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Thursday, 6 November 2014

Obama, Democrats hit by 'political earthquake'.....

After their victory in the midterm elections, the Republicans now dominate US politics. It's the start of a difficult political moment for President Barack Obama and the Democrats. Gero Schliess reports from Washington.
Kongresswahlen in den USA
"It turned out pretty much the way I expected," said one of the taxi drivers, a young African-American, who arrived at dawn to pick up guests at a Democrat election party in Virginia.
But, he added, the outcome doesn't bother him. He belongs to the large group of Americans who, according to polls, have little faith in politicians no matter the political party. This group met Tuesday's landslide Republican victory in the midterm elections with a certain indifference.

Political experts in Washington and the US media reacted quite differently. Seen through their eyes, the success of the Republicans is a clear sign that the US political landscape has changed dramatically.
"It's a political earthquake," said Michael Werz, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress think tank, echoing the opinion of many political observers in the US capital.
Kongresswahlen in den USA (Jubelnde Republikaner)
Republicans celebrated what they called a historic victory
Surprisingly heavy defeat
William Drozdiak, president of the American Council on Germany, called it a "powerful victory" for the Republicans, pointing out that they not only conquered the US Senate and expanded their existing majority in the House of Representatives, but also claimed important governorships in Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
If that wasn't enough, the new Republican dominance has significantly weakened the Democrats chances going in to the 2016 presidential election. For Hillary Clinton, if she chooses to run, it might be "much closer" than initially thought, said Drozdiak.
President Barack Obama's Democrats were expecting to have a hard time in the midterm elections; the polls had pointed in that direction for weeks. But such a terrible outcome surprised many, including Drozdiak and Werz.
Anti-Obama vote
But, said Werz, such a strong vote against a sitting president is not unusual in the midterm elections, especially in a president's second term. Drozdiak saw it as a clear vote against Obama, with the Republicans blaming him for everything that's wrong in the US.
"The Republicans were very effective in keeping that message in front of the voters," said Drozdiak. "Rather than allowing them to think about what Congress is doing wrong, they kept saying it's all Obama's fault, and that very simple message came through loud and clear."
On Wednesday, the New York Times even suggested that Obama's historically low approval ratings in nationwide surveys, and the comprehensive defeat of his party, were a general rejection of the president and his policies.
An analysis by the Washington Post attributed the Republican victory to a surge of anger and frustration toward the president: "Preliminary network exit polls revealed an electorate that was largely frustrated by the political stalemate in Washington after two years in which little of legislative significance was accomplished."
According to Werz, the Republicans found success with their strategy of invoking terror in voters' minds by focusing on the conflict in Syria, the Ebola threat, and the dangers of the US-Mexico border.
Confrontation or cooperation?
For their part, the Republicans have called it an historic election victory and have taken it as a challenge to shape the direction of future US policy, even more so than in the past.
Voters are "hungry for new leadership," said Senator Mitch McConnell, incoming Republican majority leader in the US Senate, after the vote. For Drozdiak, it seems a showdown with Obama is inevitable. "The likelihood is more stagnation, more paralysis in Washington for the next two years," he said.
BdT Deutschland Umweltaktivisten TTIP Chlorhühnchen
The TTIP agreement with Europe won't be threatened by the result
Werz, however, points out that the president still has his executive powers, with which he can enact policies on climate change and foreign policy without the approval of Congress. He added that the Republicans have, even as a minority faction in the Senate, used a blockade policy that led to "never before seen polarization."
This is what now lies ahead for Washington, according to Drozdiak. As an example, he referred to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has already called for a renewed fight against the president's health care reforms, or Obamacare. The Republicans could also financially starve the government, forcing a reduction in the size of the administration.
Drozdiak won't even rule out another government shutdown, similar to last year's stalemate over Obamacare. Negotiations over raising the debt limit, which Republicans could use to initiate that, lie ahead.
Foreign policy to remain stable
But it's possible to make out conciliatory gestures on both sides. On Friday, Obama invited Republican representatives to the White House for talks. And in interviews leading up to the election, McConnell had indicated a willingness to cooperate - an approach that might work with immigration or economic policy.
The extent to which Republican hardliners like Cruz and the resurgent Tea Party allow McConnell to make his cooperative gestures remains to be seen. It will be difficult to make any progress in Congress with two-and-a-half parties, said Werz with a grin, referring to the independent role played by the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement.
Drozdiak and Werz, however, both see a bright future for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the trade agreement currently being negotiated between Europe and the US. They point out that TTIP has many powerful advocates, even among the Republicans.
In addition, Drozdiak believes American foreign and security policy will remain stable, because Obama has a lot of power when it comes to foreign policy. He said the president will likely choose to focus his attention on this rather than domestic issues. Faced with the many pressing international crises, he may have no other choice.