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2020 U.S. Election’s Influence on Foreign Policy

A time of transition as President-Elect Biden enters the White House.

MADISON, WI (November 20, 2020) — Expect climate change and relationships with China to be key focuses of the Biden l administration in 2021. That was the message of Jon Pevehouse, the Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor in UW–Madison’s Department of Political Science and the La Follette School of Public Affairs during a Wisconsin Alumni Association livestream event discussing the 2020 U.S. election’s influence on foreign policy.

In an hourlong event that discussed how the President-Elect's administration may approach a range of issues differently than President Trump, Pevehouse said those two areas were likely to be major focuses of the new administration.

Pevehouse believes a Biden administration will immediately engage in global warming and climate change with some major changes including re-entry to the Paris Climate Agreement. However, Pevehouse said this won’t be easy and will requiring a delicate dance.

“The college students I’m teaching right now, this is their number one issue,” said Pevehouse. “Youth turned out at a higher rate for the Democrats this year, do they feel beholden to them? The easy talking point to people who oppose climate regulation policy is that it costs jobs, and in the middle of a recession doing things to cause job loss isn’t going to be popular, so that’s going to be Biden’s balancing act.”

When it comes to China, Pevehouse says Biden’s rhetoric was tough on the communist country during the campaign.

“This is one place where you might get some bipartisanship in that neither Republicans or Democrats are particularly happy with China right now,” Pevehouse said.

Pevehouse believes Biden will continue a 2020 trade deal with China initiated by President Trump, but use it as a tool to put pressure on the Chinese to buy more U.S. goods, especially agricultural products.

While these foreign policy issues will all be shifts in a new administration, Pevehouse noted that foreign policy wasn’t a major focus of the 2020 presidential election, with the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice front and center during the campaign. But, coronavirus will have its own set of foreign policy implications, especially with a potential vaccine.

“In my opinion, the U.S. is leading the global vaccine race, and what happens if we win it and are able to roll this out?” Pevehouse said. “Who does the U.S. give it to? Obviously it’s going to be the U.S. first, but then how does that change? That could be a huge feather in the U.S. cap diplomatically, and it could be a huge economic boon to the United States to get it going first and then we’re the first ones to climb out of the economic hole.”

The foreign policy presentation by Pevehouse is an annual event hosted by the Wisconsin Alumni Association and is one of the most popular programs on the yearly slate of events.

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