Tuesday’s election results were not unexpected. The question now is what will they mean for U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere. The outlines are already clear: expect a sharper tone across the board of Congressional oversight and initiative toward the Administration in trying to impact policy. Here are a few predictions for regional policy based on the midterm election results.
The new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee will be Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; the chair of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee will be Connie Mack. Together with newly-elected Senator Marco Rubio, this troika of Florida Republicans may well seek to reverse the Obama Administration’s slow motion liberalization of Cuba policy. Expect also a harder line coming from Congress toward Venezuela and the possible renewal of an effort to sanction Venezuela as a state sponsor of terror. As well, Chairman-To-Be Ros-Lehtinen has earned strong pro-Israel credentials and is a strong supporter of Iran sanctions; further moves of Brazil or Venezuela toward Tehran could well prove to be a point of friction between the Administration and Congress if the Administration is perceived as downplaying their significance.
Of course, a more robust approach toward Cuba, Venezuela or indeed Brazil itself will complicate U.S. relations with Brazil and the new Administration of Dilma Rousseff at just the time when that country is emerging onto the global stage and becoming more willing to stand up to the United States on hemispheric and global issues. Relations with emerging Brazil could well be the most significant strategic issue facing U.S. policy makers in the hemisphere, and a deft hand will be required.
On its face, the Republican take over of the House is likely positive for pending trade agreements, though there are no guarantees that the agreements with Colombia and Panama will move in a timely fashion, particularly if Korea moves ahead by itself. Even so, the likely new Speaker and Minority Leader in the House, John Boehner and Steny Hoyer, respectively, have both spoken favorably on the issues whereas outgoing Speaker Pelosi was firmly opposed. The addition of former USTR Rob Portman to the Senate is also a positive on trade, but Tea Party candidates such as Rand Paul are no sure thing when it comes to trade agreements and the first vote they are asked to take on these issues will be instructive. As well, with Republicans in charge of the House, support for concrete steps to address security challenges in the hemisphere including Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and Colombia, should remain strong.
Finally, based on the election results, do not expect much to change in either agriculture or immigration policy, two other areas of significant hemispheric interest.
*Eric Farnsworth is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org. He is Vice President of the Council of the Americas in Washington DC.