There is no doubt that the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki is a significant step forward. As expected, there were no breakthroughs and the tide was not exactly turned but guardrails to the bilateral relationship were restored to pave the way for substantial progress.
Evidently, only a full-fledged summit could stop further deterioration of the bilateral relations and it happened. True, it was too brief to produce strides but it created a positive atmosphere for launching the process of repairing the damage. The meeting met the expectations of those who wanted the bilateral ties to improve.
The importance of cooperation between the militaries was emphasized. No doubt, it will become closer and more intensive from now on. National security teams will revive the much-needed dialogue on a range of burning issues, including separate talks on cyber security. The fate of the New START Treaty will be addressed to prevent the erosion of arms control. This is a very important and timely development. The parties will coordinate their actions in Syria. President Putin stressed the need to resume public diplomacy to boost contacts between the peoples. These are tangible results. As President Trump said at the news conference, the relationship was at the rock bottom but it has changed now.
The lawmakers’ support is a must for implementation of the president’s plans. Will Donald Trump have congressional backing for his “hit it off with Putin” policy? It brings to the fore the issue of GOP prospects for the US midterm elections on November 6, which are a kind of referendum on Donald Trump’s performance. On this date, Americans will answer the question whether they trust President Trump, including his Russia policy.
Alabama already held its primary run-off elections on July 17 launching the countrywide process to last till mid-September. The party in power normally loses seats in Congress as a result of midterm elections. That’s what Democrats are banking on. Since the days of the Civil War (1861-1865) the incumbent president’s party has lost ground in 36 out of 39 midterm elections to the House. Over the past 21 midterm elections, the GOP has gained seats in both houses only twice.
If Democrats score a win to get a majority in one of the houses, the “election meddling story” will be a drag on the development of the relationship. With Democratic majority in Senate, treaties with Russia will have a slim chance to be ratified and new snags on the way of normalizing the relationship may be codified, even if it means encroachment on president’s prerogatives.
Today, the GOP has the 236-193 majority in the House and the 51-47 majority in the Senate. Two senators are independent. They tend to side with Democrats. According to the Cool Political Report issued just a few days ago, Republicans have a good chance to win the House. There are lower chamber 36 seats in the “toss up” or “lean” category. Another report published this month says the GOP will preserve the current majority in the Senate. Republicans can afford a loss of only one Senate seat to preserve the lead. Democrats have 26 seats in the Senate for re-election out of 35. This is a chance to increase the advantage. The GOP candidates are leading in North Dakota and Florida. A Republican victory would give a chance for Senate’s approval of Trump-nominated Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court Justice to strengthen the president’s position.
Indeed, a GOP success will be unprecedented but it looks quite achievable at present. Many things can sway the public opinion but today most Americans want to see the relations with Russia improved. They see it as a feather in President Trump’s cap. Despite all the ballyhoo raised about “election meddling” and other things, the percentage of all Americans who view Russia is an ally or friendly to the US rose to 31% from 26% in 2014. There has been no change in the percentage of Americans identifying Russia as an enemy or unfriendly to their country. The number of Republicans who say Russia is an ally or a friendly state rose from 22% to 40% since 2014.
The economic outlook under Trump is positive to increase the Republican chances. "Over the first half of this year, overall economic activity appears to have expanded at a solid pace," the Federal Reserve concluded in its recent report.
With a Republican majority in Congress, President Trump could do much more for improving the relations with Moscow. A GOP win would pave the way for arms control and security agreements to be approved by Senate.
Hopefully, the summit results are not just a flash in the pan to disappear with another president taking office. The facts adduced above indicate the main thing - Donald Trump is far from being a lamp duck. He is a serious interlocutor who can advance his cause and do it with solid support in Congress and among voters. Improving the relations with Russia was Donald Trump’s pre-election promise given to American people who voted for him. As one can see, the US president remains true to his word.