On November 6, US midterm elections were held; the date also marked two years since Donald Trump and his team won the presidential race. This year, elections were held in 36 of 50 states and in 3 overseas territories. However, an intrigue is surrounding the midterm elections to the US Congress. US citizens elect 435 congressmen from the House of Representatives and 35 (of the 100) senators. According to the US law, senators stay in office for 6 years, and elections for representatives are held in every even-numbered year.
Interim elections are crucial for the administration of US President Donald Trump, since their outcome influences whether Republicans will be able to maintain a majority in the Congress. To form a majority in the US House of Representatives, it is necessary to control 218 seats. These elections are a kind of strength test for the Trump team, a litmus test that demonstrates the level of support for the Make America Great Again program among the US citizens. The results of the elections are of particular importance for Ukraine since the redistribution of seats in Congress might affect the US foreign policy.
Test for Trump’s team
Regardless of the American president’s party affiliation, his political force often lost seats in the Congress after the midterm elections. Such a fate was shared by the Democrats and Republicans during the rule of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and Harry Truman.
At the beginning of Trump’s presidential term in 2017, 35% of Americans approved his course, on the eve of the midterm elections to Congress there were 42% of his supporters. For comparison, on the eve of elections to the House of Representatives in 2006, the ratings of ex-President George W. Bush were 37%. Then the Republicans lost 30 seats, and the majority occurred in the hands of the Democrats.
In the elections to the Senate, the struggle will be held mainly for the places occupied by the Democrats (26 out of 35 seats), and this fact plays into the hands of the Republicans. Ten seats belong to the Democratic senators from the states where Trump won the presidential election.
One of the most prominent candidates running for this election is a Florida senator candidate, current governor Rick Scott. They are long-time friends with Donald Trump. Scott is one of the few Republicans who supported his candidacy in the 2016 presidential election. Before his political career, he was involved in the healthcare business. As governor, Scott legalized the use of medical marijuana, supported tightening of migration policies (although he did not agree with the family separation policy), opposed the Medicaid program for poor Americans. His opponent is the incumbent Democratic senator and former NASA astronaut pilot Bill Nelson, known for claiming in August 2018 that the Russian special services were trying to intervene in the mid-term elections in Florida.
The situation in Arizona seems to be tense. Republican senator Jeff Flake refused to participate in the elections this year because he opposes the Trump presidency and does not rule out his participation in the 2020 presidential campaign. Republican Martha Maxalli competes for the Republican senator post. She did not support the candidacy of Trump in the presidential election of 2016, and in July 2018, she urged the president to toughen his position on Russia.
There are problematic issues that can play a cruel joke on the Republican candidates in the congressional elections. Many Americans do not support Trump’s decision to spend large sums of money from the state budget on building a barrier wall on the border with Mexico, imposing high duties on products of Chinese companies that supplied cheap goods to America, cutting back on Medicaid preferential medical programs. Some Americans were confused by the message of Special Prosecutor Muller to complete the investigation of Russia's intervention in mid-November and the reluctance to share preliminary results before the mid-term elections. Corruption scandals involving Republican congressmen Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter had a negative impact on the Republicans' reputation.
Trump spoke about the threat of the Russian intervention before the midterm elections to bolster the position of his party, saying that the Russian Federation would benefit if the Democrats won, and that there is no president who would adhere to a tougher stance towards Russia than he would. Last week, the American president announced the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987. He is trying to rally the Republican Party electorate around the Russian threat, dragging undecided citizens onto its side.
It is unlikely that the nature of US foreign policy will change if the Republicans win the midterm elections to Congress. They will continue to adhere to isolationism in the UN and other organizations, to cut the funding for international initiatives. US relations with the European Union and China will continue to deteriorate, since the United States do not force out their producers from the American market, so they will introduce new high import duties. In the Middle East, the United States will continue to rely on strengthening relations with Israel, thus opposing the alliance of Russia, Iran, and Syria, as well as Erdogan's Turkey.
Republicans will continue to put pressure on Russia and a number of other countries with the help of sanctions. After the November elections, US lawmakers can work out the issue of introducing new restrictive measures against the energy sector of the Russian Federation and in relation to its sovereign debt (formally, creditors cannot force the government to fulfill its obligations in case of problems with the debt repayment). Since April 2018, foreign lenders have withdrawn $ 7.5 billion from the sovereign debt market of the Russian Federation (that is, even before the introduction of any restrictive measures). The Congress will restore economic sanctions against Iran to force the ayatollah regime to abandon the development of ballistic missiles. The US will continue to impose restrictive measures against the customers of modern Russian weapons, as it has already happened in China.
'The Democrats won control of the House of Representatives — and, with it, the ability to check President Trump’s power. Republicans, however, performed strongly among the group of Senate seats up that were on the ballot, and expanded their majority in the chamber," Vox outlet wrote.
Implications for Ukraine
Under either outcome of the midterm elections in the United States, Ukrainian politicians should show restraint and take a wait-and-see position not to repeat the situation of the 2016 presidential election. Then, Kyiv have openly supported Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, so it quickly bred discontent of the Republicans. As it turned out, the Republicans and Trump act tougher and more decisively towards Russia, they introduce new sanctions more quickly. It was the Republicans who for the first time delivered a lethal weapon to Ukraine. Taking into account these considerations, the dominance of the Republicans in the US foreign policy is preferable to Ukraine. However, this does not mean that the position of the US Congress will change on the Ukrainian issue if the Democrats occupy the majority of seats.
Now anti-Russian sanctions are supported by representatives of both parties. The leader of the democratic minority in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, criticized Trump in early 2018 for hesitating to impose sanctions against the Russian Federation for interfering in the American elections. Democrats have learned a lesson from Obama’s mistakes and the failure of the “reset policy” against Russia. If we recall Clinton’s election campaign, one of the key provisions was tightening of pressure against Russia to force the Kremlin to return the annexed Crimea to Ukraine and withdraw the troops from Donbas. Democratic Senators candidate Beto O’Rourke believes that the US needs to restrain Russia's aggression more actively. It makes no sense for the Democrats to soften or lift the anti-Russian sanctions, otherwise all of their arguments about Russia's interference in the 2016 American election will be lost. There is no point in 'rebooting 2.0.'
Read the original text at 112.ua.