While most of the “team” will be back for next season, we’re losing some key impact players.
That’s my quick, sports-heavy summary of the impact of the 2018 midterm elections on international exchange programs.
The midterms as a whole produced a sizeable shakeup. The Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate by two seats, and the Democrats flipped the House by winning at least 40 new seats.
The impact on exchanges, however, is more muted. The majority of active supporters of the Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) will return in 2019 for the 116th Congress. We’ll retain most of our supporter group. There are, however, a number of especially key supporters of exchanges who will no longer be in Congress, due to retirement or defeat. We’ll miss the impact of these core players.
Here are three broad takeaways for exchanges from the midterms:
1. 86% of Active EVP Supporters Returning
In 2017-18, 70 Representatives and 37 Senators were active on Exchange Visitor Program issues. By “active,” I mean that these Members were tangibly engaged in support of exchange programs, such as by signing House and Senate EVP support letters, co-sponsoring House or Senate support resolutions, or otherwise specifically engaging with the exchange community.
Of these Members, 86% are returning to Congress (92 out of 107):
- In the Senate, 36 out of 37 are returning. Only Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is departing (more below).
- In the House, 56 out of 70 are returning. Of the other 14 Members:
- Eight retired.
- Four were defeated.
- One was elected to the Senate.
- One race is still in a recount (Maine’s 2nd district).
2. Five Flips, All from R to D
Of those 14 House seats that will see change, party flips occurred in five, all from Republican to Democrat:
- Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ-12) replacing Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R) [retirement]
- Elaine Luria (D-VA-2) replacing Rep. Scott Taylor (R) [defeat]
- Jennifer Wexton (D-VA-10) replacing Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) [defeat]
- Antonio Delgado (D-NY-18) replacing Rep. John Faso (R) [defeat]
- Max Rose (D-NY-11) replacing Rep. Daniel Donovan (R) [defeat]
International exchanges have always been a bipartisan issue, strongly supported from both sides of the aisle. A small tilt of five seats towards Democrats follows the broader trend of the election and is unlikely to have a major impact on support for our issues.
Thinking about the long term, however, it’s important for the exchange community to retain balanced, bipartisan support. The overall picture of our 107 active Members definitely skews Democrat: the 70 House members are 75% Democrat, and the 37 Senators are 65% Democrat. Thus, it’s incumbent on the exchange community not only to continue to aggressively enlist new supporters from both sides of the aisle, but also to establish a particular focus on Republicans for balanced, bipartisan support.
3. Four Key Supporters are Retiring
The key impact players the international exchange “team” is losing to retirement include:
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN): As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Corker has long been a strong, active supporter of the Exchange Visitor Program and exchanges in general.
[Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) was elected to fill Corker’s Senate seat. Rep. Blackburn has also expressed her support for the EVP over the years, including signing on to the House support letter.]
Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ): Rep. LoBiondo has represented the Wildwood-Jersey Shore area since 1995, and has been a staunch supporter of the Summer Work Travel program over the years, most recently coleading the House support letter.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA): As a member of the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Dent has been an active and vocal supporter of international exchange programs over the past decade, including always pushing for robust funding.
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM): Rep. Pearce is a founding co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on International Exchange and Study.
While most of the Congressional international exchange “team” is still intact, we’ll have to work to find and develop new impact players to take the place of those who are departing. It will be vital for all of us in the exchange community to engage with our Members of Congress early in 2019 to re-active our supporters, and to create new ones.
After studying in France and teaching in China, Mark was hooked on cultural exchange. He's worked in the field of international education and exchange for more than 10 years, and is InterExchange's Vice President of External Affairs.