Could a “Blue Wave” make a splash on this side of the Atlantic? What will it mean for Europe if Democrats seize control of one (or both) Houses of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections on 6 November?
Transatlantic relations under President Donald Trump have been tense, to say the least. Whether it be on trade, the Iran nuclear deal, or climate change, Europe and the United States have not been seeing eye-to-eye. Perhaps a change in the US Congress could shake things up?
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Artis who goes as far as to suggest that Donald Trump might be removed from office. Could Democrats try to impeach the President? Certainly the past two years have been quite rough for the Trump administration: an ongoing ‘Russia investigation’, sexual assault accusations, family separations at the border, government resignations and dismissals, and so on and so forth. Democrats can take their pick in terms of scandals… but could an attempt at impeachment be a step too far?
To get a response, we spoke to Karlyn Bowman, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. What does she think about a possible impeachment?
If the Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives, many of the newer Democratic members will begin to push for impeachment in the House of Representatives. Trump would not be convicted in the Senate because we expect the Senate to stay Republican and it requires 60 votes for Trump to be impeached in the Senate overall. But many members of the Congress will want to move forward on impeachment. Nancy Pelosi, if she remains Speaker, does not.
We also took this comment to Ian Lesser, Vice President for Foreign Policy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and Executive Director of the Transatlantic Center. What does he think about the likelihood of such an event?
Well, I don’t think there’s anything inevitable about his impeachment. On the one hand, it’s true that almost every day there’s some new revelation about the President, his background, issues concerning taxes and politics, and many things that could potentially amount to an impeachment effort in Congress. But even if the Democrats were to take back both houses of Congress it’s not clear that they really want to run on that agenda as they look forward to the 2020 elections. It’s quite possible that an impeachment attempt – and it’s very hard to do – but an unsuccessful attempt would only have the effect of energizing President Trump’s base and being counterproductive for the Democrats. Is there a possibility if some sort of smoking gun emerges that it would be very difficult – maybe even for moderate Republicans to ignore – yes, of course. But it still remains a relatively unlikely possibility, although the pressure for it has clearly mounted.
So, if impeachment is off the table, should we really expect much of a change after these elections? Our reader Malik is especially concerned about Trump’s approach to foreign policy. He believes Trump’s election made the world “more dangerous.” Could the administration’s policy leeway be constrained after the elections?
How would Karlyn Bowman from the American Enterprise Institute respond?
Well, the Congress has been checking the President’s actions in a number of areas. It’s clear that Donald Trump has a very different vision for the United States. [Last month] in Texas, he said he was a ‘nationalist’ and not a ‘globalist.’ What he meant by that was that he said he always put the interests of the United States first and he believes that is the proper role for the President of the United States. There has been no backlash in public opinion for the United States pulling out of the Paris Accords, nor has there been a backlash for pulling out of the Iran deal. We now have the INF Treaty before us. It will be interesting to see how that will play out in public opinion. But Trump is clearly a nationalist with a different vision of foreign policy and we will continue to see the Congress try to check some of his actions in that area.
What would Ian Lesser from the German Marshall Fund of the United States say to the same comment?
If the House and, in the more extreme case, the House and the Senate, were to flip to Democrats: would this make a difference in foreign policy terms? My answer to that would be: potentially some, but potentially not much. In many of the issues Europeans are concerned about, from American withdrawal from the JCPOA Agreement with Iran to the Paris Climate Accords, many things would not be affected very much by a change in Congress. The American system gives wide latitude in foreign policy to administrations. So that’s unlikely to change very much.
Two places where it can make a difference – especially the Senate changes – first on issues where the administration needs to spend money. That very often has to do with America’s security posture abroad. Those are really subject to Congressional scrutiny so it’d be very difficult to, for example, to withdraw troops from Germany because it would cost money to do that and the Congress would probably stop him. The other area, and this is really the purview of the Senate, in terms of political appointments, including foreign policy appointments. Those people can be quite important in the American system. There’s one place if the power were to shift in the Senate, the administration might find itself constrained so that that very nationalist, sovereignty-driven approach might be more difficult to implement.
One of the new developments in US politics this decade has been the growth in support for European-style ‘social democracy.’ A recent Gallup poll found that a majority of Democrats no longer see ‘socialism’ as a dirty word, and our commenter Jessie thinks that the United States could do with more politicians like Bernie Sanders. With the emergence of figures such as Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren, could these elections be a make or break moment for America’s nascent ‘populist left’?
How would Ian Lesser react?
[…] There is clearly a lot of momentum behind the left-wing of the Democratic Party at the moment: the Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren sort. There is also potential for more moderate figures to emerge who could build a base of their own: one thinks of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example. But I think there is a lot of concern inside the Democratic Party that it would be very, very difficult to win with a kind of ‘radical progressive.’ But compelling, charismatic moderates are hard to find. This is one of the key dilemmas facing the Democratic Party, not only as they go into the midterm elections, but going into the election in 2020.
What would Karlyn Bowman say to the same question?
The polls suggest strongly that the Democratic Party is moving to the left. We’ve seen a number of progressive candidates who look likely to be victorious in our elections on November 6th. But I think we will see the real change in 2020. Right now there are more than 20 Democrats as mentioned as ‘possible running for President’ in 2020. A number of those are strongly left-of-centre and so it is possible that we will see one of those candidates emerge victorious in the 2020 campaign. But the public opinion polls suggest that the Democrats have moved to the left over the course of the Obama presidency and even more so now.
So, in the end, how will the US midterms affect Europe? As an American based in Brussels, Ian Lesser points out:
I think, especially when looked at from a European or an international perspective, the elections can be a bellwether regarding American social and political attitudes. It can help us answer the question of whether the Trump phenomenon is transient or whether it represents something structural in American society and politics. I think the verdict it really out on this. The election may help us in that, but we have to put it in some historical context because traditionally the party in power has done poorly in midterm elections. So I think one needs to be careful about reading too much into a Democratic victory, even in the House.
Could the midterms lead to Trump’s impeachment? Will we see a drastic change in US foreign policy? Is the populist left on the rise? What’s in it for Europe? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!