Report prepared by Madelena Miniats

In early August, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is expected to announce his long-awaited vice-presidential running mate. JBANC has also been taking note on the different nominees and where they stand on foreign policy and Baltic-related issues. In this analysis, we’ll look at each of the presumptive candidates, their background, past public statements, key votes, notable sponsored or cosponsored bills, pertaining to the Baltics, as well as NATO, Russia and other relevant issues, if applicable. Not all of the candidates come from a strong foreign policy background or have had any relation to the Baltics. In those cases, we’ll provide just a summary of the issues they have prioritized and what they have said about the vice-presidential position. 

In alphabetical order (* designates a leading candidate, according to recent polls): 

© Dan Winters

Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017 and served as minority leader from 2011 to 2017. She has championed voting rights, advocated expanding health care at the state level, and has worked with former Republican Governor Nathan Deal on criminal justice reform.

Stacey Abrams has received some criticism for not having a strong foreign policy background. In May 2020, she published an article in Foreign Affairs titled American Leadership Begins at Home: The Global Imperative to Rebuild Governance and Restore Democracy. It is clear that she understands that foreign policy has become increasingly important in our world, including in the handling of the COVID-19 crisis. With this, she is highlighting foreign policy in such a way as to reach voters for whom this is important and to be more competitive with the other candidates. 

Rep. Karen Bass

California representative Karen Bass has been a prominent figure in the House on the issue of police reform. Rep. Bass has introduced legislation focusing on public health, student debt, and foster care. She also leads a House subcommittee on Africa, global health, and human rights.

Bass has a three-pillared foreign policy plan: diplomacy, development, and defense. Like Sen. Warren, the congresswoman believes the United States needs to leverage its resources more effectively. Rep. Bass also cosponsored several house resolutions, among them H.Res.172 during the 115th Congress, “expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Government of the Russian Federation, its officials, security services, and any person or entity within the Russian Federation or associated with the Russian Government, should not interfere, seek to influence, or engage in coercion designed to create an outcome in foreign elections.”

Rep. Bass has become known for her ability to work across the aisle with Republicans and has won praise from Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and from House Majority Whip and South Carolina Democrat Rep. James Clyburn, whose endorsement secured Biden’s nomination.

Rep. Bass was on a congressional delegation visit to Estonia in 2012.  

Sen. Tammy Baldwin

The senator from Wisconsin, like Sen. Warren, has for many years championed universal health care and changes to the health care system. Sen. Baldwin has become outspoken on trade and manufacturing and is a vocal critic of China’s trade policies.

As the first openly gay woman to be elected to the United States Congress, Baldwin has long advocated for LGBTI rights. Sitting on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Baldwin fought to include an amendment to the FY 2018 State Department appropriations legislation to prevent the Trump administration from eliminating LGBTI rights as a U.S. foreign policy priority.

Although she has been mostly active on foreign policy in the Middle East, Sen. Baldwin has cosponsored several resolutions in favor of Baltic interests, one being S.Res. 27, “a resolution calling for a prompt multinational freedom of navigation operation in the Black Sea and urging the cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.” On March 10th of this year, Sen. Baldwin cosponsored a bipartisan Senate resolution (S.Res.536) celebrating the 30th anniversary of the restoration of independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.  

© Andrew Harnik

*Keisha Lance Bottoms

As mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms has been pulled into the national spotlight in Atlanta’s fight against the pandemic, while also answering calls for police reform and racial justice. She also announced restrictions on use of force by police and has made criminal justice reform a major priority. After the death of Rayshard Brooks, she quickly called for the firing of the police officer responsible. 

Mayor Bottoms, who has long been loyal to Biden, endorsed him already a year ago in November 2019, calling him a ‘statesman.’ With regard to whether she would be able to lead at the national level, she has said what she has done on the local level translates nationally: “When you are leading a major city, you are dealing with a number of issues all at once; you’re dealing with the same issues that we’re seeing across this country.”

Unfortunately, the mayor herself has contracted the coronavirus, presently showing no symptoms, and signed an executive order requiring masks in public. 

*Rep. Val Demings

Having played an active role as manager in the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, Representative Val Demings of Florida, has once again made headlines as a competitive contender for the vice presidential nomination. Though Demings does not have as decorated a foreign policy background as Susan Rice, she has proven to have substantial understanding while currently serving on the House Intelligence Committee and being involved in the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus. 

With this in mind, she has had a history of voting against Russian aggression, in some cases more often than her fellow colleagues. In particular, she has sponsored the “Vladimir Putin Transparency Act” (H.R.1404) in the current Congresss, and “Defend Against Russian Disinformation and Aggression Act” (H.R.5910) in the previous Congress. 

In 2019, Rep. Demings traveled to Europe together with a congressional delegation to participate at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Luxembourg, and met with government officials, opposition leaders and activists in Budapest, Hungary in support of the United State’s NATO alliance and democratic values. Demings had this to say about NATO and Russia: “NATO is one of the most successful defensive alliances in history, forming a shield against Russian aggression and helping to safeguard the freedoms which keep us safe. It is vital to our national security to maintain bonds of trust and mutual self-defense with our European allies.”  

Though Demings has faced some criticism for having served as police chief of Orlando for three years and as an officer for 27 years, we shall see if that will hurt her chances as Biden begins to narrow his shortlist.

*Sen. Tammy Duckworth

Without a doubt, Senator Tammy Duckworth has had significant firsthand experience with American foreign policy having served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1991 to 1996 and in the National Guard in Iraq from 1996 to 2004. Her background has suited her to be a prominent spokeswoman for national security, veterans and military families, as well as policies to protect people with disabilities. She received a Purple Heart for injuries received when the Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting in Iraq was hit by an RPG fired by insurgents and crashed. 

Aside from Sen. Warren, Duckworth is the only other candidate who sits on the Armed Services Committee. Out of all the candidates on this list, she has voted more in favor of policies that benefit Baltic interests than any other candidate. It is worth noting she also cosponsored the aforementioned S.Res. 27 “urging the cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.” Along with Sen. Baldwin, she has also cosponsored the Baltic 30th anniversary of the restoration of independence resolution (S.Res.536). 

*Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

As the governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham has risen to the national stage in New Mexico’s fight against COVID-19 and in managing the outbreak and the damage of an economic recession. 

During her term as Governor, she enacted clean energy legislation and a minimum wage hike. She has also pushed for major liberal priorities, such as free public college, echoing the Bernie Sanders campaign. 

As a U.S. representative, she often did not vote on foreign policy decisions. However, she did cosponsor anti-Semitism acts of 2017 and 2018, and also the Belarus Democracy and Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2015

*Sen. Kamala Harris

Senator Kamala Harris of California has created a buzz as being one of the more seriously considered candidates. Harris has advocated throughout her time in the Senate for cutting middle-class taxes, and policing reform and during her campaign has pushed for a Senate bill to make lynching a federal crime. Sen. Harris had a high profile role in the Kavanaugh hearings.

In her foreign policy statements, Harris seems to be very conscious of Russian aggression: “Whether it’s the nuclear threat of North Korea and Iran, chaos and oppression in Venezuela, confronting China’s unfair trade practices, for combatting Russia’s cyberattacks on your democracy, the U.S. is most effective at confronting global challenges when we work in coordination with our partners.” Harris has also claimed that her own campaign has been a target of online misinformation efforts by Russian bots. Harris cosponsored the Secure Elections Act in the 115th Congress to bolster election infrastructure and cybersecurity.  

*Susan Rice

It is clear that Susan Rice has an extensive and decorated foreign policy background. As the former National Security adviser and the Ambassador to the United Nations under President Obama, she can be closely identified with former President Obama’s foreign policy breakthroughs, including the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Paris Climate Agreement.

Rice has also been a vocal critic of President Trump, especially in relation to his administration’s foreign policy saying he “puts his political party before country,” especially with regard to U.S. policies towards Russia, Israel and Venezuela. On Russia, she has said “Mr. Trump welcomes and encourages Russia, a hostile adversary, to interfere in our elections so long as the manipulations benefit him.” 

She also points out, in broader terms, that while the United States was formerly looked upon as a “force of predictability and stability in the world” striving towards increased cooperation in the wider global community, this administration has valued instability, unpredictability, devalued truth-telling, and has instead “undermined our alliances and elevated and lauded adversaries and dictators.”

*Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Serving on the Armed Services committee, Senator Elizabeth Warren has a very clear understanding of foreign policy. Throughout her presidential campaign and debates she was one of the few candidates that consistently addressed foreign policy as an important issue and has a vision for the future of American foreign policy.

In a Foreign Policy piece from 2019, Sen. Warren explained how there no longer should be a line drawn between domestic and foreign policy. Her sponsorship of bills reflects this understanding. In particular, she has cosponsored S. 3045, the “Cybersecurity Vulnerability Identification and Notification Act of 2019.” and S. 3275, “a bill to amend the Russian Sanctions Review Act of 2017 to ensure appropriate congressional review and continued applicability of sanctions under the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012.” She also supported S.Res. 709, “a resolution condemning Russia’s provocative actions in the Kerch Strait against the Ukrainian navy.” 

In an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations last Fall, Warren remarked on the threat of Russia, and the on-going war in Ukraine. She explained that the strategy towards Russia must consider the security of our NATO allies, support of “Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” while also holding Russia accountable for present and future aggressions. 

JBANC previously reported on then-presidential candidate Warren in a February 24 review of the top Democrat contenders.

© Philip Montgomery

Gretchen Whitmer

Governor Whitmer is from a state – Michigan – with a sizable Baltic-American population, along with California (Rep. Bass and Sen. Harris), Illinois (Sen. Duckworth), Massachusets (Sen. Warren) and Wisconsin (Sen. Baldwin). Among the states represented by these candidates, though, Michigan is the only one that has an official State Partnership with a Baltic country – Latvia. The board of the American Latvian Association met with Governor Whitmer in Michigan on March 6, 2020. See the article and photo here.

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