On Al Jazeera America, professor Jason Johnson discusses the political impact of the terrorist attacks in Paris.
Hiram College Professor Jason Johnson joined HuffPost Live to discuss the top stories on May 6, 2015, including the foreign policy credentials of Republican candidates for president.
Click here to watch Jason Johnson on HuffPost Live.
Right before the midterm elections of 2006, George W. Bush made the pitch to voters that the war in Iraq would be in trouble if the Democrats took over Congress. Apparently that was all the incentive the public needed to turn out in huge numbers and give Democrats control of the House and Senate in a crushing midterm defeat.
Did it stop the war? Not at all. In fact, Bush doubled down, pushed through the troop surge and basically made it impossible for the 2008 presidential candidates to steer away from the military policies he set forth. In other words, losing the House and the Senate in the sixth year of your presidency doesn’t mean your legacy is done for. Of course, Barack Obama is no George W. Bush, and that might be his undoing after a serious shellacking in this week’s midterms.
And we can’t forget just how much everyone hates Congress. Congressional approval has been less than 15% for the last two years. How bad is that approval number? To put it into perspective, 9% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Vladimir Putin, 11% have a favorable opinion of North Korea and 12% have a favorable opinion of Iran. So the U.S. Congress is just barely more popular than most of the Axis of Evil and a Russian leader who makes vague threats about nuclear war with the United States.
This probably explains why President Obama was almost buoyant during his autopsy press conference Wednesday afternoon, much more so than his last midterms in 2010. President Obama doesn’t have to “save” his presidency, but he does have some serious work to do in the next couple of months to make sure the next several years aren’t a repeat of the pointless gridlock that has clogged congress since 2010.
Here are the key issues he must focus on:
Immigration: Immigration reform is the holy grail of politics that is supposed to magically tie Hispanic voters to one party or another for the next 20 years. The truth is that immigration policy is both a serious domestic and national security issue that for too long has been obstructed by vehement tea partiers and limited by President Obama’s overly cautious nature. The President’s plan to do immigration reform by executive order is actually a good idea, not just for his legacy, but also because it will either force the Republicans to offer and pass a cohesive counter-bill, or simply let Obama handle the policy and move on.
Minimum wage: One of the great ironies of the midterm elections of 2014 was that Republican candidates generally ran against increasing the minimum wage, but the red states they were elected by voted to increase the minimum wage. Right now, before Republicans take over the Senate, the President should make a push to pass a minimum wage increase once again. He can frame a vote on the minimum wage as a gift to incoming Republicans. If Congress can pass a minimum wage bill before the new Congress starts in January, freshmen Republicans won’t be in the unenviable position of fighting against a policy overwhelmingly passed in their home states.
Civil rights: President Obama appears poised to pick Brooklyn Prosecutor Loretta Lynch to replace Eric Holder, a nomination that thus far shouldn’t cause too much controversy. But he needs to cram through as many judges and appellate appointments as he can in the next several months. The Republican Party has refused to vote on, or just plain old rejected, a historic number of President Obama’s judicial appointments. The President is now in a position to trade. Republicans know that President Obama will likely veto the vast majority of the bills the new Senate will send him. Perhaps in exchange for letting more judicial appointments through, and ending the confirmation logjam of appointments he’s already made, the President can offer concessions on the number and types of bills from the GOP that he’ll veto.
Foreign policy: The biggest challenge going forward for President Obama will likely be foreign policy. Nuclear negotiations with Iran, sanctions on Russia and ISIS will all be issues that expected new Senate committee heads like Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, and John McCain, R-Arizona, will be champing at the bit to challenge President Obama on. Of course, most of these issues can be managed tactfully by the President if he decides to act swiftly as opposed to simply bickering with the opposition. A final deal developed with Iran and the U.N. Security Council can be signed, sealed and delivered by the November 24 deadline if the president acts fast enough. Any tougher sanctions bills coming out of Congress in 2015 would look foolish when the President has already negotiated a deal. McCain will be calling for boots on the ground to fight ISIS, and while that is something President Obama has stood against, the reality is that sending “security” support to the Middle East could assuage some of McCain’s blood lust and curry favor with other hawks over the next two years.
The midterm elections were not good for the Democrats, nor were they good for President Obama. But this doesn’t mean he can’t get any policies passed. It’s just a matter of how committed he is to working as quickly as he can with the “difficult” Congress he has in this lame duck session before the “impossible” Congress of 2015 comes into office.
President Obama had one of the most productive periods of his presidency after the midterm elections in 2010, and there’s no reason he can’t accomplish similar policy goals now, if he’s willing to take the initiative, cut some deals and occasionally stand his ground instead of hoping for some mythical bipartisanship. On the actual policies, the President seems to have the support of the people. The question is whether he will take the hint and act on this.
This article originally appeared online at CNN.com.
The midterm elections in the United States do not have the dramatic fanfare and theatre of the presidential elections, but they are no less important in their impact on the rest of the world. The US president for all of his constitutional power still has to work with Congress to implement and fund his policies. Nowhere is this more prominent than in foreign policy where Congressional approval is crucial to ratify treaties and fund military actions abroad. In the wake of the Republican takeover of the US Senate the world could see some fundamentally different foreign policy coming out of the Obama administration for its final two years. And these changes will likely influence how the Obama presidency is viewed for decades.
President Barack Obama has staked a lot of his international credibility on the JPOA (Joint Plan of Action) a UN-sponsored plan to freeze Iranian nuclear development in exchange for easing US-backed sanctions. The US and Iran have until November 24 to finalise the deal, but with Republicans taking over the US Senate, Obama’s ability to back up the deal may be weakened.
There are already about 67 votes (out of 100) in the Senate including many in Obama’s Democratic Party, who are very hawkish on increasing sanctions on Iran. Thus far, Democratic leaders have stalled votes on any tougher sanctions on Tehran but come January when the new Senate takes over, a tougher bill will likely get passed. This will force Obama to either veto a sanctions bill against Iran, which would be political suicide, or take a harsher stance in nuclear negotiations with Iran to appease the Senate back in the US.
More aggressive with Russia
There is no love lost between Obama and Vladimir Putin, and their relationship has soured even more since the Russian soft invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
Obama was quick to impose sanctions by executive order because ultimately those can be reversed or amended should the conditions in Ukraine get better or worse.
Now that Republicans have taken over the Senate, Obama’s hand will be forced. The US only pledged an additional $53m to aid Kiev after an impassioned plea for help in September, and Obama will have a hard time getting more funding to the Ukrainian government with a Republican-controlled Senate that controls funding to foreign policy endeavours.
Worse than little or no funding to Kiev, the new head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Bob Corker, wants to put harsher sanctions on Moscow essentially picking a fight that Obama would rather avoid. If Russia gets more aggressive in the coming months, expect Republicans to pressure him for sanctions that are more binding than executive orders.
ISIL – boots on the ground?
The US doesn’t really have a plan on how to fight ISIL because it is still not entirely clear how big or how powerful it really is. However, that hasn’t stopped many Republicans from calling for putting “boots on the ground” all throughout the Middle East, including Syria, to battle ISIL no matter where they may be operating.
Former Republican presidential nominee John McCain will take over the Senate Armed Services Committee and he’s been very clear that he wants US troops on the ground in Syria and fighting ISIL. Very few Senators (in either party) are willing to go that far to fight ISIL but any of the president’s plans going forward will likely have to put troops into play in order to get full support from the Senate.
Relations between Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama have only been a shade better than those with Putin. With Republicans controlling the Senate, Israel will have more allies to lobby to obstruct any efforts by the Obama administration to put pressure on Israel to limit or stop building new settlements. US involvement in the Middle East peace process may slow to a crawl in the next two years.
The US has its political or military tentacles in just about every part of the globe right now and that won’t change due to midterm elections. However, if the Republicans have their way, the grip of those tentacles across so many crucial foreign policy issues might get a little tighter. The world will soon see just how much fight Obama has left in his last two years as president.
This article originally appeared on Al Jazeera English.
On Lou Dobbs Tonight on Fox Business Channel, Hiram College political science professor Jason Johnson discusses the political implications of U.S-led airstrikes against ISIS and Khorasan targets in Syria.