Biden says Senate election result strengthens his position in talks with Xi

US president will meet Chinese counterpart for first time amid tensions over trade, human rights and Taiwan

US President Joe Biden in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where he is attending the Asean summit. AP
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US President Joe Biden said he will enter an intense meeting with China's President Xi Jinping on Monday with a stronger hand after US voters returned control of the Senate to his Democratic Party.

“I know I’m coming in stronger,” Mr Biden said of his meeting with Mr Xi as he celebrated his party’s victory in Cambodia, where he is attending a summit with Asian leaders.

The two men will meet in-person for the first time in Mr Biden’s presidency on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia. Since Mr Biden took office, the relationship between the world’s biggest economies has deteriorated over economic competition, human rights issues and rising tensions between China and Taiwan.

“I know Xi Jinping, he knows me,” Mr Biden said. “We have very little misunderstanding. We’ve just got to figure out what the red lines are.”

Mr Biden applauded voter turnout in the midterm elections and told reporters that the Democratic wins were “a reflection of the quality of our candidates”.

He phoned Catherine Cortez Masto, whose win in Nevada on Saturday gave the Democrats 50 seats in the Senate, and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer to extend his congratulations.

Ms Cortez Masto beat Republican Adam Laxalt by less than one percentage point. Mr Laxalt is expected to challenge the result.

Assuming her victory stands, Mr Biden will have an easier time winning confirmation for his nominees to the federal court system, including the Supreme Court, and should have less trouble placing his choices in positions at agencies throughout the government. In his first two years, Mr Biden got 84 federal judges confirmed, including one Supreme Court justice.

US midterm elections — in pictures

Unless Democrats also keep control of the House, however, the president is unlikely to chalk up any major legislative breakthroughs before the 2024 presidential election.

Yet with his allies running the Senate, Mr Biden will not need to worry about using his veto to stop Republican attempts to ban abortion, block his regulations or gut climate and health measures he has already signed into law. And Republican efforts to cut taxes or federal spending will be subject to negotiation with Senate Democrats and the White House.

Control of the House of Representatives remains undecided, with about 20 seats still too close to call. Republicans need seven more victories to secure a majority. Mr Biden said it was still “a stretch” for his party to retain control of the House.

The Democrats’ performance defied expectations before the election that voters would hand Republicans control of at least one chamber of Congress by a wide margin in a rebuke to Mr Biden and his policies. Instead, the election has been far closer, with voters rejecting scores of candidates backed by former president Donald Trump in competitive races, including Mr Laxalt.

“The Republican Party,” Mr Biden said, “is going to have to decide who they are.”

The Democrats remained within reach of retaining the House after an upset victory late on Saturday in Washington, where Marie Gluesenkamp Perez was projected to have defeated Republican Joe Kent, a conservative former Green Beret who was endorsed by Mr Trump and had questioned the legitimacy of Mr Biden’s 2020 election.

The final composition of the Senate remains undecided. Voters in Georgia will return to the polls next month for a run-off election. If incumbent senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, retains his seat, Democrats would hold a 51-49 advantage.

Mr Biden said that with 51 senators, Democrats would have majorities in Senate committees responsible for clearing nominations — meaning the party would probably not be forced to spend precious floor time on procedural votes to advance candidates.

“It’s simply better,” he said. “The bigger the number the better.”

Updated: November 13, 2022, 6:33 AM