Midterm elections: a Republican House could pressure Biden on Ukraine and Iran

New House of Representatives also expected to reopen chapter on president's chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan

Republicans who will now lead major committees in the House have signalled their readiness to pressure President Joe Biden's administration on national security issues. AP
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With the Republican Party set to snag a narrow majority in the US House of Representatives following Tuesday's midterm elections, the White House will be bracing for oversight and a series of investigations into foreign policy matters including Ukraine, Afghanistan and Iran.

While the new Congress will mostly be preoccupied with domestic issues such as inflation and petrol prices, Republicans who will now lead major committees in the House have signalled their readiness to pressure President Joe Biden's administration on national security issues.

Future of Ukraine aid

Last month, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said that if his party takes the majority in the chamber, it will not approve bottomless aid for Ukraine.

“People are going to be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank cheque to Ukraine,” Mr McCarthy, who is the leading candidate to become speaker of the House, said in mid-October.

The US has sent Ukraine an estimated $60 billion in security aid since the Russian invasion began in February.

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Although there is bipartisan support for Ukraine, the isolationist wing of the Republican Party — in addition to a few progressive Democrats — have openly criticised the unconditional backing of Kyiv.

But Clayton Allen, a policy expert at the Eurasia Group, said Mr McCarthy’s comments are not the same as vowing to stop support.

“No blank cheque is not the same thing as saying no cheque,” Mr Allen said on Wednesday in a briefing with reporters.

“What he [Mr McCarthy] was forecasting was us going to be in a recession next year, and voters are not going to have the patience to give $50 billion with no conditions.”

Within the Senate, there is also division over Ukraine. While members close to Mr Trump such as JD Vance, a newly elected senator from Ohio, have called for a cut in aid, the majority of Republicans in the Senate oppose that policy.

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Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell broke with Mr McCarthy on the issue last month and called for increased support to the Eastern European country.

Mr Allen expected more oversight and questions to both the White House and Kyiv over the security aid but not a cut.

Iran deal and protests

Republicans in the House are also likely to increase pressure on the White House when it comes to Iran, whether by objecting to a return to the nuclear deal of 2015 or pushing for more action on the current protests.

Richard Goldberg, a former Iran analyst on the US National Security Council and a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said a Republican House will complicate Mr Biden’s Iran policy.

“The new majority will be able to hold hearings, conduct investigations, pass legislation and — perhaps most importantly — schedule an up-or-down vote to reject any future nuclear deal,” Mr Goldberg told The National.

He said the US Special Envoy to Iran Robert Malley could personally find himself a target of those hearings.

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“If you're Rob Malley, facing the likelihood of congressional investigations into things like his communications with Russia or his [alleged] offers to pay billions of dollars for hostages … you have to think long and hard about staying on as Iran envoy,” the expert said.

And as protests continue in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody, Mr Goldberg argued that a new Congress will increase the support and the pressure on the White House to act decisively.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, with the likelihood of Democrats retaining the Senate, a continuity in policy is expected when it comes to confirming ambassadors, supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces, working with the Palestinian Authority and supporting US partners in the region.

Afghanistan hearings

The new House of Representatives is likely to turn up the heat over Afghanistan, where Mr Biden’s rushed withdrawal in 2021 was heavily criticised by Republicans.

Michael McCaul, who is likely become the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month “requesting the preservation of all documents related to the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan”.

“Access to this information is critical to the constitutional legislative and oversight responsibilities of Congress, and it is unacceptable for such requests to be ignored or given the attention they deserve,” he wrote.

Such a request could initiate congressional inquiries, investigations and subpoenas.

A Republican House will also look into US policy in the Western Hemisphere, where more leftist leaders have taken control in Brazil, Chile and Honduras.

On China, Republicans have signalled more willingness to arm Taiwan and embrace tougher trade policies.

The new Congress is expected to start its session on January 3.

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Updated: November 10, 2022, 11:02 AM