For Biden’s foreign policy, the election is a nuisance, but not an obstacle

For Biden’s foreign policy, the election is a nuisance, but not an obstacle


Republican gains in Congress will give President Joe Biden a headache as he pushes aid to Ukraine and the climate, but given the tighter-than-expected results of the midterm elections, Biden will still remain firmly in command on the world stage.

Kevin McCarthy, who is poised to become the next speaker if the Republicans win the House of Representatives, has warned there is no such thing as a “blank check” for Ukraine, and his party is deeply hostile to climate change just as a UN Egypt summit considers major new aid for hardest-hit nations.

But the Republican mainstream has aligned with Biden’s Democrats in allocating billions of dollars to Ukraine to fight Russian invaders, and Tuesday’s midterm election was no endorsement of the party’s right flank as Democrats have surpassed expectations for an incumbent party.

If Republicans gain control of at least one chamber, which seems likely, their more immediate action will likely be hearings, which could rally their base and bog down Biden’s foreign policy team.

“They will not have the votes to override a presidential veto. They will not have the power to drive a positive agenda,” said Brian Finucane, a former senior State Department official now with the International Crisis Group.

“Where they can exercise power is to block administrative initiatives or exercise oversight,” he said.

Hearing topics Republicans could spur on range from assessing the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan to examining the origins of Covid-19 to speculation about Biden’s son Hunter’s infamous laptop.

– Same attitude, if not tone, on China –

Areas of strong disagreement include Iran, with Republicans adamantly opposed to Biden’s efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by Barack Obama, although diplomacy had already stalled as Tehran’s clerical leaders try to quash larger protests.

But Republicans may forge a strategic alliance with another figure back on the scene, Israel’s returning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been rallying opposition to Obama’s Iran policy.

On the top issue of China, Republicans and Democrats largely agree with Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump, who have identified the rising Asian power as the United States’ top global challenger.

Tensions rose in August after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, which Beijing claims is a self-governing democracy. In addition to supporting her trip, McCarthy complained that the Democratic leader didn’t take him with him.

Michael McCaul, who will chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee, recently helped introduce a bill that would bolster support for Taiwan by directly providing military aid, as opposed to the long-standing system in which Taipei has been using arms buys it requests.

“There isn’t much light between Republicans and the Biden administration when it comes to China policy,” said Anna Ashton, China expert at Eurasia Group.

But she said, “I think no matter what the Biden administration does to crack down on China, Republicans will probably say they should do more.”

One difference to Democrats would be the message from party runaways.

Some more combative Republicans are advocating a move away from the one-China policy of only recognizing Beijing, which has warned that any move toward formal Taiwan independence could trigger war.

– No more holding back in Florida? –

After the 2020 election, the Biden administration, struck by Trump’s successes in Florida, was cautious about Latin America, a core issue for much of the staunchly anti-Communist Latino community with roots in Cuba or Venezuela.

Biden has not touched on a last-minute designation of Cuba by Trump as a state sponsor of terrorism, and has not officially budged from a push to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, despite climate commissioner John Kerry shaking hands with the left-wing leader at the COP27 climate summit shook in Egypt.

But the midterm elections could signal to some Democrats that winning the third-most populous state is a losing proposition as Gov. Ron DeSantis, a rising Republican star, wins by nearly 20 points.

Ivan Briscoe, a Latin America observer also with the International Crisis Group, said Biden has had few gains in a region that has seen left-leaning presidents elected in Brazil, Chile and Colombia since late last year.

“Florida will remain a remnant of what could be described as a fairly conservative approach to Latin America. In that case, the Biden administration could do nothing. Instead, she needs to actually focus on the reality of Latin America, which is moving in a very different direction,” Briscoe said.

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