Former U.S. Officials assess Biden, Arms Deal, and Bilateral Relationship

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November 23, 2020

Former Speaker ​of the U.S. House J​ohn Boehner​, ​former Congressman Joe Crowley​, Ambassador Frank Wisner, and trade policy expert Ms. Ludmilla Kasulke ​analyzed the domestic and foreign policy priorities of the incoming Biden Administration and  Congress during a U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council webinar on November 23rd 2020. A video of this event can be found here.

Former Speaker John Boehner, who is ​now a Senior Strategic Advisor at Squire Patton Boggs, said that while ​President-elect Biden won the election​, the Republicans fared ​relatively well in the House and Senate, noting Republicans ​picked up seats in the House and are slightly favored to keep control of the Senate ​ahead of runoff elections in Georgia. The speaker also stated that “the election is over in everybody’s mind – except Donald Trump’s” and ​that, “At some point, the President will get over this.” He added that “the biggest change you will see in Washington will be the tone.” Speaker Boehner also predicted that while President Biden’s relationship with Israel won’t be as close as Trump’s it will be closer than the relationship Obama had.

Joe Crowley, ​former Democratic Congressman from New York and Chair of the U.S. House Democratic Caucus ​who now also serves as a Senior Policy Advisor at Squire Patton Boggs​, said that while Biden was able to rebuild “the blue wall” by flipping states Trump had won in 2016 as well as winning Arizona and Georgia, the Democrats​’ loss of seats in the House of Representatives “will temper the ambitions of the Biden team and Democrats writ large”. Congressman Crowley noted the Republicans were also able to maintain control of several state legislatures that are key to determining congressional redistricting. In regards to foreign policy, the former congressman voiced optimism ​over President-elect Biden’s upcoming nominations and said the Biden administration “will be the exact opposite of the Trump administration” ​in adopting an internationalist approach. He also underlined Biden’s deep experience in foreign policy during his tenure as a Senator and Vice President.

Ms. Ludmilla Kasulke, Senior Associate at Squire Patton Boggs, detailed the Biden administration’s possible trade agenda and associated challenges, particularly in regards to China and Asia writ large. Ms. Kasulke noted she expects there will be “a return to multilateralism and diplomacy and an emphasis on rebuilding relations with key allies” and that there will be some changes to trade. ​However, she cautioned these changes will not be immediate, as the Biden administration will be focused in other areas first, and “we are not expecting a complete 180 shift to the other direction”. She also underscored that both parties in the new congress are eager to continue to be “tough on China”. In relation to trade tariffs, Ms. Kasulke stated the Biden administration might eventually expand some steel and aluminium tariff exemptions for certain countries.

Ambassador Frank G. Wisner, Career Ambassador of the U.S. Department of State, and currently International Affairs Advisor at Squire Patton Boggs​, then discussed the Biden administration’s possible policy approaches to the U.A.E. and wider Gulf region. Ambassador Wisner highlighted some ​factors that could influence the U.S.-U.A.E. relationship such as the perception of Saudi Arabia in Congress, American policy towards Iran and the nuclear deal, and the U.S.-U.A.E. Security relationship. In regards to the latter, Ambassador Wisner thought the current U.S.-U.A.E. arms deal would pass through Congress . He also expressed confidence that the U.S.-U.A.E. relationship “would weather the roiled waters of transition in Washington” and highlighted the deep and longstanding security and military relationship between the two countries. Finally, he underscored the importance of the recently-signed Abraham Accords, which “enhanced the U.A.E.’s reputation” and “added an element in the region’s balance of power”.

Following the panelists​’ remarks, Mr. Danny Sebright, President of the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council, moderated a question & answer session during which ​the speakers elaborated on issues ​such as congressional dynamics and ​prospects for bi-partisanship, the ​proposed U.S. $23 billion arms deal sale to the U.A.E., and competition with China.

In regards to congressional dynamics, former Speaker Boehner cautioned that “people have a jaundiced view of how partisan things are” in Congress, due in part to the media. He affirmed that both parties want to “show the American people they can get along.” He thinks President-elect Biden’s cabinet picks will “by and large be approved.” Moreover, he sees areas for cooperation with regards to Covid relief and an infrastructure bill. He referenced President-elect Biden’s longstanding relationship with Senator McConnell and the President-elect’s ability to strike compromises during the Obama administration.

As for arms sales, Speaker Boehner asserted that one should “not underestimate the effectiveness” of U.A.E. Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba’s outreach to Democrats and Republicans alike. He said the Ambassador’s close relationships in both the House and Senate “will pay big dividends.” He does not expect the arms sale to “be a problem,” saying one should “not read too much into” the actions of “a couple grandstanders on both sides of the aisle.”

The event, part of the Business Council’s “Back to Business” webinar series, was attended by over 250 senior executives from leading American and Emirati companies as well as by U.S. and U.A.E. government officials and thought leaders.

For more information about the Business Council’s ongoing “Back to Business” webinar series and upcoming events, please contact the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council’s Head of Communications Ms. Mary Zuccarello at mzuccarello@usuaebusiness.org