Broad disapproval of the Iraq war helped Democrats gain the majority of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1994 (LAT) and a razor-thin win in the Senate gave them complete control of Congress (WashPost). The likely next Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), called the results a mandate for change on policy in Iraq. While Democrats will have the power to call investigations in Congress, they are not expected to curtail the military’s spending needs for Iraq in the short run, writes William M. Arkin, a blogger for the Washington Post. One immediate response to the elections, however, was the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (NYT), sought by leading Democrats who accused him of bungling the postwar planning in Iraq. The Bush administration is likely to face unaccustomed congressional pressure for a redeployment of forces but foreign policymaking still rests firmly with the administration. The Christian Science Monitor looks at the prospects for Bush administration shifts on Iraq policy in the new domestic political landscape.
President George W. Bush says he will work for bipartisan cooperation but added if the Democrats call “to get out now, regardless,” it’s going to be hard to work together. Meanwhile, the administration has assured Iraqis that Democrats and Republicans will work together to help “the mission in Iraq succeed” (McClatchy). Bush says his administration will closely study the forthcoming recommendations of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton commission on Iraq. Members of both parties seem to be putting a lot of stock in the commission's views, but at the end of the day it is Bush's call on troop deployment, James M. Lindsay, an expert on Congress and CFR's former director of studies, tells CFR.org's Bernard Gwertzman.
Some of the senior House Democrats in line to assume chairmanships, outlined in this Backgrounder, have signaled they will explore oversight hearings into matters like military procurement contracts and reconstruction issues in Iraq. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), who would chair the House Armed Services Committee, has mentioned reestablishing that body’s oversight and investigations subcommittee, disbanded by Republicans in 1995 (Bloomberg).
Beyond Iraq, two foreign policy issues where congressional Democrats could have immediate impact are trade and immigration. Congress could face a series of major trade decisions (AP) even before the current session expires, including approval of a free trade agreement with Peru and a bilateral agreement with Vietnam. Democrats have been increasingly skeptical of such agreements, believing they are tapping into public mistrust of the fallout from trade deals (MarketWatch). Republicans are still hopeful Congress will extend President Bush’s trade-promotion authority, set to expire next summer, because it is crucial for the survival of the multilateral Doha trade round.
The story may be different on immigration. House Republicans have strongly opposed the comprehensive reform bill backed by Bush and the Senate, which creates a path to citizenship for most of the country’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. Democrats in the House are more supportive of comprehensive steps and a strong showing of support among Hispanic voters (ABC) appeared to indicate a backlash against House Republicans’ enforcement-only approach to illegal immigration. The Manhattan Institute’s Tamar Jacoby says the country is far less divided on the issue than congressional debate has suggested and writes in Foreign Affairs that the next Congress must come up with legislation to repair the nation’s immigration system.