The 2022 United States midterm elections were predicted to be a horrifying affair for President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party. It turns out that voters had other ideas.
Yes, inflation and high gas prices mattered to them, but so did the fear of further losing women’s rights to their own bodies, cherished by most Americans. The result: Democrats now have the opportunity to create a one-vote lead in the Senate.
However, they have lost control of the House of Representatives, where a razor-thin Republican majority could limit what Biden can do for the rest of his term. The world needs to sit up and take note: A divided government will have significant implications not only for domestic governance, but also for foreign policy, from Ukraine to China to sanctions and more.
Since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, the US Congress has approved $68 billion in aid for Kiev and the Biden administration last week asked for another $37 billion. This financial support has received largely bipartisan support.
The largest of such appropriations passed in May with broad bipartisan support and just 57 no votes in the House of Representatives — even though all opponents were Republicans.
But the midterm elections have exposed deep divisions within the Republican Party over how to support Ukraine financially and militarily. JD Vance, the Republican senator-elect from Ohio and a loyal ally of former President Donald Trump, has urged Congress to “ultimately stop the flow of money to Ukraine.”
Georgia far-right conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene, who won re-election, declared at a midterm campaign rally that “among Republicans, not a penny will go to Ukraine.” Since the vote, she has introduced a resolution in Congress calling for an audit of US spending on Ukraine.
Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the House minorities who could be the next speaker, also said in October that Ukraine would no longer get a “blank check” with a Republican majority. McCarthy’s statement could be interpreted as a tacit admission that he faces opposition to Ukraine funding from the more pro-Trump elements in his party.
While they may currently be a minority on the Republican House Council, their proximity to the former president, who is running for re-election and still widely admired in the Republican Party, can make them hard to ignore.
While the Republican Party is unlikely to follow Greene’s recommendation to cut funding to Ukraine, its leaders may want to step up scrutiny on Ukraine-related credit — and perhaps even impose some limits on funding.
It is worth noting, however, that McCarthy has reportedly already backtracked on his “blank check” remarks in private conversations with national security leaders, assuring them that he had no intention of dumping support for Ukraine.
It is also important to remember that while Trump’s rhetoric often came across as sympathetic to the Kremlin, his administration still imposed a wide variety of sanctions against Russia.
Trump signed into law Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions, which included secondary sanctions for those doing business with Russia. His government imposed more than 40 rounds of sanctions on Russia.
None of us should be surprised if Republicans try to further expand the sanctions campaign against Moscow, which while aggressive at the moment is still porous compared to the “maximum pressure” campaigns Washington is waging against rivals with smaller economies such as Iran, Syria or North Korea.
Sanctions and China: where opposites meet
Indeed, sanctions is an area where there is broad bipartisan consensus – regardless of which party sits in the White House or runs Congress.
Sanctions scholars have long argued that a major reason policymakers are drawn to the economic weapon is its ability to project strength and determination to a domestic audience. Whether this is the main reason for sanctions is debatable, but it certainly is an almost gratuitous display of nationalism for members of Congress that seems to resonate with constituencies across the country of all political persuasions.
The Trump administration imposed a wide variety of measures against China, ranging from protectionist trade restrictions to technology restrictions, targeting hundreds of Chinese companies, including leading companies like Huawei.
As expected, the Biden administration has continued that approach. The government has already signed into law bills such as the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act — which bans most imports from China’s Xinjiang province — and recently redoubled its efforts to impose extensive technology restrictions.
Expect temperatures to rise further against China in Washington, DC under a Republican-led house. A wide variety of bipartisan legislation against China is currently pending in Congress.
Congress is considering an outbound screening mechanism to scrutinize U.S. investment in China. Other bills with broad bipartisan support, such as the Transatlantic Telecommunications Act and the Promoting US International Leadership in 5G Act, seek to keep Chinese technology out of US and its allies’ supply chains.
Many of these bills will likely be given serious consideration when the new Congress meets in January. Opposition to China is not only in line with the Biden administration’s agenda. It is also a rare theme that the orthodox Republican establishment in Washington, which yearns for US global primacy, and the party’s MAGA wing, which took a harshly anti-China turn in the closing stages of the Trump presidency , binds.
The Republican takeover of the House is likely to bring the Biden administration’s domestic, legislative agenda to a virtual halt. On the other hand, US presidents have historically tended to look for foreign policy results when domestic policy victories seem unlikely.
We may see more foreign policy activism from Biden as he looks to solidify his legacy — he has yet to announce whether he will rejoin in 2024.
But whatever he decides, there’s a greater risk here. At a time when a major pandemic-driven war is ravaging economies and food supplies around the world, a divided Congress could usher in a new era of competition between Republicans and Democrats over who can be more aggressive in foreign policy. That could affect policies on everything from China and trade protectionism to financing for Ukraine.
The Biden administration took office and promised the electorate and the international community a return to pre-Trump standards.
“America is back,” Biden repeatedly told US partners.
But with the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the specter of disrupted unity on issues such as Ukraine’s aid, uncertainty about what an already shaky world can expect from the US is back.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial view of Al Jazeera.