BY LEEN RHAZI ’22
The 2018 U.S. midterm election results have fostered mixed reactions from those interested in world politics. According to NPR, record numbers of Native Americans, Muslims and women of color ran for office in 2018. After the ballots were counted, the winners of these races made notable “firsts,” including Ilhan Omar (DMN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), the first Muslim women elected to Congress, and Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Sharice Davids (D-KN), the first Native American women elected to Congress.
Sandra Prendergast ’22 said that she was proud of the progress the U.S. has made by electing so many minorities, people of color and first-generation Americans. “I never really thought I’d see so much diversity in our government,” she said. “It makes me feel like as minorities, [immigrants] and people of color in America, we are somewhat protected.”
She also felt content with the Democrat-controlled House. “Now that the Democrats are in control of the House, foreign policy issues such as Russia’s interference in the 2016 election have a likelihood of getting looked into again. The Democrats have immense investigatory power,” she said.
In a conference call entitled “The Foreign Policy Consequences of the 2018 U.S Midterm Elections” from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a non-profit D.C.-based think tank, CFR chair James Lindsay expressed his satisfaction with the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. He explained that with new leadership, a different conversation about foreign policy can take place in Washington; because the Democrats control the House, they also control committees and committee agendas. “I would expect Democrats in a variety of committees — Oversight Committee, Intelligence Committee, Armed Services, Appropriations Committee, Foreign Affairs Committee — to pursue issues that will challenge some of the things the Trump administration is doing,” Lindsay said.
Lindsay also discussed the impact the election results may have on President Trump’s goal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He said that even when Republicans controlled the House and the Senate, Trump was unable to fund the wall. Although the president made a pitch for more spending on his border wall in his press conference on Nov. 7, Lindsay said that he doubts the Democrats would be willing to support that initiative.
In the conference call, Lindsay was joined by Carla Robbins, senior fellow of the CFR. Robbins believed that the Democrats in the House have newfound investigatory power, and will use it to uncover answers about past foreign policy issues. She also discussed potential leaders of House committees and the roles they will likely play come January.
In particular, she expects the House Foreign Affairs committee to advocate for cutting off support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, along with other changes in foreign policy. “House Foreign Affairs [will] likely [be chaired by] Eliot Engel of New York,” she said. “He will ask Secretary of State Pompeo to give explanations of what’s going on with U.S. policy toward North Korea.”
House Intelligence is another committee Robbins has her eye on. “On House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff has already served as ranking for four years,” she said. “I would bet he’s going to restart the Russian-election-interference probe.”
However, while Lindsay believed that the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives may have an impact on U.S. diplomacy and international policy, he expected more continuity than change. “Foreign policy is decided to a considerable extent by the president. And President Trump, given his history, is a gentleman who tends to double down rather than back down on issues,” Lindsay said. “I didn’t get the sense from his press conference today that he saw the loss of the House as a repudiation [of] either himself or his policies. In fact, he did exactly the opposite. He declared a win.”
Angelina Egan ’22, a prospective international relations major, also expressed her satisfaction following the midterm Photos by Di Guo ’21 Bhangra (upper left), Renz Ren ’20 (upper right), Rainbow Jelly (lower left) and Taal (lower right) at VariAsians. elections. “All the women that were elected, specifically the Muslim and Native American women, represent America’s willingness to look outside of the cisgender, white Christian [male] box,” she said
However, Egan is less comforted by Democratic control of the House than Prendergast. She said that the Democrats’ new power will not bring about a significant amount of change, especially regarding American foreign policy issues, and does not reflect a shift in American ideals. “I feel like the most important thing to keep clear about this election is that the blue takeover of the House does not show a move away from [Republican] ideals and xenophobic views,” she said. “Rather, the blue takeover just shows the mounting frustration with American politics. People voted for Trump because they saw him as an alternative to what they saw as an ineffective president in Obama.” Egan thinks people voted against Trump in this election for the same reason.
The international relations academic community has mixed reactions to the results of the U.S. midterm elections. Sarah Afzaal ’19, co-chair of the Muslim Students Association, feels that diversity in Congress may foster representation and inclusion in the U.S. government, but it is ultimately up to the American voters to hold elected officials accountable to enact the changes they would like to see in the foreign policy sphere.
“The U.S. prides itself in supporting the freedom of all peoples, but we never really completely uphold our values,” Afzaal said. “I find this idea especially important now, since Muslims and other minority groups may be at risk for restrictive policies.”