The next Congressional Elections in the United States will take place on November 8th in a highly divided environment. The adoption of conservative positions by the Republicans following Donald Trump's rise to power, together with the strengthening of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, have hindered dialogue and the chances for the leaders of both parties to reach agreements. Therefore, if there is a shift in Congress from Democratic to Republican hands, we can expect substantial changes in the policies promoted by this institution.
The latest polls indicate that the Republicans are poised to win back the House of Representatives, but it is not yet clear who will prevail in the Senate. This last election is of particular significance. Senators are the ones who approve or reject the nominations of new Supreme Court justices, which turns them into key players in Washington. In fact, given the legislative paralysis in Washington due to the confrontation between Republicans and Democrats, the highest court often ends up defining policies.
And one of these high court rulings has become central to the Democrats' campaign. The loss of abortion rights at the national level, now reliant on individual state regulations, has not only enabled the Democrats to mobilise their electoral base, but also helped them to focus their campaign on an issue on which the majority of the population feels closer to the Democratic position than to the Republican one. After all, as Democrats point out, the ruling against abortion rights was made possible by the Republican Senate allowing Trump to build a conservative majority on the court.
Notwithstanding this, a Republican victory remains likely because the main concern for Americans today is inflation. Indeed, the rising inflation rate - at around 8%, the highest in four decades - has shrunk the real income of a substantial part of the population. The resulting unrest also helps explain the drop in President Biden's popularity, which now stands at around 40 per cent.
Two factors that favour the Republicans must also be considered. The first is that in the United States the ruling parties tend to lose mid-term legislative elections. To this historical precedent some demographic changes must be added. One is that the Democratic vote has historically been concentrated in highly populated states, such as California and New York, while the Republican vote tends to be more evenly spread across states. This makes it easier for Republicans to control the Senate and the electoral college that chooses the president every four years.
One of the reasons why these elections are relevant is that they will allow us to understand where the Republican Party's internal politics are heading. If Trump's backed candidates are successful, the former president will surely consolidate the control of his party and despite the fact that he continues to be rejected by large sectors of the population, he could become its candidate for president in two years' time. On the other hand, if his success is not so certain, candidates such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a conservative, may gain momentum.
From the perspective of other nations, election results in the West's greatest power are always relevant. Republican lawmakers, for example, may be more reluctant to provide the level of economic support that the U.S. has been giving to Ukraine. This could affect the course of the conflict. While Congress has less influence on foreign policymaking than on domestic policies, a Republican victory would also weaken Biden, which could reduce his room for manoeuvre in the international arena.
As far as Argentina is concerned, relations with the Western Hemisphere's greatest power are crucial. The United States is, and will remain for a long time to come, the world's largest military power. Washington also has significant capabilities to impose its will in the Western Hemisphere. The process of American trade rapprochement with its allies, given Washington's fear of its dependence on suppliers located in countries such as China, can also create opportunities for our economy. American investments in the energy sector in Vaca Muerta as well as in areas with lithium and renewable energies, have enormous potential. These are just some of the aspects of a broad and complex agenda.
A central factor when considering our relationship with the United States is the need to avoid a passive position as mere spectators. Argentina, as the weaker of the two countries, must be proactive in advancing an agenda that upholds its interests and values. It is therefore necessary to elaborate and reach agreements -among our main political forces- on projects that foster a greater degree of cooperation. However, this will only be possible if we have specialists who study and understand what is happening there and leaders who can engage in a dialogue with their American counterparts. They will be the ones who will avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary conflicts in the future.
In this regard, the US Congress may be the best place to start building such relationships. Among other reasons, this is why we need to pay closer attention to congressional life in Washington.
Francisco de Santibañes is Vice-President of the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI). He is a professor at the MA in Public Policies of the Universidad Austral. He has lectured at Chatham House, Johns Hopkins University, the Wilson Center, the ISEN, the Institut Français des Relations Internationales (Ifri) and the German Foreign Policy Council, among other institutions. He is a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center for International Scholars, Washington DC.
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