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EDITIONS
Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 11:01 GMT
Ask the experts about the US mid-term elections

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  • Click here to read the transcript


    Americans have given their backing to the Republicans in the US mid-term elections.

    Control of the House of Representatives and the Senate is now with the Republican party in what is being seen as an endorsement of President's Bush's two years in office.

    He had criss-crossed the US in an effort to make sure his party came out on top.

    Was this election a referendum about George W Bush? How do you think the "war on terror" impacted on the election? What will this mean for American domestic and foreign policy.

    You put your questions to World Affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds in Washington.



    Transcript


    David Shukman:

    Welcome to this BBC Interactive Forum. I'm David Shukman.

    Americans have given their backing to the Republicans in the US midterm elections. Control of the House of Representatives and the Senate is now with the Republican Party in what's been seen as an endorsement of President Bush's two years in office.

    The President crisscrossed the US in an effort to make sure his party came out on top. So was this election a referendum about George W. Bush?

    Well, here to answer your questions is Paul Reynolds in Washington. Paul thanks for joining us.

    The first question e-mailed to us is from Anthony Jones, UK: Is it true that "The Republicans' victory in Congress means President Bush is only the third US president in a century to make mid-term gains"?


    Paul Reynolds:

    I think that's right. I think Bill Clinton did in 1998 and F D Roosevelt did in 1934. Certainly the White House was saying last night - making a great thing about this - that George Bush is the first president ever to have done this - to win control of the Senate and increase the majority in the House in his first midterm election. So they call it a historic night and I don't think many people would disagree with that because the Republicans did do very well.


    David Shukman:

    Lisa Stiller, USA: Will President Bush perceive the vote as a mandate to do as he wishes - which is to go to war, ignore the economy, and increase police powers?


    Paul Reynolds:

    That's a sort of "when did you stop beating your wife" type story. I can't comment on whether that's his agenda. Certainly he will see it as an increase to his mandate - it will increase his worldwide reputation, I think - certainly his standing in the United States, rightly or wrongly.

    He will be energised by this just as he energised his Republican voters, I think he now faces a future crisis - the first of which will be Iraq - with greater confidence. But certainly he will pursue his agenda.


    David Shukman:

    Wendy, UK: Do you think America is scared and voted for the most hawkish option in the mid-term elections?


    Paul Reynolds:

    Well again the word "hawkish" is a sort of pejorative word which I can't share. But I can simply comment that I do think that 9/11 did have an effect on this election particularly among Republican voters. This is still a very divided country remember. The Republicans may have got back the Senate but there are only one or two votes in it.

    I found Democrats demoralised. They didn't really have an answer on the whole war on terrorism thing. They'd swung behind the President, they'd passed his resolution in Congress supporting a war against Iraq as well and it did them no good. The Republicans were fired up, the Democrats were nowhere.


    David Shukman:

    Gerald Clarke: Australia: Do you think this result both for the Senate and House is a disaster for all freedom-loving democracies?


    Paul Reynolds:

    A lot of the questions are coming from the same directionm David. Again it's not up to me to take a political position. It is not up to reporters to day whether something should happen - our job is simply to say what is happening.

    Freedom-loving democracies - some support Mr Bush - Britain supports Mr Bush, the Australian government supports Mr Bush. So it depends on your political point of view.


    David Shukman:

    Max, UK: Do you think this means that American voters aren't concerned about their president destabilising entire regions like the Middle East and Latin America?


    Paul Reynolds:

    That's quite an interesting angle on the same issue. I have found in my time here - I've just come over for these elections - that I was interested to find so much opposition among ordinary Americans against a war with Iraq.

    Not only among Democrats - and here in Washington of course Democrats predominate. But out in Maryland and other places I went to, you find Republicans who were uneasy about this but clearly others are not. Clearly others feel that Mr Bush has made his case and now with the resolution in the UN about to be passed, I think that is the next crisis we face.


    David Shukman:

    Phillip, UK: Will Iraq "go away" now Bush has secured the Senate? It seems that he has been bullying the depleted tyrant to hide domestic bad news up to the midterms.

    Clearly the Democrats wanted to make more of the economy hadn't they?


    Paul Reynolds:

    They tried to but they totally failed. Mr Bush saw them off on the economy, saw them off on the war on terrorism, saw them off on Iraq.

    It's very interesting to me the kind of questions we're getting because there is this hostility worldwide to George Bush. He came into office saying he was a uniter not a divider. Yet obviously worldwide he is quite a divisive figure.

    Iraq will not go away - no. I think the administration however would much prefer Iraq to disarm through the United Nations rather than have the United States do the job itself.


    David Shukman:

    J Smith, UK: Will the Bush administrations control of both houses make war with Iraq inevitable?


    Paul Reynolds:

    Well, that's not what's going to make war with Iraq inevitable. As you say, he has got the Congressional resolution in his pocket. He's now got electoral support for his broad approach on domestic and foreign policy.

    As you know, these midterm elections often hinge on local races. No, that's not going to make inevitable. What will make it inevitable is a refusal by Saddam Hussein to co-operate with the new weapons inspection regime which will be laid out by the Security Council. That is almost agreed. It will lay down a timetable, free access by the inspectors, Iraq will have to make a declaration of what it has in the way of weapons of mass destruction and if it defaults on that, that is when the United States - probably supported by Britain - will move in. But that is the issue now.


    David Shukman:

    Andy, UK: Isn't it surprising, that so many Americans can't be bothered to go out and vote?


    Paul Reynolds:

    Yes this is interesting. Overall the figures are low for midterms - I think the overall figure is something like 35%. But if you look at individual hot races - as in Minnesota - you're talking about 60% - 70% of turnout and also in Florida.

    Minnesota, of course where the very fiery and very popular Senator, Paul Wellstone, was tragically killed in a plane crash and Walter Mondale, the former vice-president, stepped in. That was a real hot race and could have determined the result of this whole election. People did turn out there. They also turned out in Florida where Jeb Bush, the President's younger brother, was up for re-election and won by a margin far larger than the media had supposed.


    David Shukman:

    Rosa Roth, USA: Will the Republicans redefine democracy after this election and continue giving up our rights - rights our grandparents fought for?


    Paul Reynolds:

    You have this post-September 11th debate in the United States and in other countries - Britain has had a similar debate. In some respect, the British anti-terrorism laws, as they're called, go further than those in the United States.

    But yes, this is a fierce debate here. I think most Americans have accepted some diminution of their civil liberties. But I know Americans quite well, they're not going to accept a significant reduction in those rights. Although of course people argue as to whether that's happened or not already from their individual perspective.


    David Shukman:

    To continue with Rosa's point, presumably events like the sniper shootings in the Washington area, where you are now, might in a sense galvanise - in coordination with the on-going war against terror - the Republicans to carry on with the tighter measures which might provoke this kind of reaction.


    Paul Reynolds:

    I think that some of the analysis here today is saying this in this rather uncertain period that the United States is going through. People around the world think of this dominant superpower, but when you're actually here, people actually feel much less certain about their superpower status - with snipers roaming the streets until recently and planes smashing into buildings and criticism from around the world.

    I think it does partly explain Mr Bush's popularity because he has managed to put a very simple message across on the security issue and making people more receptive to stricter measures.


    David Shukman:

    Martin Summers, Britain: Has this mid term election made any progress for black and Hispanic candidates? Have more been elected into Congress?


    Paul Reynolds:

    That's a very interesting question. I think the Latinos have done much better than the African Americans. In fact there're a couple of interesting stories. There are a pair of Republican Hispanic brothers from Florida going to the House of Representatives and a pair of Democratic sisters from California. So there's a bit of family thing going on.

    So I think the numbers of Latino voters are certainly having some effect, though they haven't got a huge breakthrough. Black voters, I'm afraid, have not done hugely well out of this. I think they had hoped to do better.


    David Shukman:

    While we've been on air, Andrew Mann, writing to us from the UK says: I think it's a great thing that Bush has had a resounding victory. If he's planning to wage a war against oppressive regimes, such Iraq, he needs money to do so.

    For too long the Democrats, have pandered to the interests of minorities and tried to assert their own agenda and done things half-heartedly. However, if Bush is going to go to war with Iraq, then why has he not gone to war with Saudi Arabia - a lot more oppressive and tyrannical?


    Paul Reynolds:

    I think the issue there is weapons of mass destruction. If Saddam Hussein had not sought to get a nuclear weapon - which is the assessment of the US and certainly the UK - then he will be left alone and probably sanctions would have been lifted some time ago. This is not to defend the administration's policy on Iraq, it's simply seeking to explain it.

    Saudi Arabia does not have weapons of mass destruction - that is the issue - it's the oppression of the regime so much as the possession of weapons of mass destruction. There are many oppressive regimes around the world which the Americans are not going to attack.


    David Shukman:

    J Cardell, in Tokyo asks: It's final, no more denying, character counts. The people demand clean personalities in front of our politics and honest practical rewards for the honest average citizen. The Democrats have completely failed on both these fronts.


    Paul Reynolds:

    Certainly I'd agree, as an outside observer, that the Democrats put up a pathetic showing. No one on the Democratic side has emerged as a leader and they have to have a desperate search for a candidate for 2004, though obviously that is some way off.

    Mr Bush, now again, the perception of George Bush abroad is of this rather simplistic cowboy figure. Among his supporters, those are his very strengths and it is very import for people to remember that.


    David Shukman:

    Paul, many thanks indeed. That's all we've got time for. That was Paul Reynolds joining us from Washington. This has been a BBC Interactive forum. I'm David Shukman, goodbye.


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