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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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