By ANTONIO GARZA, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico
A mere six days ago, the Associated Press called the election for Joe Biden.
The announcement itself came after four excruciatingly long days of vote counting. While it’s clear now who is the country’s president-elect, that hasn’t led to an ideal environment for transition.
As of the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 12, Biden had won 290 electoral votes and Donald Trump had received 217, with Georgia and North Carolina still too close to call (and Georgia’s ballots about to undergo a full hand recount). With votes still being counted, Biden had received 77.3 million votes and Trump had won 72.2 million votes — with both candidates pulling new voters into their party folds.
In fact, the election generated historic turnout, with two out of every three eligible Americans casting their ballot — the highest percent of voters since at least 1908.
Yet, we will likely remember this election not for its turnout, but rather for President Donald Trump’s allegations of voter fraud. Over the past week, Trump has refused to concede, named himself as the winner, and alleged widespread illegal activity at the polls.
In conjunction, the Trump administration’s legal teams have filed lawsuits across various states. So far, most of these cases have been dismissed by judges. A Pennsylvania lawsuit garnered the only positive ruling for the Trump campaign, ultimately allowing poll observers to stand closer to election workers as they counted the ballots.
These cases will not change the final outcome, since they have not included any legally significant evidence of voter fraud. However, they will likely undermine faith in the United States’ elections over the long term, and erode U.S. prestige and soft power abroad.
While Joe Biden won the presidency, signs of a blue wave did not reach congressional shores. Here, Republicans had a much better night, gaining at least five seats in the House, and potentially more after vote counting is finalized.
In the Senate, Republicans held on to the majority of seats, although runoffs in Georgia will provide a battle over the two remaining seats (and determine the majority).
Across the country, there were also some interesting electoral stories. In Texas, the suburbs around Dallas, Houston and Austin shifted left, and counties across south Texas showed increased support for Trump. The reasons behind these shifts are varied and will no doubt provide fodder for political analysts for years to come.
Yet, in just eight weeks, this election will be history.
On Jan. 20, 2021, Biden will assume the presidency in one of the country’s most chaotic and challenging moments. He will inherit a covid-19 pandemic that is reaching record peaks, high rates of unemployment, mounting federal debt and stark polarization that has split the country in two.
With so many topics, the new administration’s bandwidth will be tested to full capacity, and domestic issues will take top priority. However, the list of urgent issues will not stop at the U.S. borders.
Yet there will also be global tensions to address. U.S.-China relations remain rocky over trade, technology and Hong Kong. Russia continues to push anti-democratic disinformation campaigns aimed at destabilizing the United States. Iran has once again been accumulating enriched nuclear fuel. And a potential nuclear standoff with North Korea is never too far away.
Across Latin America, Biden will likely embrace a broader policy than we’ve seen over the past four years. We can expect Venezuela to be a big focus, with continued pressure on the Nicolás Maduro government and a push for human rights. There will be a reshuffling of the Brazil portfolio, with the reemergence of a focus on human rights and Amazon deforestation. Overall, rule of law and good governance will once again be a major focus in the region.
After nearly 20 years in Mexico, I can comfortably say that there are solid fundamentals in place to undergird U.S.-Mexico cooperation, including the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), ongoing challenges of Central American and regional migration, and shared security concerns.
Mexico’s former ambassador to the United States, Gerónimo Gutierrez, also sees the potential for greater cooperation and a bilateral reset, even if the depth of these changes might be limited.
However, there is no guarantee of fully smooth relations. Some suggest the relations are already off to a bumpy start as Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) failed to congratulate Biden on his presidential win. Instead, López Obrador has provided multiple explanations ranging from a desire to wait until after the legal challenges to proclaiming that Mexico is not a U.S. colony.
The truth is, the absence of a congratulatory call alone won’t be enough to affect the tenor of the bilateral relations over the course of Biden’s four years, given Mexico’s tremendous importance to the United States. But the relationship does face stumbling blocks, particularly from López Obrador’s domestic policy. One particular point of contention could be López Obrador’s continuous moves to roll back the country’s 2013 energy reform.
No doubt, there will be continued political, economic and public health tumult well into 2021.
ANTONIO GARZA is a U.S. lawyer who served as his country’s ambassador to Mexico between 2002 and 2009. In recognition of his work, in 2009, the Mexican government bestowed on him the Águila Azteca, the highest award granted to foreigners. Prior to his appointment as ambassador, Garza served as Texas’ secretary of state from January 1995 to November 1997 and was also chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission. He is currently a lawyer at White & Case, specializing in cross-border issues. He is also currently a director at both Kansas City Southern and MoneyGram.
…Nov. 13, 2020