Midterm Elections: No Major Changes in US Foreign Policy

On November 6, midterm elections in the US Congress will be held. Republicans could lose control over its lower house (the US House of Representatives). The new Congress will address the issue of tightening anti-Russian sanctions due to the allegations of interfering in the US elections.

The midterm elections have important—and potentially transformative—implications for U.S. domestic politics, but they are not likely to produce major changes in foreign policy, including towards Russia.  The Republicans control all three branches of government (Presidency; both house of Congress; the Supreme Court.  Polls are now giving the Democrats an 85% chance of taking control of the House, but only a 15% chance in the Senate, in part a reflection of highly undemocratic and antiquated electoral laws written by 18th century slaveowners.

Democratic control of the House has potentially ominous consequences for Trump.  Campaigning furiously on behalf of Republican candidates the President has issued increasingly strident appeals to his white nationalist base, and he has incited violence against reporters whom he has called “enemies of the people.” Trump is sending 15,000 troops to the U.S.-Mexican border in response to an “invasion” of 6000 migrants, mostly from Central America, whom he has demonized as drug dealers and criminals, and he has proposed eliminating “birthright citizenship,” as provided for in the Constitution.   His actions and rhetoric have mobilized his most ardent supporters, and have inspired political violence in recent weeks.  However, polls show that many Americans are more concerned about health care and social security than immigration.

Impeachment is unlikely although not impossible

The House of Representatives could by a majority vote send articles of impeachment to the Senate, where the president would stand trial.  The pursuit of this course of action will depend on whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller finds any evidence concerning collusion with Russia, obstruction of justice, and allegations of financial misconduct in a report that he will issue soon after the election.  Even so, no U.S. president has ever been removed from office through such a procedure.  Conviction requires a two-thirds vote, unlikely unless there is overwhelming evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

While impeachment—much less conviction—is unlikely although not impossible, Democratic control of the House could significantly change the balance of power in the U.S. government.  Democrats would have formidable powers to gather evidence, such as tax returns over many years, and to require testimony under oath, including from his closest confidants and business associates.  The full exercise of these powers could prove very damaging to Trump, raising the possibility of a constitutional crisis at a time of growing social and political instability.


Sanctions against Russia and China

Democratic Party leaders continue to blame the Russia for the defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016.  Yet, if the claim that Russia has “undermined American democracy” is virtually axiomatic among the media/intelligence community establishment, it has not resonated in the country as a whole.   According to Gallup, 57% of Americans want better relations with Russia while less than 1% of Americans believe that the situation with Russia represents the most important problem facing the country.

Following the election Congress will consider two sanctions bills against Russia: the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) and the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines Act (DETER).  It is not clear yet whether these bills will be voted on prior to the formation of the new Congress or after it is convened.  Although both are draconian, many of their provisions regarding energy and access to financial markets are likely to be reduced, in part as a result of objections from U.S. and European corporations, and the impact on Russia will be less than originally anticipated.  In any case, both of these bills emerged in the Senate on a bi-partisan basis, and it is doubtful that a Democratic-controlled Congress would make a significant difference.

The containment of China now appears to enjoy widespread support throughout the highest echelons of corporate America, with only tactical disagreements that concern the means and not the ends of the new strategy. A Democratic Congress is unlikely to oppose this confrontational posture, although it may press the administration to take a softer line on trade disputes within North America and with Europe and Japan.
Anti-Russia Sanctions: A Fall Lull?
After the high-profile events of August, an unusual lull befell the battlefields of the sanctions war. The sanctions have ceased for the time being to be a direct cause of volatility in the stock market and foreign exchange markets. Investors are now waiting for November when the Americans are to declare more sanctions over the chemical incidents (Syria and Skripal), citing the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991.

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