U.S. Elections: Democrats In Control

Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi speaks to the press on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Pelosi is set to become the first female speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives following the Nov. 7 elections. (Photo: Karen Bleier / AFP-Getty Images)

In the wake of the Nov. 7 congressional mid-term elections, Democrats are set to take control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994. The party also won the majority of governorships at stake. Democrats seized a majority in the House of Representatives with 229 seats, 28 governorships, and are poised to control 51 of the 100-seat Senate. The Democratic House victory means California's Nancy Pelosi is in line to be Speaker of the House, the first female to hold that position, which is third in presidential succession.

The election results, which promise to reshape the political landscape in Washington, D.C., merited headlines from media sources around the world. Although international reaction was mixed, the consensus held that the collective Republican defeat was a voter referendum against the policies of the George W. Bush administration.

In an article headlined, "Angry voters punish Bush," Canada's Toronto Star (Nov. 8) said: "Angry American voters have handed control of the U.S. House of Representatives back to the Democrats for the first time in 12 years, punishing President George W. Bush and his Republicans over ethics scandals in Washington and a failing war in Iraq. … Only about four in 10 voters said they approved of Bush and the same number said they approved of the war."

Although Democratic control of the Senate has not yet been officially declared, Qatar's Al-Jazeerah (Nov. 9) asserted: "Democrats have wrested control of the Senate from Republicans with an upset victory in Virginia, giving the party complete domination of Capitol Hill for the first time since 1994. Jim Webb's win over incumbent Senator George Allen on Wednesday gave Democrats their 51st seat in the 100-seat Senate, an astonishing turnabout at the hands of voters."

It was a demoralizing defeat for the Republicans, according to the Philippines' Manila Times (Nov. 9): "Bush watched from the White House as his Republican Party's majority on power was shattered, and his party failed to pick up a single Democratic seat, and disappointed aides admitted defeat in the House. 'We believe Democrats will have control of the House, and look forward to working with Democratic leaders on the issues that remain foremost on the agenda, including winning the war in Iraq and the broader war on terror and keeping the economy on a growth path,' said White House spokesman Tony Snow. … On a banner night for the [Democrat] party, Keith Ellison from Minnesota became the first Muslim elected to Congress."

Major changes in U.S. policy could be in the offing, indicated China's People's Daily Online (Nov. 9): "With Democrats taking control of Congress, everything would become different for President Bush, who had had a cooperative Republican-controlled Congress for the past six years. House Democrats are expected to conduct a series of hearings, to investigate such issues as Bush's prewar policy on Iraq, the domestic wiretapping program, and the energy policy engineered by the group headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, analysts said."

"It is also certain that Democrats would take up legislations on minimum wage, energy and immigration reform. And regarding Iraq, under pressure from the Democrats, the White House has to now adjust its policy to a great extent, not merely tactics. The measures on tax-cuts might not be extended by Congress either, according to analysts. With the midterm elections over, campaigns for the 2008 presidential elections would start very soon, and Bush's proposed reform of Social Security is less likely expected to get passed, they noted."

"With control of Congress, Democrats would be for the first time positioned to challenge Bush's conduct of the war while promoting their own idea of a phased withdrawal of the roughly 140,000 U.S. troops that are fighting in Iraq, analysts said."

According to South Korea's Chosun Ilbo (Nov. 9) the election results are also likely to have a big impact on American policies in Asia: "The Democratic Party favors direct dialogue with North Korea. In 2000, it sent then-secretary of state Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang in an attempt to reach a compromise with the communist state. The Bush administration, by contrast, insists any bilateral contact must come in the framework of six-nation talks on North's nuclear program. Experts say North Korea is closely watching the outcome in the mid-term election. Some say the North intentionally timed its nuclear test with the election and is likely to welcome the Democrat victory. As a result, it could hold out for another two years because leader Kim Jong-il reportedly feels there is no point talking to the Bush administration. That entails at best half-hearted participation in the six-party talks on hopes that the 2008 U.S. presidential election will produce a Democratic president."

Germany's Deutsche Welle (Nov. 9) focused on the varied reactions around the world: "Foreign opponents of the war in Iraq on Wednesday cheered the prospect of a Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress, while allies of President George W. Bush pondered the possibility of a major shift in U.S. foreign policy. Staunch backers of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, such as Japan, insisted they would remain steadfast in their support despite the key role that the Bush administration's handling of the conflict played in the Democrats' resounding victory in Tuesday's mid-term Congressional elections."

"Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who had labeled the Iraq war a 'grave mistake' following his election earlier this year, said the conflict was chiefly responsible for the heavy losses suffered by Bush's Republican party. 'There were also a few problems in domestic politics, but these also came from the war in Iraq,' Prodi was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency."

"Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, one of Washington's staunchest allies, acknowledged that the Iraqi issue had a 'dominant influence' in the election result, and called on Bush and the new Congress to work together on key foreign policy issues. 'The world needs a determined and energetic United States,' Rasmussen said, adding that he hoped 'the president and Congress, under these new conditions, reach a common line on Iraq and Afghanistan.'"

"In Germany, a government spokesman rejected suggestions that the Republican defeat would cripple Bush's foreign policy for the remaining two years of the president's term. 'Regardless of the outcome of the elections, the German government will continue to work with the U.S. government and the U.S. president,' spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told a press conference. 'We do not see the U.S. government's capacity to act on foreign policy affected by the outcome of the elections,' he added."

"The second-largest bloc in the European Parliament, the Socialist Group, sent a congratulatory message to the Democrats, hailing their victory as 'the beginning of the end of a six-year nightmare for the world.'"

"Some Iraqis saw in the Democrat victory the hope of an early U.S. pullout. 'I want the withdrawal of the American army so that we Iraqis can sit down together and restore stability,' said Ismail Khalil, an employee of the Shiite-run health ministry.

According to the United Press International news agency (Nov. 9): "Opinions among Iraqis in Baghdad varied. 'It will be the same policy and the same ideas. Only the faces will change,' said Firas Saleh, 33, a Baghdad shop owner."

"Saad Obeidi, 38, a Sunni Muslim who owns a fashion shop in central Baghdad, saw the power shift as a positive. 'I'm optimistic. I think the Democrats will not accept the chaos in Iraq.'"

"Ban Muhammad, 24, a student in Tikrit, the home town of ousted leader Saddam Hussein, said he reveled in the results. 'I was so happy when the Democrats won, because I saw Bush's face when he gave a speech after the failure of his party, and he was so angry. We hope he and his party always lose.'"

Many in Iraq are taking a pessimistic view regarding the actual changes that the U.S. election will bring about in their country, according to the U.K.'s Reuters news service (Nov. 8): "Iraqis tired of living with the daily threat of death squads and car bombs said they doubted any U.S. party could repair their wrecked country. 'The Americans have ruined everything and the only solution is to let Iraqis deal with this mess,' said Mohamed Husni, 24."

"Abdullah, a 28-year-old computing student, agreed: 'Iraq is long ruined and American policy is fixed, whichever party takes control of Congress. If the Democrats can finally bring us some security they are welcome, but I believe no one can succeed.'"

"Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has clashed with Washington over perceived pressure from U.S. officials to meet benchmarks of progress, said in an interview he did not believe Tuesday's election would lead to a change in U.S. Iraq policy. Maliki, struggling to contain sectarian violence and a raging Sunni Arab insurgency, has announced he plans to ask for an extension of a United Nations mandate authorizing the presence of foreign troops in Iraq. 'I understand that America will always work for America's interest in its foreign policy. The relationship will not experience any major or dramatic change if new opinions surface after the elections,' he said in an interview with the BBC filmed on Tuesday before the U.S. election was over."

The highest-ranking casualty in the Bush administration has been U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who tendered his resignation on Nov.8, one day after the election.

The Scotsman (Nov. 9) saw the resignation thusly: "Donald Rumsfeld, the man described as a lightning rod for George Bush, took a final hit on behalf of the U.S. president yesterday by stepping down in the wake of huge electoral losses for the Republicans in a vote seen as a verdict on the handling of the war in Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld, the Pentagon chief since 2001, directed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. He created the Guantanamo Bay jail for foreign terrorist suspects. He presided over the Defense Department during the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal."

"Admirers viewed him as a dedicated patriot who reinvigorated a military weakened by insufficient funding in the 1990s, and who devised innovative war plans that toppled the Taliban leaders of Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq."

"But detractors painted him as a reckless warmonger who botched the Iraq occupation planning; sent too few troops; failed to anticipate a bloody insurgency; put soldiers into combat without enough armor and sullied the U.S.'s reputation by sanctioning detainee abuse."

According to France's International Herald Tribune (Nov. 9) more changes are in store than a single resignation: "Democrats say they hope election gains would provide momentum for more than the fall of Rumsfeld."

"First stop next year will be legislation calling for an undetermined number of troops to come home immediately. Though Democrats are divided over exactly what to propose, they say their effort will send a loud political signal to disgruntled U.S. voters, and to Iraqis to assume more responsibility."