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US Senate races matter... to the world

US Senate races matter... to the world. Art by Gabriella Turrisi

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.


Trade. Although Donald Trump loves to do US trade policy by executive order, these only work for a few months because the real power to approve international treaties lies in the Senate. Trump skirted the process with phase one of the US-China trade agreement by calling it a "contract" rather than a treaty, but negotiated Democratic support to ratify the USMCA trade deal replacing NAFTA (as Joe Biden will need to win over some Republicans to renegotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership if he becomes president).

Immigration. The White House can do a lot on immigration bypassing Congress, like Trump's notorious travel ban on people from several majority-Muslim countries. However, only the Senate can pass a long-overdue comprehensive immigration reform, which affects recipient countries of highly coveted H1-B visas like India, or many Latin American nations where US immigrants benefit from family-based green card sponsorship. The current law on the books — which Democrats and Republicans largely agree is broken — remains unchanged since 1986... due to lack of bipartisan consensus on how to fix it.

Arms deals, climate change. The next president will also need Senate consent for other international agreements that are crucial to US foreign policy. To name just two, it's unclear whether a Democratic majority will greenlight selling F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, while a Republican-controlled Senate would likely (try to) block a future Biden administration from rejoining the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Regardless of who wins the Senate, if the same party controls both it and the White House, expect a raft of potentially divisive partisan legislation. If Trump and the Republicans hold court, his wish list of hardline policies on trade and immigration would expand. On the other hand, if the Democrats win the presidency and the Senate, buckle up for sweeping changes like removing the filibuster, increasing the number of states, and packing the Supreme Court (especially if its latest vacancy is filled by November 3).

If different parties control the White House and the Senate, today's deeply polarized US political environment will likely lead to a stalemate. With hyper partisanship discouraging any laws being passed, it'll be all up to the courts.

Now that Joe Biden is officially US president, leaders from around the world would like a word with him — but where will he make his first international trip?

After a tumultuous four years, many countries are now clamoring for a face-to-face with President Biden. That includes allies who felt abandoned by Trump's "America First" presidency, as well as adversaries with thorny issues on the agenda. We check in on who's pitching him hardest on a near-term state visit.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on what to expect from President Biden's first 100 days:

It's Inauguration Day. And you can see behind me the Capitol Building with some of the security corridor set up that's preventing people like me from getting too close to the building, as Joe Biden gets sworn in as our 46th president. Historic day when you consider that you've got Kamala Harris, the first woman vice president, the first woman of color to be vice president.

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On Wednesday, Joe Biden will become president because eighty-one million Americans, the highest tally in US history, voted to change course after four years of Donald Trump's leadership. Like all presidents, Biden and his vice president, Kamala Harris, take office with grand ambitions and high expectations, but rarely has a new administration taken power amid so much domestic upheaval and global uncertainty. And while Biden has pledged repeatedly to restore American "unity" across party lines — at a time of immense suffering, real achievements will matter a lot more than winged words.

Biden has a lot on his agenda, but within his first 100 days as president there are three key issues that we'll be watching closely for clues to how effectively he's able to advance their plans.

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Kamala Harris was sworn in today as the first woman Vice President of the United States. That means she's only a heartbeat away from occupying the Oval Office — and could well be the Democratic candidate to replace Joe Biden if the 78-year-old president decides to not run for reelection in 2024. Should Harris — or another woman — become US president soon in the future, that'll (finally) put America on par with most of the world's top 20 economies, which have already had a female head of state or government at some point in their democratic history. Here we take a look at which ones those are.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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