Recapping the outcome of the 2010 Elections

November 3, 2010 By Andy Amsler

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2010 Elections

Big changes coming post election to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Josh Rogin – Foreign Policy)

It’s an open secret on Capitol Hill that of the four “Select A” committees, SFRC is typically considered the least desirable. Although the committee has an aggressive agenda of foreign policy-related legislation, it does not hold much payoff in terms of domestic political benefit or fundraising potential. The panel sets authorizations for State and Foreign ops funding, but appropriators actually dole out the money. The committee’s other two functions are to confirm nominees and approve the occasional treaty, such as the New START agreement with Russia. For all these reasons, several GOP members are looking to leave SFRC when their seniority level rises due to the influx of new Republican senators. Those said to be eyeing the exit door include Sens. Johnny Isaacson (R-GA), Bob Corker (R-TN), and Jim DeMint (R-SC).

Clinton: Election Won’t Change Foreign Policy (Associated Press)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says a shift in congressional power won’t greatly affect U.S. foreign policy goals because “politics stops” at the nation’s borders. Clinton, who represented New York in the Senate for eight years, reminded reporters Wednesday that she was in the Senate minority for six of those years. The morning after elections that gave the GOP control of the House, Clinton said Republicans and Democrats can “build coalitions” and “find allies on issues that are in America’s interests.” Clinton, who is in the middle of a two-week tour of Asian-Pacific nations, said she will be “working very hard” to get to know the new members of Congress and vowed to “work with them.”

Senate loses its left-wing leader on foreign policy (Josh Rogin – Foreign Policy)

Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold was no ordinary Democratic senator. He staunchly staked out unabashedly liberal positions on all things foreign policy and national security related, right up until his defeat Tuesday night. Feingold is, or was, technically the third-ranking Democratic senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, after Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and Chris Dodd (D-CT). With Dodd retiring, Feingold stood to become chairman if Kerry were ever tapped for secretary of state. In fact, the rumor around town is that the prospect of an independent-minded Feingold leading the panel worried the White House so much that it had negative implications on their consideration of Kerry for Foggy Bottom. Even as a mere rank-and-file committee member, Feingold was more active on foreign policy than most. He had as many as five full-time staffers on the issues, we’re told, which is more than double the contingent for the average senator. Feingold had an extensive foreign-policy agenda, the leading item of which was his call for the administration to set a flexible timetable for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

Meet your new House Foreign Affairs chairwoman: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Josh Rogin – Foreign Policy)

Ros-Lehtinen has been a force on the committee for years as the vocal, passionate, sometimes combative ranking Republican. A Cuban-American lawmaker from a heavily Jewish district, Ros-Lehtinen has staked out firm positions on several issues that stand in contrast to now outgoing chairman Howard Berman (D-CA). Her ascendancy as chairwoman will change the tone and agenda of the committee and will pose new challenges for the Obama administration’s efforts to advance its foreign-policy agenda. Over the mid to long term, Ros-Lehtinen is poised to thwart Obama’s efforts to move toward repealing sanctions on Fidel Castro and resist any White House attempts to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She isn’t likely to move Berman’s foreign-aid reform bill through the committee and she is likely to seek cuts in the foreign-aid budget in her authorization bill.

Free trade gets an early evening boost in Senate (Josh Rogin – Foreign Policy)

The projected victory of Rob Portman in the Ohio Senate race will increase support for free trade in Congress immediately. Portman, the former congressman and former director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, is an avid and open free trade supporter. From May 2005 to May 2006, he was the U.S. Trade Representative and describes himself as the “quarterback” of the drive to pass the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in Congress. In fact, Portman won in spite of his views on free trade, which the Democrats attacked as responsible for the losses of thousands of jobs in Ohio. If President Obama plays his cards right, he might be able to use Portman to help build support in Congress for three pending free trade deals that languished under the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama. A GOP-led House could be very open to such outreach.

U.S. Election Global Reaction: World Watches, Speculates On Impact (Elaine Gailey – Huffington Post)

The poor showing by President Barack Obama’s party in the U.S. election is not likely to lead to major changes in the country’s foreign policy, and could even help improve the situation in Afghanistan, opinion makers said Wednesday. “One would massively underestimate the president of the United States if one wanted to think that he would be weakened in foreign policy,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told ZDF television. “America is a strong country; the American president is a very strong and decisive president.” During Tuesday’s midterm election, Obama’s Democrats held onto the Senate but gave up their majority in the lower house to Republicans, the biggest gain by Republicans in the House of Representatives since 1938.

The Post Election Foreign Policy Hangover (Amb. Marc Ginsberg – Huffington Post)

The good news for the home team is that we have seen this movie before. President’s losing control of either or both houses of Congress is nothing new. What is new, however, is that it didn’t happen when the U.S. faced so many global security challenges at one time. What with two wars, a lethal terror threat, a resurgent China, a nuclear wannabe state sponsor of terror (aka Iran), and, most importantly, the incalculable conclusion by many foreign observers that the U.S. was already constrained by recession, battle fatigue and an impaired capacity to influence global events. America’s allies abroad will be particularly nervous because a politically weaker American president may very well translate into more tepid American global leadership. So what does this new post mid-term Election Day mean for America’s national security?

Foreign Policy

Audit questions tensions in Iraq (Robert Burns – Associated Press)

In its report, the State Department’s office of inspector general said stability in Iraq may be years away. It warned that the failure of Iraqi political leaders to form a unity government has interfered with the “urgent task” of planning for Washington’s post-2011 diplomatic role. Stephen Biddle, an Iraq watcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it will be difficult for U.S. diplomats to keep a lid on Sunni-Shiite and Arab-Kurd rivalries in the absence of a sizable American military presence. “Normally, stabilizing a situation like this requires peacekeepers,” he said. “Peacekeepers are soldiers. That doesn’t say there aren’t important and valuable things that government civilians can do. But … security protection is important in this environment, and that’s not something State Department civilians do.”