“The defeat of the Democrats in the congressional elections is Obama’s personal failure. His name has become unpopular to the point that Democratic candidates avoided mentioning it.” — Russian political analysts comment on the results of the midterm election that recently took place in U.S. However, it will mostly complicate the domestic political situation and is unlikely to affect his foreign policy.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama’s main opponent — the Republican Party — won the majority of seats in the Senate in the midterm elections for the U.S. Congress. According to the exit polls of voters, not only did it maintain but also strengthened its majority in the House of Representatives.
Therefore, the newly elected Congress, which will begin its work January of next year, will be fully controlled by Republicans. This means that they will head all chambers and determine the legislative agenda. Such a perspective offers nothing but serious domestic policy difficulties in the president’s last two years in the White House.
According to exit polls, Republican candidates won important victories in Arkansas, West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina — all of which used to be represented by Democrats. In Kentucky, the Republican minority leader in the Senate Mitch McConnell won against his rival from the Democratic Party. Mitch McConnell will become the leader of the Senate majority in January.
“The defeat of the Democrats in the Congressional elections is Obama’s personal failure. His name has become unpopular to the point that Democratic candidates avoided mentioning it,” said the head of the Duma Committee on International Affairs Alexei Pushkov.
“Soft Money” Did Not Help
Even the Democrats’ hyped election campaigns, which this time broke the cost record, did not help to gain the affection of Americans. For example, the cost of elections for Democratic candidates from North Carolina crossed the threshold of $100 million. Before them, the only candidate to get close to this sum was Hillary Clinton in 2000, reports The Huffington Post.
Back then, the former head of the State Department ran for New York senator for the first time; together with her opponent, Rick Lazio, she spent $70.4 million on the election race. Considering inflation, at the 2014 exchange rate this would amount to $94.2 million.
However, the absolute leader of campaign costs remains the incumbent U.S. President Barack Obama, who, according to official sources spent $150 million in 2008. These figures do not include donations from various independent foundations supporting candidates and also the so-called “soft money” — campaign funds provided by large corporations, trade unions or individuals. For example, in 2008 Clinton received over $6 million this way.
Up to the present moment, 53 seats in the Senate belonged to the Democrats, 45 to Republicans and 2 to independent lawmakers. Current midterm elections to the U.S. Congress resulted in a fully re-elected House of Representatives and 36 out of 100 senators. Also, gubernatorial elections took place in 36 out of 50 states, as well as mayoral elections in many cities and elections of local legislature members.
Earlier media reports, citing their own forecasts, reported that the opposition Republican Party retained control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
However, the Senate elections remained the main intrigue. Experts believed that with the election results the Republican Party had a good chance to gain control of the upper chamber of Congress for the first time since 2006. To achieve this, they had to win six seats in the Senate.
“The List of Problems Resembling an Epitaph”
“The victory of Republicans is a serious defeat for American president, but it was predictable” — said Sergei Karaganov to Vzgljad Daily — honorary chairman of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policies, dean of faculty of world economy and world politics at National Research University-Higher School of Economics. “Obama inherited an America with a list of problems resembling an epitaph. The fact that he survived, got re-elected and made the U.S. economy grow speaks in his favor,” said the expert. Karaganov believes that the American political elite face a serious split. “The American political elite are in a situation similar to late ‘70s when, after a series of economic failures, defeat in Vietnam and America, revanche was needed after failures of the previous decade,” the source believes. According to the political analyst, with Republicans gaining control of Congress, the U.S. will continue the policy of restoring political ambition, but “it will be much harder to do than during the Reagan era.”
“A Push for Decisive Policy”
Karaganov believes that Obama will continue to carry out reforms but their effectiveness will be considerably reduced. The expert also thinks that congressional opposition will have an impact on the country’s foreign policy. “The unrelenting pressure of the Republicans, who accuse Obama of all failures, including foreign policy ones, will push him toward a more decisive policy to prove that he is as strong as his critics,” the expert thinks. “We can already see that he loses composure and says uncharacteristically rude things for him, for example when he compares Russia to Ebola,” the expert said.
In his opinion, it is obvious that it happens because of Obama’s failures in his own country. “America will be an unreliable partner. Someone, of course, will try to rely on it hoping that it will stay strong, but the next few years will be turbulent ones,” the expert said.
Obama’s relations with Congress were not easy even before the elections, reminded Yuri Rogulev, the director of the U.S. Studies Foundation named after Roosevelt at Moscow State University, in the interview with Vzgliad Daily. “Since it was difficult for Obama to get support for his decisions, he repeatedly blamed the Congress for doing nothing,” says Rogulev. Considering the results of the midterm elections, where Republicans won, the international relations expert comes to the conclusion that the situation hasn’t changed but has gotten worse. “The majority party in the Senate gets the right to form and helm the legislative committees. This will slow down the actions of U.S. administration on key issues such as the budget, for instance,” says Rogulev. “In terms of budget, specifically U.S. income and expenditure, Democrats and Republicans will face their most serious confrontation. It will be difficult for Obama to assert his priorities.”
As for foreign policy, according to Rogulev, the influence of the Republican majority will not have an impact on the course of the White House. “Constitutionally, the president is responsible for foreign policy; he creates initiatives and appoints the head of the State Department,” says the international relations expert.
Based on this, the role of Republican majority will be that of the indirect power that will be evident in the event of another crisis — for instance, the peacekeeping operation against the Islamic State. “In this case, the situation will require the decision of not only the White House and the State Department but of Congress as well,” says the international affairs expert. He reminds that any involvement of the U.S. military forces in the operation longer than 60 days requires congressional approval.
The elephants will not influence the current agenda of U.S.-Russian relations. According to Rogulev, relations between the two countries are going through another phase of decline. “Given how strained the relations have become, it is unlikely that any American politician will want to make it worse,” says the director of the Roosevelt Center, “and the current situation in the world is such that U.S. cannot afford any hasty decisions.”