from data breaches. Several Republicans have introduced security bills, so Cantor has plenty of material to work with.

With November midterm elections looming, 2014 promises much more political catnip than 2013.

It's a year with a full roster of House, Senate and gubernatorial races, but 2014 is also likely to prove to be another critical period for the Affordable Care Act as an important deadline comes early and the Supreme Court takes up another aspect of the health law.

Here are some of the most important dates to watch:

If anything defined 2013, it was the political misstep. There were so many gaffes, flaps, scandals and ill-advised moves that voters were often left scratching their heads at the political class's uncanny knack for diminishing its profession.

Here are eight of the more memorable screw-ups:

The 113th Congress, which just ended its first year, has come to be defined more by what it hasn't done than what it has. With two warring and ideologically polarized parties controlling either end of Capitol Hill, Congress has more or less become a quagmire for policy.

Still, one of the least productive Congresses of the modern era was able to accomplish a few things in 2013. Here are five of them:

1. Going Nuclear

It's the season of peace and goodwill, but President Obama may have tested the limits of both with some comments at his end-of-year news conference.

Asked if he would negotiate with congressional Republicans about the debt ceiling, Obama said he wouldn't do so over raising the limit, though he was willing to talk with Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican and House Budget Committee chairman, about other issues, like tax reform.

President Obama came to office after bemoaning the disparity in sentences for crack versus powder cocaine offenses, and with a background as a community organizer and constitutional law teacher that had some progressives anticipating a robust use of the Constitution's "reprieves and pardons" power.

Now that the bipartisan budget agreement has passed the Senate and is headed for the president's desk, it's a good time to consider some of the takeaways from the past two weeks of congressional Sturm und Drang.

Here are five:

Congress still works, sort of.

Were access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, the nation's busiest span, closed as political retribution against a mayor who didn't publicly endorse New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's re-election?

The governor denies that politics played a role in the traffic-snarling decision, but the controversy has put an ever-growing stain on Christie's glossy November re-election victory. And the episode could have an impact on Christie's White House ambitions.

At the moment, Washington fiscal policy is a good news, bad news story.

The good news is that the budget agreement, overwhelmingly passed by the House last week in a bipartisan vote, is likely to be approved by the Senate this week. That takes another costly government shutdown off the table.

The bad news? Another debt ceiling fight, with all the attendant risks of a U.S. government default, appears to be right around the corner.

In the wrenching days and weeks after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, many on both sides of the gun control debate thought that horror had so shifted the political winds that stricter federal gun laws would surely result.

That, of course, didn't happen.

On the surface, it may look like the gun lobby ultimately won the political battles that mattered in the past year. After all, Congress failed to pass tougher gun laws. But the reality is more mixed; the result was more of a stalemate.

Some moments feel like turning points. Speaker John Boehner's rhetorical takedown of his party's Tea Party faction seems like one such moment.

For two days running, Boehner, R-Ohio, has made clear that he's heard just about enough from conservative advocacy groups such as the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks.

On Wednesday, he called them "ridiculous." On Thursday, he said "they've lost all credibility."

In any conversation about vulnerable Senate Democrats, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana rises straight to the top of the list.