On November 8th, 2022, the United States will hold midterm elections. The control for Congress or America’s national legislature is at stake. Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) Justice LAB researcher and U.S. Hamline University Prof. David Schultz discusses what could happen, and what this all means for Europe, including the war in Ukraine or for Lithuania.
President Joe Biden is a member of the Democratic Party and he is currently president of the United States. His party controls both chambers of Congress–the House and the Senate–by very narrow margins. In the House, Democrats currently hold a 222-212 advantage with one vacancy. All 435 House seats are up for reelection. In the Senate it is a 50-50 tie, but Democrats have control because Vice-President Kamala Harris gets to cast tie-breaking votes. In the Senate, 34 seats are up for election, with 20 of the seats held by Republicans. Historically the president’s party loses seats in midterm elections, with the average loss being 26 seats in the House and four in the Senate.
Several months ago the political scenario for Democrats and their control of Congress looked bad. President Joe Biden had low approval ratings–below 40%. Crime and the economy were the major issues. Specifically, across the country, violent crime is increasing and inflation, especially food prices and for fuel, were the major issues. The War in Ukraine was, at best, a secondary concern. Politically things did not look good for Democrats and most analysts predicted that they would lose control of both the House and Senate.
Times have changed, and so have the political fortunes of the Democrats, sort of. In June the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision overturning the constitutional protection for abortion rights. That decision motivated Democrat voters, as well as independents, who saw this as a major issue. Most importantly, it motivated college-educated suburban women. When these women show up and vote, Democrats win. In 2016 they stayed home and Donald Trump and the Republicans won. In 2018 and 2020 they showed up and Democrats won. These women carry the balance of power in America, and abortion rights appeared to be the issue for them this year.
Additionally, Republicans nominated some weak candidates for the Senate. Donald Trump’s influence over the party remains strong, and he has supported many extreme right candidates. President Biden’s popularity has increased, fuel prices are slightly down, and the President has scored some important political victories. Perhaps prospects for Democrats have improved?
Yes and no. The best estimates are now that the Democrats have a better than even chance to retain control of the Senate, but probably will still lose control of the House. Public opinion suggests that crime and inflation remain major issues, but the question is how they compare to abortion and how these different issues affect or will motivate a few undecided voters in probably no more than twenty House and five Senate races.
What does all this mean for Europe, Ukraine, and Lithuania? According to public opinion surveys in mid September, 66% support Ukraine and its efforts to reclaim its land. There appears for now to be bipartisan support among the public and in Congress to continue to provide aid and weapons to Ukraine. However, a change in the partisan composition of Congress could change things.
Assume the Republicans win the House but not the Senate. American politics will be even more divided than now on a range of issues. For now, there is no evidence that this change in partisan control will affect the U.S. military budget, its commitments to NATO, or funding for Ukraine. Yet if many of the Trump supporters get elected, that could change. It is likely that President Biden will continue to support Ukraine but he may find it harder to find money or weapons. Additionally, a Republican House with many Trump supporters may follow the former president’s lead and be less supportive of U.S. assistance to Europe, Lithuania, or Ukraine. It may be more difficult for President Biden to get money for Ukraine, or to rally congressional support for further actions, if the war escalates. There is no danger of U.S. pullout from NATO or cutting back on its support for Lithuanian and European security in the next two years, but there is still a chance that Trump might run and win again in 2024. Were that to happen, then Europe is back to where it was in 2019, when Trump was last president. It may leave many to wonder if he, and the U.S., will be there to support their security needs.