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US midterm election approaches under risks of further national division and political violence

Wu Xinbo

Global Times 2022-11-07

  Amid the politicians' spats, inflation, gunshot and fear of violence, the US midterm election is looming as a warm-up of the 2024 presidential election, as well as the revenge of the 2020 race that Donald Trump lost and resulted in an unprecedented Capitol Hill riots which are viewed as the unhealed wounds of US democracy.

  US political leaders from both Democratic and Republican parties on Sunday made their closing arguments to voters, with US President Joe Biden accusing Republicans of reveling in political violence while Republicans saying they can better address US economic woes.

  According to NBC, candidates of both parties have been physically attacked, election workers intimidated. And threats against members of Congress are up tenfold. Citing public opinions, NBC said for voters, a vicious spiral of violence and fear is creating angst, paranoia and an overwhelming sense of dread that the nation is on the eve of destruction.

  More than 40 million Americans have already voted ahead of midterm elections this Tuesday, US media said. According to US political polling site, fivethirtyeight.com, the Republican party is in a better position in the race, with around 54 percent chance of winning the Senate and around83 percent likelihood of holding the House.

  Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel on Sunday predicted that Republicans would take back both chambers of Congress in the midterm elections, according to a CNN report. Marc Short, former Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, also remained positive, as he told CNN that I see a great night for Republicans.

  Some analysts believe that if the Biden administration suffers setbacks at home, it may try to make its presence felt on the international stage and in diplomacy, pressing other countries abroad in exchange for the approval of domestic voters.

  Experts reached by the Global Times said that whether the GOP wins only the House of Representatives or the Congress, US' China policy is highly likely to become more provocative and confrontational. The GOP will likely lead the push for more hysterical anti-China legislation, and pressure the Biden administration to get tougher on China, including on the Taiwan question.

  More importantly, they believe that if the Biden administration becomes a lame duck as the surveys predicted, it would be disastrous for the Democrats in terms of both the rest of two years restrained by GOP lawmakers, as well as the gloomy outlook in the 2024 election.

  A more divided, violent US?

  All the 435 House seats are being contested in the midterm elections. According to the US Constitution, a tax bill can only be introduced by the House and then amended by the Senate. Democrats currently hold a majority in the House.

  Liu Weidong, a research fellow at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday that if Republicans take the House majority, it will be harder for the Biden administration to push its bills and agendas.

  Republicans will likely attack Democrats for spending too much on health care ... If the Biden administration tries to push through some sort of economic stimulus package, the Republicans will do everything they can to block it in Congress, Liu said.

  Biden has introduced three important bills since he took office: the coronavirus relief package, a plan to upgrade infrastructure, and The Build Back Better Plan, which touches on areas ranging from clean energy to taxes and health care. The first two bills passed in Congress after much bipartisan back-and-forth, while a scaled-down version of The Build Back Better Plan, Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, finally passed in August after being stalled caused by staunch Republican opposition.

  Experts further noted that in addition to preventing Biden from pushing through his agenda, a Republican takeover of the House could turn into a counteroffensive, with Biden.

  Wu Xinbo, dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times that once Republicans take control of the House, they will first disband the January 6th committee on investigating Capitol Hill riots and turn to investigating Biden's son Hunter Biden and the hasty withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

  Wu believes that Republicans would attack Democrats for spending too much on healthcare and the federal debt ceiling. And Republicans could rein in a Biden administration by limiting budgets and appropriations.

  In early October, America's gross national debt exceeded $31 trillion for the first time, approaching the threshold of $31.4 trillion, according to media reports.

  And if Republicans also take control of the Senate, it would be hard to see progress on Biden's major policies and agenda, and appointments that require Senate confirmation, including liberal justices, will be stalled, Wu said.

  The president's top nominees, including federal judges, ambassadors and cabinet members, require Senate confirmation. After the president enters into a treaty with another country on behalf of the US government, the treaty needs to be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate to take effect, experts explained.

  Yuan Zheng, deputy director and a senior fellow of the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday that it is to be expected that Democrats' big government in the executive branch and the idea of a small government upheld by the GOP in the Congress will be at loggerheads after the midterm elections over inflation, tax increases and cuts, gun control and abortion.

  Domestic political polarization in the US is likely to intensify, Yuan said.

  As the US political system becomes less and less smooth, more people may choose violent means outside the system, Wu said, taking examples of the Capitol Hill riots and the latest fallout of attacking over Paul Pelosi, the husband of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

  US politics is in danger of spilling over into street violence, which is regarded as an answer to the unwanted result, Wu said.

  A recently released survey from University of California, Davis found that almost 1 in 5 agreed that violence is sometimes needed to protect American democracy when elected leaders will not.

  A gloomy 2024 outlook?

  According to the latest US poll, the economy, crime and abortion are among the top three issues for US voters. Nearly half of US voters, 49%, say the economy will be extremely important to their vote for Congress, according to Gallup report released a week ago.

  According to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg, the consumer price index report for October is set to have climbed 7.9 percent from a year ago. And the year-over-year rate of US inflation was 8.2 percent in September.

  Struggling to dampen inflation, the Federal Reserve last week announced fourth consecutive jumbo 0.75 percentage point rate hike. However, the move further increases debt costs for Americans already struggling with rising prices on pretty much everything, including necessities like food and rent, CNBC commented.

  With a Republican Congress likely to be in control, the Democrats could be in big trouble in 2024's presidential election, if the Biden administration is unable to deal with domestic economic and social problems, Yuan said. The midterm election is weather vane for 2024.

  Some Republicans on Sunday said they would better address Americans' economic woes and insisted Democrats were ill-equipped to help voters, according to media reports.

  But if the Republicans dragged the society into a vicious partisan confrontation, it may backfire, causing voters to resent some of their unconstructive approach, Liu said.

  According to the expert, local races for governor and state legislatures are also worth watching in the midterms. If Republicans maintain their advantages in some swing states, they are likely to push some new electoral legislation in the future.

  Each state makes its own election laws in the US, and Republicans could essentially prepare for the 2024 election by promoting legislation that may dampen potential enthusiasm among Democratic voters, he said.

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