The Straits Times says

New US Congress, more sparring ahead

On Thursday, when the new Democrat majority is sworn in to the United States House of Representatives, one of its first orders of business will be to place itself at loggerheads with the President. Likely House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already declared her intention to immediately pass a Bill that would reopen the government, and one that does not include funding for a border wall. The US government had been partially shut down since Dec 21 due to an impasse over wall funding. President Donald Trump has insisted that he will not sign off on any budget that does not include money for the border, and Congress - even the Republican-controlled one - could not whip up enough votes to get such a budget passed.

The shutdown, affecting some 800,000 government workers, was an apt denouement for the deeply polarising past two years on Capitol Hill, and now all eyes will be on how Mr Trump handles the more hostile incoming group of lawmakers. Already both sides have set up positions that offer little room for compromise on the border wall, meaning, if the US government is to fully reopen, there will likely need to be a politically harmful capitulation from one side or the other. An ill-tempered combative start to the new year will likely scupper any remaining hopes that the White House and Congress can have any semblance of a working relationship. For those outside the US watching the worrying state of domestic affairs, the question is also of how the administration will react in terms of foreign policy once it discovers that nearly everything it wants to do domestically has become harder. Two scenarios are possible, based on how previous presidents have dealt with troubles at home. The first is that the House of Representatives becomes such a preoccupying presence for the President that US foreign policy is effectively neglected; no major shifts in policy emerge, but the US also disengages from key global issues. The second is the complete opposite. Starved of achievements at home and in need of something to show off as the 2020 election cycle starts up, the President turns his attention to finding foreign policy wins.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2019, with the headline 'New US Congress, more sparring ahead'. Print Edition | Subscribe