Tuesday’s election results were not unexpected. The question now is what will they mean for U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere. The outlines are already clear: expect a sharper tone across the board of Congressional oversight and initiative toward the Administration in trying to impact policy. Here are a few predictions for regional policy based on the midterm election results.
The new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee will be Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; the chair of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee will be Connie Mack. Together with newly-elected Senator Marco Rubio, this troika of Florida Republicans may well seek to reverse the Obama Administration’s slow motion liberalization of Cuba policy. Expect also a harder line coming from Congress toward Venezuela and the possible renewal of an effort to sanction Venezuela as a state sponsor of terror. As well, Chairman-To-Be Ros-Lehtinen has earned strong pro-Israel credentials and is a strong supporter of Iran sanctions; further moves of Brazil or Venezuela toward Tehran could well prove to be a point of friction between the Administration and Congress if the Administration is perceived as downplaying their significance.
For those who find U.S. elections too long and sometimes endless, brace yourself as the next cycle begins tomorrow morning. The near unanimity of prognosticators are predicting a Republican wave, and this will only raise the ante as to whether President Obama will be a one-term President. History leads us to be cautious about predicting presidential elections based on midterm elections.
Since WW II, there have been three blowout results (Harry S. Truman in 1946, Ronald Reagan in 1982 and Bill Clinton in 1994) and each of these Presidents were re-elected two years later. With less than 50 percent of the electorate expected to vote and with the average midterm loss around 28 seats in the House and four in the Senate, it is almost certain that the Democrats will suffer some serious losses. But this is mainly an election about local issues, the current state of the economy and how this impacts on the mood of the country. A presidential election is a much different dynamic.
Elections do often carry some surprises. Races which were leaning heavily Republican are now much closer and some are trending Democratic as is the case in California, Delaware and Connecticut. The weekend rally under the aegis of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert using satire and the theme of sanity indicates that enthusiasm is not just in the Glen Beck camp. President Clinton in a Montreal speech last Friday predicted that the Democrats will cause some surprises. However, while he may be on to something, it is fair to say that if the House flips to John Boehner and the Republicans this Tuesday, the presidential stakes in the Republican Party will begin in earnest.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.