By Gene Rossides
The dramatic elections of November 2006 were a political earthquake with the Democrats seizing control of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Most analysts had predicted a House win but few thought the Democrats would also take the Senate.
The impact of this election will be substantial and will directly affect the 2008 presidential election. First let me give the current figures. The Democrats gained control of the House by winning 230 seats to 196 seats for the Republicans with 9 seats undecided. The Democrats needed 15 seats to gain control and gained 28. Of the 9 seats still undecided, Republicans hold narrow leads.
In the Senate, Democrats have 51 seats to 49 for the Republicans. The Montana victory of Senator-elect Jon Tester over the incumbent Republican Conrad Burns by 2847 votes and the Virginia victory of Senator-elect Jim Webb over the Republican incumbent George Allen by 8942 votes resulted in a net gain for the Democrats of 6 seats and one vote majority of 51 to 49. If one Democrat votes with the Republicans and the rest vote on party lines it would be a tie and the Republican Vice President Cheney would have the vote to break a tie.
The major substantive issue in the election was the Iraq war. However, the corruption issue was also a factor that hurt the Republicans in a number of close elections.
The major impact will be, of course, the control by the Democrats of the legislative agenda in both the House and Senate. Gaining control of both houses gives the Democrats significantly added power and also responsibility. If they only had the House and were blocked by a Republican Senate in developing and passing a program, they could blame the Republicans. By controlling both houses of Congress the Democrats have leadership responsibility and must come forward with a program. They must show leadership in foreign and domestic affairs. The era of one party rule these past six years is over.
By controlling both the House and Senate the Democrats have enough power to influence policy which they plan to do regarding Iraq in foreign affairs. The Greek American community must work to have the Democrats change Executive Branch policy regarding our issues: Turkeyʼs aggression against and invasion of Cyprus and armed occupation of 37.3% of Cyprus now in its 32nd year; Turkeyʼs threats against Greece in the Aegean and the Aegean boundary; FYROM; the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Halki Patriarchal Theological School; human rights in Albania and a change in the U.S. policy of appeasement and double standards on the rule of law for Turkey.
In the House, Nancy Pelosi will become speaker, the first woman to do so. As Speaker she will in large part control the legislative agenda in the House.
The Democrats face a battle for the number 2 spot of Majority Leader between the present number 2 Democrat in their caucus, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and the challenger, Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, an outspoken critic of the Bush administrationʼs handling of the Iraq War. Murtha has come to represent the Democratic partyʼs anti-war movement.
On Sunday November 12, House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) endorsed Representative Murtha (D-PA) over her current deputy Representative Hoyer (D-MD). This was Pelosiʼs first real decision. She said she was swayed by Murthaʼs early and public position for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. In her letter of endorsement she stated:
“I salute your courageous leadership that changed the national debate and helped make Iraq the central issue of this historic election…Your strong voice for national security, the war on terror and Iraq provides genuine leadership for our party, and I count on you to lead on these vital issues.”
The Majority Leader will be at the helm of the Democratic caucus in the House.
New House Committees Chairmen
The House International Relations Committee will be headed by Tom Lantos (D-CA). Lantos, 78, was born in Hungary and is a Holocaust survivor. Lantos, a strong supporter of Israel, has not been known to support the Greek American communityʼs views on U.S. relations with Turkey. Our community must make a special effort to visit Lantos and discuss our issues with him.
The key International Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Emerging Threats will be headed by Representative Robert Wexler (D-19th FL), an arch pro-Turkish member of Congress who is co-head of the Turkish caucus and has introduced pro-Turkish legislation.
Representative David Obey (D-7th WI) will head the Appropriations Committee and Representative Nancy Lowey (D-18th NY) will head the key subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs. She has supported our issues and has been active with the community.
The Majority Leader of the Senate will be Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) who will control the legislative agenda in the Senate. Senator Richard Durbin (D- Illinois) will become the Majority Whip.
New Senate Committees Chairmen
Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. of Delaware will become the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Biden has, in the past, been a supporter of our issues due to the efforts of the Delaware Greek American community and the American Hellenic Institute chapter in Delaware.
Senator Christopher Dodd will probably become chairman of the Subcommittee on European Affairs. Senator Dodd is favorably inclined towards our issues.
Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia will chair the Senate Appropriations Committee again. Byrd, 88 is the longest serving member in the U.S. Senate. Historically he has not been helpful and was a leading advocate of Turkey. The Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs will be headed by Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont).
There are, of course, other important committees and Senators which I will discuss in the future.
A key point I want to stress is that all issues in the 110th Congress during the next two years, including issues of special concern to the Greek American community in foreign relations, will also be directly pertinent to and involved in the 2008 presidential campaign which is already under way.
Last Sunday, November 12, for example, on NBCʼs “Meet the Press,” Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) said he will form an exploratory committee regarding the Republican presidential nomination. And Senator Joe Biden, Jr. (D-Delaware) on ABCʼs “This Week” said “I still plan on running.”
I will discuss the various Democrat and Republican presidential candidates in a future article.
The path ahead for Greek Americans is clear. We must act on a bipartisan basis as we have in the past. We must be involved with the new Democrat leadership and new Democrat committee chairs and the Republican Minority leadership and ranking members on the key committees.
The new element is we must tie our efforts with the Congress and the Executive Branch to the presidential nomination campaigns of the Democrats and Republicans. We must seek meetings now with potential presidential candidates to discuss our positions based on what we believe is in the best interests of the U.S. and seek their support.
The key to success is to develop grass roots leaders in each of the 435 congressional districts and with the 100 Senators. The American Hellenic Instituteʼs (AHI) Congressional Contact Leadership program has about 400 such grass roots leaders. We need at least 3 for each of the 435 Representative and 100 Senators- a minimum of 1605 community grass roots leaders.
Also AHI will be developing Presidential Nomination Leadership teams regarding Democrat and Republican presidential nomination candidates. Any reader interested in becoming active with his or her representative or senator or presidential nomination candidate should contact AHI at 202-785-8430 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
AHI will be working closely in its efforts with Senator Olympia Snowe and the three newly elected Greek American Representatives- Gus Bilirakis (R-Florida), John Sarbanes (D-Maryland) and Zach Space (D-Ohio).
**** Gene Rossides is President of the American Hellenic Institute and former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury