Editor's Note

Byoung Kwon Sohn, Professor at Chung-Ang University, predicts that the Biden administration will likely stick to its stance on foreign policy, with the Senate secure in Democratic hands and the inter-party House seat margin found to be smaller than expected. Encountering the recent escalation in North Korea, he claims that Washington will keep the Korea-U.S.-Japan trilateral security cooperation in place and strengthen its commitment to extended deterrence to its two Asian allies. Professor Sohn also highlights that the United States will continue to pursue its current Indo-Pacific strategy to contain Chinese influence in the region whilst attempting to maintain the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

I. 2022 Mid-term Election Results and Analysis


With its long-awaited victory in Nevada, one of the U.S.’ razor-thin competitive states in the 2022 mid-term Senate election, the Democratic Party is assured to keep the upper chamber in the next 118th Congress. Regardless of the result for the run-off election scheduled in Georgia on December 6, the Democratic Party has procured 50 Senate seats, a threshold large enough to take all the committee chairs and, with Vice President Harris as a casting voter, control legislative affairs. As the seat gap between the two parties in the House is now less than 10 with outstanding votes still being counted, the Republican party’s anticipated ‘red wave’ and hope of becoming a new vibrant majority in the House turned out to be wide of the mark.


Republican under-performance is surprising and hardly anticipated. Among other things, rampant, long-lasting inflation has plagued the Biden administration, dragging down the President’s approval rating to percentages around the lower 40s before the election. Due to hikes in global energy prices triggered by the Russo-Ukrainian War, the U.S. gas price spiked, causing headaches for an administration that was already facing tough challenges from Republicans energized by its MAGA followers, many of which believing the 2020 election was “stolen.” Republican politicians blamed the Biden Administration for inflation, trying to spotlight it as the biggest issue in the election in order to take back both chambers of Congress. The Republican expectation pretty much resonated with the prevalent pre-election mood among American voters where, according to the CNN exit poll of the 2022 mid-term election, 31% of respondents chose inflation as the most important issue when casting their votes. Some election experts even forecasted that the Democratic Party could lose as many House seats as it did in 1994 and 2010 mid-term elections.


As it turned out, the rosy picture that the Republicans embraced was miserably shattered. The Senate majority will remain in Democratic hands, and the Republicans’ performance in the House election is not shining as anticipated. Kevin McCarthy is likely to become the next Speaker of the House, but nothing more than that to celebrate. What happened? Above anything else, former President Trump is the first person to blame for the Republican fiasco. His resurgence in this election became more of a liability than an asset for the Republican Party. If nothing else, independent voters hated President Biden less than Trump, favoring more Democratic candidates than Republican ones in the polls. Quite many Republican candidates Trump endorsed were extremist, and some of them even underqualified. The other factor which worked against the Republican Party was the Supreme Court’s anti-abortion ruling last June. It had the effect of mobilizing pro-abortion Democratic voters and many independents, getting them to the polls to vote for Democratic candidates. Now President Biden should feel more relieved and energized in dealing with the next 118th Congress, with the Senate on his side and the House Republican majority to be engrossed in soul-searching process.


II. Implications of the Election Outcome for the Biden Administration’s Foreign Policy


With the Senate secure in Democratic hands, and the inter-party House seat margin found to be smaller than expected, the Biden administration sees little reason to change its stance towards foreign policy. Rather, the election outcome would strengthen its current course. Although the Republicans took back the House majority, it would not be so solid and unified as to force President Biden to bend his policy to their favor.


Among other things, the Republican leadership in the new Congress will be busy to mediate potential intra-party conflict between pro-Trump extremists and ‘repentant’ elements that would try to keep distance from Trump. Given the miserable mid-term outcome, the Party’s two factions, whatever you call them, will be engulfed in a kind of ‘blame game’ on the value of Trump for the Republican Party’s future. This internal blame game between pro- and anti-Trump factions may get out of control as the Party approaches the 2024 presidential election and the Republican primary. McCarthy, the prospective Republican Speaker of the House, may take so much pain to dissipate the factional conflict, that he may not be able to spend much time and attention in checking Biden’s foreign policy.


In addition, the new House Speaker’s primary agenda will concern domestic policy, such as entitlement reform, budget, immigration, and crime, rather than foreign policy. Besides, the House Republican members have repeatedly professed that once they become the majority in the House, they would initiate the impeachment of President Biden and other high-ranking officials on such matters as border security, etc. You may be right to say that foreign policy is also important for the Republicans, but it would not be their top priority in the next Congress.


The Biden Administration will be also helped by the fact that the House committee chairs-to-be for the foreign policy and security jurisdictions are all internationalists rather than isolationists. For example, Michael McCaul, the prospective Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is a committed internationalist, with his House homepage saying “McCaul is committed to ensuring we promote America's leadership on the global stage. In his view, it is essential the United States bolsters international engagement with our allies, counters the aggressive policies of our adversaries, and advances the common interests of nations in defense of stability and democracy around the globe.” And Mike Rogers, prospective Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, does not differ much from Biden’s approach when he stated, along with McCaul on March 25, 2021, that “…United States will not be intimidated by North Korea’s nuclear aggression. We will remain appropriately postured to respond in lockstep with our allies the Republic of Korea and Japan and committed to their extended deterrence, and we will continue to work for the denuclearization of North Korea.” No fundamental difference could be found between the top foreign and security leaders of the next Republican House and President Biden in their foreign policy outlook. President Biden would not face partisan pressure strong enough to fundamentally change his current stance of foreign policy from the Republican House, although House Republicans will be more willing to scrutinize specific measures, and more likely to control foreign aid and military spending.


III. Prospect: Biden Foreign Policy Recharged


The current Biden brand of foreign and security policy is rather likely to be strengthened in the next two years. Minor possibility of changes, however, could be detected on matters pertaining to the U.S.’ military aid to Ukraine. That is, the Republican majority in the House will be more likely to scrutinize President Biden’s military aid to Ukraine through its oversight and purse power. As a matter of fact, McCarthy avowed before the election that there would be no more “blank check[s]” from the new House to the Administration’s Ukraine aid requests. In one sense or another, McCarthy’s stance corresponds with that of the 57 Republican House members who voted no to a $39.8 billion aid package to Ukraine on May 10, 2022. Besides, some progressive Democrats are also suspicious of the sustainability and effectiveness of the U.S.’ aid to Ukraine during this prolonged war, particularly amid Putin’s threat over the use of tactical nuclear weapons. As isolationist Republicans are more determined to scrutinize the effectiveness of the U.S.’s aid to Ukraine, and with some progressive Democrats on their side, the Biden Administration could be pressured to search for a diplomatic exit to end the war in Ukraine.


For other parts of the world, the Biden Administration’s foreign and security policy will be on the same track as before the election or will only be reinforced, at least in the case of East Asia. Biden’s policy for checking the ever-hostile China and more provocative North Korea will continue with the help of its Asian allies such as South Korea and Japan. As a matter of fact, as the author writes this brief, President Biden announced “the Phnom Penh Statement on Trilateral Partnership for the Indo-Pacific” on Nov. 13, along with South Korean President Yoon SukYeol and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio. The trilateral statement was to the effect that North Korea’s military provocations, including nuclear tests, will face tough and coordinated sanctions from the three liberal democracies, and only strengthen U.S. commitment of extended deterrence to its two Asian allies. The joint statement also indirectly warned China by stating “The Leaders strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in waters of the Indo-Pacific, including through unlawful maritime claims, militarization of reclaimed features, and coercive activities.” One notable part to consider was how President Biden did not forget to insert into the statement “the importance of maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”


As described so far, the Biden Administration will continue to pursue its current Indo-Pacific strategy to contain Chinese influence in the region and to check North Korean hostilities, whilst attempting to maintain the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. In line with this, Biden will make every effort to keep the Korea-U.S.-Japan trilateral security cooperation in place, and urge his two allies to initiate strategic dialogues of their own as soon as possible. The Republican House majority leadership will find little rationale to hamper Biden’s foreign policy, particularly his East Asia policy, as they too believe China is their arch-rival and, for U.S. security interests, necessary in containing. This is well shown in the pro-Trump and huge MAGA star Rep. Majorie Greene’s twitter praise of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan as “stunning and brave” on August 2, 2022.  



Byoung Kwon Sohn is a Professor of the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Chung-Ang Univeristy. Prof. Sohn got Ph. D in Political Science (American Politics) from the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1997. His major research interest is in both American and Korean party and electoral politics, and American foreign policy in East Asia. He is now exploring what democracy could and should deliver in bi-polarized societies like Korea and the U.S.



Typeset by Junghoo Park, Research Associate
    For inquiries: 02 2277 1683 (ext. 205) | jhpark@eai.or.kr