Elections: time for revenge? Scenarios for the US congressional elections

On November 8th it will be decided whether the next two years will be more pleasant or difficult for Joe Biden.

Elections: time for revenge? Scenarios for the US congressional elections

On November 8th it will be decided whether the next two years will be more pleasant or difficult for Joe Biden.

Historically, it is more common for a US president to lose his political majority in Congress in mid-term elections. But in the meantime, Democrats and Republicans are so irreconcilable and sometimes hostile to each other that cooperation is hardly possible and revenge has become a fixed political category.

This makes the prospect of Biden facing a possible future Congress controlled in whole or in part by Republicans particularly uncomfortable. They openly threaten parliamentary investigations and blockades. The outcome of the election is particularly unpredictable. The possible scenarios:

A divided congress

According to the polls, the following could well be the case: Republicans win a majority in the House of Representatives and Democrats defend their majority in the Senate. That would be good for Biden at first, because the president's party usually loses seats in both chambers in the "midterms". It would still be uncomfortable for Biden.

The Republicans are threatening various investigations against Democrats or even impeachment proceedings against members of the Biden cabinet. Legal scholar Gregory Magarian of Washington University in St. Louis says many in the party want "revenge" for the actions against former Republican President Donald Trump: Two impeachment proceedings were against him, a committee of inquiry is investigating his role in the attack on the US Capitol after. The goal of some Republicans is now to make life difficult for Biden and his government in return.

Above all, with this outcome, the president would no longer be able to get major legislative projects through Congress - "because the Republicans don't give him any success and don't want him to improve his balance sheet," says Johannes Thimm, US expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. This could also have consequences far beyond the United States, because the Republicans could also block or slow down aid to Ukraine, which must be approved by Congress. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who aspires to be president of the chamber, has threatened to do just that, arguing that in the midst of a recession the US cannot issue a "blank check" to Ukraine. However, experts suspect that McCarthy is trying to build up pressure.

The theoretical other variant, that the Democrats could keep their majority in the House of Representatives and the Republicans could get the majority in the Senate, is considered very unlikely.

A majority for Republicans in both houses

Should the Republicans win a majority in both chambers, it would be bitter for Biden. "Then he has three problems," says Thimm: "He can't get any more laws through, has to deal with investigations and can't get any more nominations in the Senate either." Important personal details at the federal level - such as ambassadors, cabinet members or federal judges - must be confirmed by the Senate. The appointment of judges is particularly important: "Both parties have made that a priority because that's where the battles over the country's political future are being fought," says Thimm.

If the Democrats also lose their wafer-thin majority in the Senate, many things would come to a standstill. "That would initially mean a blockade and an inability to reform," explains Thimm, but emphasizes: "Biden then remains the executive governing: by decree, by order, by regulation by subordinate authorities. There's still a lot going on." However, Biden already used many of these powers at the beginning of his presidency. The question therefore arises as to whether he could initiate even larger projects in this way.

In this scenario, the Republicans could start investigations against Democrats in both chambers of Congress. Biden said on Thursday evening (local time) that he had already been told that in this case he would even have to prepare for impeachment proceedings against himself. "No joke." He just doesn't know "what the hell" the Republicans wanted to impeach him for.

In addition, Republicans could initiate legislative initiatives at will, such as a national law restricting abortion. Much of that would fizzle out because the President could veto it and Republicans couldn't see a two-thirds majority to override a veto. It would still be difficult for Biden. "The second half of his presidency would be purely defensive," says Magarian. "He would essentially sit at his desk and fend off political threats." It is questionable whether Biden from this position - and as the oldest president of all time - would have a good chance of a second term.

A majority for Democrats in both chambers

Biden's Democrats currently have a narrow majority in both houses of Congress, and a razor-thin majority in the Senate. They occupy 48 of the 100 seats there, and two independents almost always vote with them. They only get a majority through the vote of US Vice President Kamala Harris, who is also President of the Senate and can vote in a stalemate. If it stayed that way, it would be a real sensation for Biden - given the usual losses for the president in the "midterms".

That would mean Biden could continue as before. However, the past two years have shown that this is not always easy. "Even with simple majorities, Biden cannot rule through," says Thimm. Two party colleagues in particular made life difficult for Biden in the Senate: Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema blocked various of his projects - including a huge investment program for climate and social affairs that Biden had targeted as a legacy of his presidency. In the end he was only able to push through parts of it.

If the Democrats could possibly expand their majority in the Senate, which the polls don't look like, then new opportunities would open up for them. "If the Democrats win a seat, they won't have to worry too much about Manchin," says Magarian. "If the Democrats gain two seats, they won't have much to worry about either Manchin or Sinema." That would give Biden dramatically more leeway. He could still push through previously blocked projects and possibly overturn the age-old filibuster rule in the Senate in order to bring initiatives to a vote that Republicans vehemently block. In one word, this would mean one thing for Biden, says Magarian: "Hallelujah".

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