Impacts of the U.S. Midterm Elections on Biden’s Foreign Policy 

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INTRODUCTION

On November 8, U.S. midterm elections took place, together with the renewal of 36 state governors. Nearly 110 million US citizens enjoyed the voting; the turnout showed a slight decrease from midterms of 2018, when more than 115 million voters casted ballots. The GOP, “Grand Old Party”, namely the Republican Party, has gained the House, but their small, unexpected margin means the chamber will be strongly up for grabs again in two years. As to the Senate, the Democrats have seized control of the Chamber with a result of 50 to 49. The ballot in Georgia for the remaining seat left of the Senate will take place on December 6, but its result will not alter the Democrats’ victory, as also in case of parity Vice-President Kamala Harris has the decisive vote as she casts any tie-breaking votes. Regarding the races to state governments, results have brought to an equal distribution of the seats, with 18 States assigned to both the Democratic and the Republican parties.

The midterm elections were highly anticipated, and fears among Democrats were spreading about the possibility of losing the majority within both Chambers. Eventually, the expected Republican wave slowed, as President Joe Biden managed to keep control of the Senate. These elections were also extremely important to test American democracy, as the images of the Capitol Hill attack, on January 6th, 2021, are still stuck in American citizens’ minds. Voting has been conducted without major problems, and no undemocratic incidents have been reported during counting of ballots.

Lots of concerns were raised under Trump-supported candidates, as their race to Congress would tell a lot about current Trump’s political force and whether he will be the party’s presidential candidate again in 2024. In fact, Trump has endorsed several conservative candidates, and some of them are 2020-election deniers.

Even though the GOP did not enjoy the results polls had expected, Former President Donald Trump has declared that the elections were a great success. Yet, it is worth noting that the greatest success for Republicans has been obtained in Florida, with the landslide re-election win as governor of Ron DeSantis. There have been whispers about the latter being one of the possible Republican presidential candidates for 2024. He is considered very influential in Florida, and his popularity is growing throughout the country, with many Republican voters favoring him over Trump as GOP’s choice for presidential elections in 2024.

An analysis of the consequences of the midterms results is going to follow, particularly on how they might impact President Biden’s foreign agenda. Doing this, it will be necessary to go through a brief assessment of the most noteworthy, elected candidates, who might have significant relevance for the future political choices of the Presidency. Eventually, a major focus on US policy toward the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict, along with the possible impacts on other European countries, will be provided.

ON THE RESULTS OF THE ELECTIONS

Regarding the House of Representatives, the whole Chamber has been renovated, counting 435 members. Republicans have secured a narrow majority, having won 220 seats, against 213 seats obtained by the Democrats. Two more seats have not been called yet, but this won’t alter GOP’s control, since the ‘magic number’ for enjoying the majority is 218. Anyway, it is important to stress that the Republican party has not received the support which polls had predicted. Most were expecting a red wave to invade the country and this unexpected result may not weaken President Biden’s position.

In the Senate, Democrats will retain control, after winning key races such as the ones in Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Nevada. One-third of the Chamber has been renovated. The result is 50 seats for the Dems and 49 for the Republicans. One more seat is still vacant in Georgia, as neither Republican candidate, former football champion Herschel Walker, fiercely pro-life, nor current Democratic Senator, Reverend Baptist Raphael Warnock, have reached 50% of the votes needed to take the office. The ballot in Georgia will be held on December 6. Anyway, the result wouldn’t change the Dems’ majority, because even in case of a Republican win, Vice President Kamala Harris would still enjoy the power of casting any tie-breaking vote.  

As to the governor races, relevant is the re-election of Ron DeSantis as Florida governor. The 44-year-old politician has obtained a blowout win over Democrat C. Crist, as almost 60% of the voters have cast ballots for him. His popularity is getting grower and grower in Florida and all around the country, and most have whispered he is projected to race against former President Trump in the GOP’s primary for presidential elections in 2024. Ron DeSantis is a powerful and attractive politician, who represents a good alternative to Trump (and Trumpism) according to many Republican voters. If before the elections many would argue that Trump was easily going to be the 2024 GOP candidate due to his dominant political force, after midterms results this battle may be more competitive than previously thought.

As previously said, the results of Trump-supported candidates were under high focus, as they are a significant indicator of Trump’s support by the American citizen, not only in the view of the 2024 elections, but also because they might put pressure on Biden’s domestic and foreign agenda. There have been almost 162 Trump-endorsed candidates for the House, and 141 of them have been declared winners. Among them, noteworthy are:

Monica De La Cruz (TX-15)

Ashley Hinson (IA-02)

Eli Crane (AZ-02)

Ken Calvert (CA-41)

David Schweikert (AZ-01)

Zach Nunn (IA-03)

Among Trump-backed new Members, many of them are 2020-election deniers. In the next Congress, 156 GOP House members who raised doubts about the integrity of the last presidential election are going to take a seat.

A total of 25 candidates for the Senate have been endorsed by former President Trump. Among Trump’s Senate endorsees, 17 have been declared winners, and five of them are identified as election deniers. Among new Senators supported by Trump appear:

Ron Johnson (WI)

JD Vance (OH)

Ted Budd (NC)

In the State’s governments as well there have been a large number of Trump-supported candidates. Over half of all Republican midterm candidates running for federal office raised doubts about the validity of the 2020 election results.

CHANGES ON THE PRESIDENTIAL FOREIGN AGENDA

After these elections, many would have expected a change in Biden’s foreign agenda due to the pressures pushed by the Republicans, which wants to shift the Presidency’s focus on American domestic problems, from inflation to high energy costs. However, the Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy, due to the low-margin majority that the GOP enjoys, will struggle to make President Biden put more effort on the domestic front. At the same time, Democrats have faced a significant loss with the defeat of Tom Malinowski in New Jersey. The latter is the vice chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a high observer of human rights and democracy, particularly in the Middle East. Anyway, no relevant changes may occur to Washington’s approach toward the Middle East. Indeed, an even more aggressive approach may be expected toward Saudi Arabia, both from Republicans willing to stress Biden’s failure to negotiate with Prince Mohammed bin Salman on oil, and from Democrats willing to put pressure on the Saudi prince for his human rights violations.

Moving to Europe, the current Russian-Ukrainian war is the major challenge for the Biden administration. Russia was hoping for a Republican large victory over the Democrats. Reasons lie behind the fact that many Republicans have criticized Biden’s policy toward Ukraine. Particularly, they have complained about the huge amounts of money President Biden has been enlarging to Kiev. The Kremlin expected, and still does, a change in this policy with a House of Representatives controlled by Republicans. In light of the midterm results, these expectations might have failed, as the GOP doesn’t have the power to put that hard pressure on the Presidency. It is likely to witness a continuation of the US foreign agenda over Ukraine that we have been seeing over the past nine months. Not only, but the GOP seems not to have a joint and coherent view on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, most of the political parties in the Western world have faced divisions among their members. The one which suffered most from it is probably the GOP. Indeed, we have witnessed different approaches towards Russia and Ukraine by Republicans. On one hand, Trump and Trump-linked politicians, even though they never neglected their support to Ukraine, have condemned Biden’s policy of the ‘blank check’ towards Kiev. To make an example, Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy had criticized the huge amounts enlarged to Ukraine, affirming that ‘next year, there should be no blank check on anything. We are $31 trillion in debt”. Furthermore, in May, 57 House Republicans rejected a $40 billion enlargement for Ukraine. Influential outside groups like the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington D.C.-based think-tank also active in Europe, have been supporting this anti-interventionist contingent, trying to halt these frequent enlargements. On the other hand, the other side of the GOP is not only in favor of Kiev but pushes for even more commitment by the United States. They have supported the dispatch of money and weapons, and it seems they are not willing to look for a peace deal without Moscow’s defeat. In May, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell flew to Kiev and met Zelensky, reassuring him about Republicans’ full support toward Ukraine. McConnell wants the party to be united with Kiev and fears the diffusion of this anti-interventionist front that is becoming the majority in the party. Then-Vice President Mike Pence is on the same stance and he is trying to halt the spread of Trumpism within the party. He has stressed a few weeks ago that there is no place for Putin’s ‘apologists’, also affirming that ‘We must demand this administration increases military spending immediately, arms Ukraine with lethal weapons to counter Russian armor and aircraft and President Biden should sanction all Russian oil exports worldwide’.

Concerning the rest of the EU countries, EU foreign policy has been coherently aligned with NATO one, and the latest successes of the Ukrainian troops would bring even more collaboration between the EU and NATO over the next months. Even the German government’s decision of undertaking a full rearmament with a $100B bill, which at first appeared as a huge revolution of Berlin’s foreign and defense policy, has been widely welcomed both by the EU and the US. However, The war in Ukraine has also shifted American attention towards some European countries which had been almost abandoned after the end of the Cold War by the American foreign policy agenda. This is particularly true for Central European countries. After the end of the Cold War, Central Europe has been almost overshadowed by other regions. Since February 2014, with the Russian annexation of Crimea, the US foreign agenda shifted its attention to Ukraine, and consequently Central Europe as well returned to the spotlight of the US Presidencies. This pattern intensified even more after the outbreak of a large-scale conflict in Ukraine last February. Poland and Hungary are the most observed ones, both due to their close position to Ukraine, and the opposite approaches they have adopted towards Russia. Both countries are at risk of becoming involved in a conflict if Russia’s aggression expands and are also strategically important for their closeness to the Ukrainian border, representing a crucial point for the disposal of weapons and other military equipment. Yet, Warsaw and Budapest have adopted two different attitudes and tactics regarding the conflict. The first has been very supportive of Ukraine, pushing for harder sanctions on Russia. Instead, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has shown a more elusive approach and has repeatedly stated that Hungary will not provide Ukraine with military equipment.

Before the Russian aggression on Ukraine, the US agenda on Central Europe was mainly centered on checking the undemocratic tendency that was spreading among the countries of the Visegrad Group, notably Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia. On several occasions, US diplomacy has shown concerns about the authoritarian drift undertaken by these countries, particularly Poland and Hungary. For example, in August 2021, Poland advanced a bill limiting foreign ownership of local broadcasters, a move which was seen to target an independent American media group-owned TV channel, TVN24, which was largely critical of Law and Justice, the right-wing party leading the Polish government. President Biden condemned the bill and Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a statement critical of the NATO ally. Biden has often been critical of Prime Minister Orban’s authoritarian ruling, the latter having friendly ties with former President Trump. However, the Ukrainian war represented a step to restore good relationships between the Biden-led United States and the above-mentioned countries. On March 26, at the end of a trip to Poland aimed at strengthening the NATO alliance against Russia, President Biden praised Poland’s response to the war, pushing for closer cooperation. Warsaw’s importance to the US mattered more than ever after a Russian-made missile, belonging to the Ukrainian defensive system, fell in the eastern part of the country, killing two Polish farmers. The event has made America aware that Poland represents its European most vital partner on various sets of key security fronts. Over the last months, Rzeszow, the largest city in southeastern Poland, has become a crucial hub for NATO weapons. At the moment, more than 5,000 military personnel have been deployed to Poland in order to strengthen NATO defense against Russia.

The relationship with Poland is also strategically important from an energy point of view. Poland has been very critical of Nord Stream 2, the pipeline that would bring natural gas from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea. The US is looking to cooperate with the Polish government on energy issues, and the American company Westinghouse Electric Co. has been chosen to build the first nuclear power plant in Poland. It is expected that cooperation on energy and security matters will keep strengthening even more after these midterm elections.

As for Hungary, the administration has tried not to take strong positions against Russia. Budapest considers Russia a reliable supplier of energy resources, and most of its natural gas reserves come from Russia. The different US and Hungarian views on Russia have created a very complex relationship over the last years, worsened by Biden’s accusations against Orban for his undemocratic stances. Considering the latest developments in Ukraine and the position adopted by Budapest, further diplomatic relations between the two countries will get even more precarious. US main interest in Hungary is pushing the country to adopt a coherent approach to Ukraine in line with the NATO alliance and pressing Hungary to reduce its political and economic dependence from Russia. Given the continuation of hostilities in Ukraine, which do not seem to slow down even with the arrival of winter, American attention to Hungary and the other Central European countries will not diminish. Midterm results, especially after Trump’s ‘limited’ success, will prompt Biden to focus even more on Ukraine and Central European countries such as Hungary.

CONCLUSIONS

The midterm results have shown an expected result, as the Democrats have managed to keep the Senate in their power, even though they lost the House. A Republican win, particularly of the Trump-endorsed candidates, would have pressed Biden’s administration to shift attention to domestic issues. Yet not only the Republicans have not seized control of the Senate, but also the Trump-backed candidates have not enjoyed that large win they were wishing for. It is expected that the US foreign agenda, currently focused on the Ukrainian conflict, will not face any relevant modification. Indeed, in light of the latest developments that show Ukrainian troops to prevail over the Russian counterparts and to win back important territories, President Biden may push for even more help to Kiev.

For what concerns Europe, two different approaches have been developing in the region. Most of the EU countries have been very supportive of Ukraine, and they have been coherent with NATO decisions so far. Among those countries, Poland is the one which has shown the greatest support towards Kiev, and its cooperation with the US is getting stronger over time. In reverse, Hungary is adopting a vague policy towards the war, trying to maintain good relationships with Russia. The United States are afraid of this tendency, and it is expected they will try to put pressure on President Orban in order to deviate his trajectory towards Putin. Overall, with the current crisis in Europe, whether it be military, economic and on energy issues, Europe has gained greater attention from the United States, and it is expected to increase as the conflict in Ukraine goes on. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY 

Makowski, M. (n.d.). What Germany’s rearmament means for world peace. Progressive.org. https://progressive.org/latest/germany-rearmament-world-peace-makowski-220427/

The biggest losers in the US midterm elections? Republican mega-donors. (2022, December 6). the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/dec/06/republican-mega-donors-lost-midterms-super-pac-thiel

US midterm election 2022 results. (n.d.). BBC News. 

Hungary’s new foreign policy – US is a competitor. (2020, August 11). Hungarian Free Press. https://hungarianfreepress.com/2020/08/11/hungarys-new-foreign-policy-us-is-a-competitor/

The future of US-Hungary relations under the Biden administration. (2020, December 22). Hungary Today. https://hungarytoday.hu/orban-biden-us-hungary-relations-foreign-policy/

The United States and the Polish foreign policy dilemma. (2022, February 10). Visegrád Post | News about Central Europe, the Visegrád Group and Balkans. https://visegradpost.com/en/2022/02/10/the-united-states-and-the-polish-foreign-policy-dilemma/

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