The 2022 United States midterm elections were predicted to be a tumultuous affair for President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party. As it turned out, voters had other ideas.
Yes, inflation and higher gas prices mattered to them, but so did the fear of losing women’s rights over their own bodies, cherished by most Americans. The result: Democrats now have an opportunity to build a single-vote lead in the Senate.
However, he has lost control of the House of Representatives, where a razor-thin Republican majority could constrain what Biden can do for the remainder of his term in office. The world needs to sit up and pay attention: A divided government will have significant implications not only for domestic governance but also for foreign policy, from Ukraine to China to sanctions and more.
Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, the US Congress has approved $68bn in aid for Kyiv and the Biden administration last week requested an additional $37bn. This financial aid has received bipartisan support for the most part.
The largest-ever such appropriation was passed in May with broad bipartisan support and only 57 no votes in the House of Representatives — though those opposed were all Republicans.
But the midterm elections have exposed deep divisions within the Republican Party over how to support Ukraine financially and militarily. JD Vance, the Republican senator-elect from Ohio and a loyal ally of former President Donald Trump, has insisted that Congress “eventually has to stop the flow of money to Ukraine”.
Far-right conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene, Congresswoman from Georgia who won re-election, declared at a campaign rally before the midterms that “under Republicans, not a penny will go to Ukraine”. Since the vote, he has introduced a resolution in Congress calling for an audit of US spending on Ukraine.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who could be the next speaker, also said in October that under a Republican majority, Ukraine would not receive a “blank check”. McCarthy’s statement could be interpreted as a tacit acknowledgment that he faces opposition to Ukraine funding from more pro-Trump elements in his own party.
While he may represent a minority among the Republican House caucus at this point, his proximity to the former president, who is running for re-election and is still widely admired in the Republican Party, makes it hard to ignore. It is possible
While it is unlikely that the Republican Party will follow Green’s recommendation to freeze funding to Ukraine, it is possible that its leadership will seek to increase scrutiny of Ukraine-related appropriations – and perhaps even impose some limits on funding.
However, it is worth noting that McCarthy has already been reported to backtrack on his “blank check” comments in private conversations with national security leaders, assuring them that he had no intention of dumping support for Ukraine.
It’s also important to remember that while Trump’s rhetoric often came across as sympathetic to the Kremlin, his administration still imposed sweeping sanctions against Russia.
Trump signed legislation to counter America’s adversaries through the Sanctions Act, which included secondary sanctions for those doing business with Russia. His administration imposed more than 40 rounds of sanctions against Russia.
It shouldn’t surprise any of us if Republicans seek to expand the sanctions campaign against Moscow, which, while aggressive at the moment, follows Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaigns against rivals with smaller economies, such as Iran and Syria. is more porous than or North Korea.
Sanctions and China: where opposites meet
In fact, sanctions are one area where there is broad bipartisan consensus — regardless of which party is in the White House or in control of Congress.
Sanctions scholars have long argued that a key reason policymakers are attracted to the economic weapon is its ability to signal power and sway domestic audiences. Whether this is the primary reason for granting this approval is debatable but it is certainly a nearly cost-free display of nationalism for members of Congress that resonates with constituencies across the country of all political stripes.
The Trump administration implemented a variety of measures against China, ranging from protectionist trade restrictions to technology bans that have targeted hundreds of Chinese firms, including major companies such as Huawei.
As expected, the Biden administration has continued that approach. The administration has already signed bills such as the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act — which bans most imports from China’s Xinjiang province — into law and recently resumed efforts to impose sweeping technology restrictions.
The temperature against China is expected to rise further in Washington, DC under a Republican-led House. There is a wide range of bipartisan legislation against China currently pending before Congress.
Congress is considering an outbound screening mechanism to check US investments in China. Other bills with broad bipartisan support, such as the Transatlantic Telecommunications Act and the Boosting US International Leadership in 5G Act, seek to keep Chinese technology out of US supply chains and its allies.
Many of these bills are likely to be given serious consideration when the new Congress meets in January. Opposition to China is not only in line with the agenda of the Biden administration. It is also a rare theme that binds the conservative Washington Republican establishment, which craves US global primacy, and the party’s MAGA wing, which took a hard anti-China turn in the latter stages of the Trump presidency.
The prospect of a Republican takeover of the House brings the domestic, legislative agenda of any Biden-administration to a virtual halt. On the other hand, American presidents have historically tended to look for foreign policy achievements when domestic policy victories seem unlikely.
We could see more foreign policy activism from Biden as he seeks to cement his legacy – he has yet to announce whether he will run again in 2024.
But whatever he decides, there is a big risk here. At a time when a significant war on the back of a pandemic is devastating economies and food supplies around the world, a divided Congress could usher in a new era of competition between Republicans and Democrats who may be more aggressive on foreign policy. . It can affect policy on everything from China and trade protectionism to funding for Ukraine.
The Biden administration came into office promising a return to pre-Trump norms to voters and the international community.
“America is back,” Biden repeatedly told American partners.
But with a new Republican majority in the House and the specter of disrupted unity over issues such as Ukraine aid, what has come back again is uncertainty about what an already unsettled world can expect from the US.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.