“The demographics of the electorate are changing and today the youth vote is more mobilized and appears to support issues such as democratic governance, climate, gender and reproductive rights. Let’s hope this will lead to a greater push for these agendas domestically, but also internationally.” Carolina Jiménez Sandoval, president of WOLA.
The U.S. midterm elections, held on November 8, in which the Democratic Party narrowly retained the Senate majority and will see the House of Representatives under Republican control, are likely to have important implications for the country’s foreign policy for the coming years.
Three of WOLA’s senior experts — Carolina Jiménez Sandoval, President; Maureen Meyer, Vice President for Programs; and John Walsh, Director of Drug Policy and the Andes — reflect on the new political challenges Congress will face and how its new configuration will impact relations between the Biden administration and Latin America.
Here’re their five top takeaways:
“Democracy was not literally on the ballot, but it seems that many people understood that this election was about that and more. There was a message to those who refuse to accept the results of the presidential election. It is a message being sent from the United States about the importance of our democracy, and that was a pleasant surprise,” says John Walsh.
Carolina Jiménez Sandoval noted that many Republican party politicians who stood by the false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump, lost races this year at the national and state level. “They are people who do not respect the rights of women, migrants and minorities,” says the president of WOLA. “It can be said that democracy can be self-correcting and for now this has prevented authoritarian tendencies from consolidating in the United States. That resonates in Latin America.”
“The demographics of the electorate have changed and today the youth vote has been mobilized and seems to support issues such as democratic governance, climate, gender and reproductive rights. Let’s hope this will lead to a greater push for more of these agendas domestically, but also internationally,” adds Carolina Jiménez.
Despite that, Meyer believes there is a real risk that anti-immigrant rhetoric and hardline border policies will be prominent in the narrative leading up to the 2024 presidential election, as was evidenced in former president Trump’s speech announcing his plans to run again. “With the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives over the next two years, they are going to push to keep the border closed and for more money for agencies like ICE and CBP, border security, and increased apprehensions at the border,” she says.
So far, Meyer notes, the Biden administration has sacrificed asylum seekers by keeping the border closed to those arriving from Mexico and Central America and recently extending Title 42 expulsions to Venezuelans. “Was that an electoral decision heading into the midterms?” she asks, and expects that the Biden Administration will feel increasing pressure to demonstrate the border is “under control.”
Nonetheless, Meyer believes one important outcome of the midterm elections is that “the premise that border security comes first was not a salient issue with Democratic voters or many of the independents.”
– House and committees leadership. With their new majority in the lower house, Republicans will control committee and subcommittee chairmanships, and the allocation of staff beginning in January 2023. Meyer points out that this will give them more power to determine hearings and witnesses, which may have repercussions on the way Latin American issues are addressed. They will also have more influence over U.S. foreign assistance priorities and in appropriations for spending on immigration enforcement and border security. This will mean that WOLA’s expertise will be more important than ever to ensure that fact-based analyses are available to the public, Congress and the administration.
– Cultivating new allies for the Human Rights agenda in the Americas. Maureen Meyer points out that while it is still necessary to wait for the new leadership and committee positions to be decided in both chambers, it will also be essential to study the positions of those who arrive for the first time on Capitol Hill to identify potential allies on issues that are of interest to the Latin American agenda, such as support for human rights, rule of law, gender equality, a more human rights-approach to immigration issues, among others.
– Increasing Cooperation or Gridlock? House Republicans can be expected to try to wield their new majority to thwart the Biden administration’s agenda, and to generate momentum for Republicans to take back the White House in 2024. Their task will likely be complicated by deepening intra-party divisions over whether or not to try to move on from Trump. At the same time, continuing Democratic control of the Senate, combined with Biden’s presidential veto powers, means that only legislation that can command substantial bipartisan support in both chambers is likely to become law.