Bilateral US-Russian talks continued over Ukraine’s future last week, with a high-level meeting in Geneva between US State Secretary Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. The meeting was triggered by an embarrassing senior moment from President Biden (pictured) who had publicly suggested that the US may not punish Russia too heavily for a minor incursion into Ukraine, writes James Wilson.
President Zelensky of Ukraine condemned Biden’s statement. On Twitter he stated: “There are no minor incursions. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones.”
In a damage limitation exercise, the White House and the US National Security Council moved swiftly to press the “reset” button and clarify Biden’s remarks.
Whilst this wobble in international communications from Biden is worrying, it is not foreign policy which will define his Presidency. The main battle ground is in the domestic US political arena. Forty per cent of US voters say that the economy is their top issue in deciding how they will vote looking ahead to the mid-term elections that will take place this November.
With his first year in office behind him, it is clear that the USA remains just as split a society as it was in the 2020 elections. We have passed the 6th January anniversary of the storming of the Capitol by rioters, but much work is still needed to heal the trust in the democratic institutions, principles and processes on which the country is founded. There is ongoing debate about electoral reform which will shape the rules for the mid-terms, but it is unhelpful that there have already been questions called in advance about the legitimacy of the elections. This does not bode well, if there is already controversy about the legitimacy of the outcome before the rules have even been set.
President Joe Biden’s approval numbers continue to hover in the mid-40s, with a recent opinion survey showing that 44 per cent of voters support the job he is doing. But Biden’s approval numbers on the economy are lower than his general approval rating. A majority of voters (53%) actively disapprove of his handling of the job of President. His polling figures at this stage are still better than his predecessor Donald Trump, but between them they share the distinction of having the worst approval ratings of any US President. There are still 10 months between now and Election Day 2022, so it is difficult to say what will happen to Biden’s approval ratings in that time.
The Republicans will certainly be campaigning hard over the next 10 months and there are many potentially damaging pitfalls that threaten to challenge the President. In June Kathleen Buhle, his former daughter-in-law, will publish her memoirs “If We Break” in which she will open up about the end of her 24 year marriage to Hunter Biden. The book will be the first time Hunter’s ex-wife has made any public comment about their divorce or its aftermath. Buhle and Hunter married in 1993, splitting after some 24 years of marriage. In February 2017, Buhle alleged in a legal filing that her former husband had spent money on drugs, alcohol, prostitutes and strip clubs. But whether or not more disclosures are made by the book, the timing is bad in that it will bring these issues front of mind again in the public consciousness.
There also remains a question mark over the follow up to the report of the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs by Senators Grassley and Johnson into “Hunter Biden, Burisma, and Corruption: The Impact on US Government Policy and Related Concerns”. It is not clear what further work may ensue from the senators’ report, but “Hunter Biden’s Laptop” is an issue that just will not go away. This despite the fact that President Biden was given early warnings by his inner circle advisers, Victoria Nuland and Amos Hochstein, about the problems caused by Hunter’s position in Burisma. It remains to be seen how the Republicans will exploit this particular saga in their campaign for the mid-terms.
Currently US political analysts are predicting that the Republicans will regain control of the US House of Representatives in the November mid-term elections, and will also take back control of the US Senate. Such an outcome with his Democratic Party losing its grip on both chambers of Congress would be a considerable setback for President Joe Biden. He therefore faces an uphill battle in the coming months to bounce back and better his approval ratings before Election Day.
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