The contours of the midterm election on November 8 continue to come into focus. They are good, indeed, for the Democrats and Democratic president Joe Biden. Foremost is that the Democrats have not lost a Senate seat and could well pick one up after the December 6 runoff election between Georgia senator Rafael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
Those results are strong. According to Axios senior political correspondent Josh Kraushaar, only in 1934, under Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt; 1962, under Democratic president John F. Kennedy; and 2002, under Republican president George W. Bush and just after the 9/11 attacks, has a president’s party not lost a Senate seat in the midterms and lost fewer than 10 House seats. Since World War II, midterms have cost the party in power an average of 28 seats.
Democrats also did well in state governments, picking up some state governorships — including Arizona’s, as Democrat Katie Hobbs is projected to have beaten Trump-backed Republican election-denier Kari Lake — and taking control in some legislative chambers, although again, it is not clear yet how many. They also denied the Republicans veto-proof supermajorities in others.
Also crucial was the defeat of election deniers, who backed Trump’s false allegations that he won the 2020 election, in six key elections where those folks would have been in charge of certifying ballots for their states in the future.
In Michigan, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, voters rejected election deniers running to become secretary of state. Indiana voters elected as secretary of state election denier Diego Morales, who has been mired in scandal, securing Republican control of the state.
In Nevada, Republican Jim Marchant was personally recruited by Trump’s people to run for secretary of state, and they asked him to put together a group of those who thought like him across the nation. At a Trump rally in October, Marchant promised voters that “[w]hen my coalition of secretary of state candidates around the country get elected, we’re going to fix the whole country, and President Trump is going to be president again in 2024.”
Instead, voters chose Democrat Cisco Aguilar, who told Nick Corasaniti of the New York Times: “People are tired of chaos…. They want stability; they want normalcy; they want somebody who’s going to be an adult and make decisions that are fair, transparent, and in the best interest of all Nevadans.”
While many of us have been focusing on events here at home, the outcome of the election had huge implications for foreign policy. As the column by conservative columnist Max Boot of the Washington Post noted, “Republicans lost the election — and so did [Russian president Vladimir] Putin, MBS [Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman], and [former/incoming Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.”
Autocrats and hard-right leaders liked Trump at the head of the U.S. government, for he was far more inclined to operate transactionally on the basis of financial benefits, while Biden and his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, have advanced a foreign policy based on democratic values. Leaders like MBS have ignored Biden or denigrated him, expecting that a reelected Trump in 2024 would revert to the system they preferred. Now those calculations have hit a snag.
Indeed, Russia put its bots and trolls back to work before the election to weaken Biden in the hope that a Republican Congress would cut aid to Ukraine, as Republican leaders had suggested they would. The Russian army is in terrible trouble in Ukraine, and its best bet for a lift is for the international coalition the U.S. anchors to fall apart. Russian propagandists suggested that Putin suppressed news that the Russians were withdrawing from the Ukrainian city of Kherson until after the election to avoid giving the Democrats a boost in the polls.
Secretary of State Blinken announced more sanctions against Russian companies and individuals on November 14, in Russia and abroad, “to disrupt Russia’s military supply chains and impose high costs on President Putin’s enablers.” Director of the CIA William Burns met recently in Turkey with his Russian counterpart to convey “a message on the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons” and “the risks of escalation,” but said the U.S. is firmly behind “our fundamental principle: nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.”
Also on November 14, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved a resolution saying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine violated international law and that Russia must pay war reparations. In Germany and Poland, the governments separately announced they were taking over natural gas companies that had been tied to Russia’s huge energy company, Gazprom, in order to guarantee energy supplies to their people.
On November 11, Biden spoke at the United Nations climate change conference in Egypt. He was the only leader of a major polluting nation to go to the meeting, and there he stressed U.S. leadership, pointing to the Inflation Reduction Act’s $370 billion investment in the U.S. shift to clean energy and other climate-positive changes. His administration also announced it would use the U.S. government’s buying power to push suppliers toward climate-positive positions. Protesters called attention to how little the U.S. has done for poorer countries harmed by climate change that has been caused by richer countries.
From Egypt, the president traveled to Cambodia for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. In the past year, the U.S. has announced more than $250 million in new initiatives with ASEAN, investing especially in infrastructure in an apparent attempt to disrupt China’s dominance of the region by supporting counterweights in the region. The U.S. is now elevating the cooperation with ASEAN to a comprehensive strategic partnership to support a rules-based Indo-Pacific region, maritime cooperation, economic and technological cooperation, and sustainable development. “ASEAN is the heart of my administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy, and we continue to strengthen our commitment to work in lockstep with an empowered, unified ASEAN,” Biden said.
While in Cambodia, Biden also met with Japanese prime minister Kishida Fumio and reinforced the U.S. “ironclad commitment to the defense of Japan” after North Korea’s recent ballistic missile tests. Biden and Kishida reiterated their plan to strengthen and modernize the relationship between the U.S. and Japan to “address threats to the free and open Indo-Pacific.”
From there, Biden traveled to Bali, Indonesia, for a meeting of the G20, a forum of 19 countries and the European Union comprising countries that make up most of the nation’s largest economies.
The president met for more than three hours with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on November 14. The main message from the meeting was that the two countries are communicating, and while each is standing firm on its national sovereignty, each sees room to cooperate on major global issues.
Biden made it a point to say that U.S. policies toward Taiwan have not changed — a concern that created ripples of uncertainty when House speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island nation last summer — and both he and Xi agreed that Russia should not use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. In a sign that relations are easing, Biden said that Blinken and other U.S. officials will visit China to begin working on issues of mutual interest..
Meanwhile, authorities in Iran are cracking down on the protesters there, with news of torture and now of a death sentence for one of the 15,000 protesters who have been arrested. National security advisor Jake Sullivan condemned the human rights abuses inflicted on its citizens by the Iranian government and called for “accountability…through sanctions and other means.”
In Bali, the president reminded reporters: “On my first trip overseas last year, I said that America was back — back at home, back at the table, and back to leading the world. In the year and a half that’s followed, we’ve shown exactly what that means. America is keeping its commitments. America is investing in our strength at home. America is working alongside our allies and partners to deliver real, meaningful progress around the world. And at this critical moment, no nation is better positioned to help build the future we want than the United States of America.”