Young, a 48-year-old former naval officer with the associated no-nonsense behavior, has defied his party’s long-held foreign policy visions, even if politically sensitive. But his Trump-era willingness to shake off GOP orthodoxy might look easy compared to the setback he could suffer from shaking hands with an opposing party that has complete control of Washington as he was himself prepared to face the electorate again in 2022.
Young is “laser focused on politics and willing to take risks,” said Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), One of his closest friends in the Senate and a frequent partner on foreign affairs. “He doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about the political implications of getting in.”
His approach is reminiscent of that of the late Senator John McCain, a US Naval Academy graduate who came to be known as the Senate’s “outsider” for his deep dislike of political expediency and his willingness to work on the aisle for consensus or strike to reach a deal.
Young, who served three terms in the House of Representatives before winning his Senate seat, disapproves of the idea that voters at home would disapprove of his efforts. Projecting a united front on the global stage is “both in the national interest and in line with the wants and expectations of all of our voters,” he said in a lengthy interview this week, adding that voters “want foreign policy exercise is impartial. “
Nor did he shrink from praising Schumer when describing their China partnership, noting that the Brooklynite “is known to be politically smart and empathetic”.
“I think the signal that the Democratic leader and the President of the Republican Senate Campaign are working together at the national level is pretty strong, and he undoubtedly recognized it,” Young said.
The first-time GOP Senator has used his leverage sparingly and often with success.
During his first year in office, Young blocked a Trump State Department candidate as him urged the government to end the Saudi humanitarian aid blockade in Yemenwhere the US supported the Saudi Arabia-led coalition against Iranian proxies. His efforts were successful; Riyadh lifted the blockade days later.
He has also teamed up with Democrats to contain the president’s martial powers. Most recently, he reintroduced his bill with Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) To repeal obsolete laws authorizing US military operations in Iraq.
Few Republicans spoke out under Trump as the commander-in-chief used decades-old war permits to justify the continued use of military force in the Middle East. Now, after Biden launched retaliatory measures in Syria last month, lawmakers are again pushing for the old permits to be scrapped and new ones drawn up that are more in line with US interests. The White House recently endorsed the effort, making Biden the first modern-day president to help push back his own belligerent authority.
“It was harder to find partners on my own side of the aisle because you don’t want to undermine your own administration, including this senator,” said Young of the Trump presidency, lamenting that foreign policy can often be “a partisan exercise.” who wants the party without power to restrict the other. “
Young’s efforts have placed him in a powerful position as bridge builder under a Democratic president who, despite naming the pandemic as a priority # 1, is facing several international fires that have caught the interest of Congress. Less than two months after his presidency, Biden was already facing a coup in Myanmar, an emboldened Iran and long-term challenges with China, among others.
As his administration moves globally, Biden has expressed a readiness to re-establish the historic role of Congress in shaping US foreign policy. This is where Young comes in.
“We uniquely have a President of the United States who was once chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” said Young. “He has a very frank and public and fairly extensive record of wanting to reform the laws of the martial powers that we have and our practices and uphold the Senator’s prerogative.”
It wasn’t that easy under Trump.
Young routinely felt he was “fighting” members of the Trump administration, including former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. These disagreements were most pronounced on the issue of Yemen, where a bloody civil war tore the country apart and allowed Iran to gain a foothold.
In the face of backlash from Young and other lawmakers for his unwavering support for Saudi interests in the region, Trump instead doubled that strategy in Yemen, where the Saudi Arabia-led coalition blocked humanitarian aid from flowing into the country in 2017. Young, who deprives non-combatants of food and medicine, would backfire in the US by further destabilizing Yemen so that terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda could thrive in the Arabian Peninsula.
Tillerson and then Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Young, said, “We got that wrong in the early stages.”
Young was an outlier among Republicans, most of whom supported the Trump administration’s alignment with the Saudis and its broader attempt to use the Yemen crisis to fight Iran. But as Yemen continued to sink into violence, Young saw Iran’s influence there expand.
So the Republican held up Trump’s nomination as chief legal advisor in the State Department. He relented when the White House successfully kicked Riyadh to lift the humanitarian blockade.
“I felt like I was being patted on the head, and as a US Senator I don’t like that,” said Young, recalling his stalemate with the Trump administration. “So I decided to use my Senator privileges, all the tools in the toolkit. They showed some flexibility … and I gave them their lawyer. “
Murphy described the moment as evidence that Young is choosing his spots to wield his power – both within the Capitol and through his frequent conversations with Gulf officials.
“He’s very good at thinking about ways in which laws and letters can be used to get players inside and outside Washington to act,” said Murphy, recognizing Young for helping lift the humanitarian blockade.
Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who is putting together a law to reform democracy with Young, described his counterpart as an “unreconstructed conservative” who is young, but also “a kind of old school” in the sense of trying to find common ground to find.
Young’s foreign policy profile, in this sense, is akin to the reputation another Democratic colleague on the foreign affairs panel – Senator Chris Coons – has developed as an honest broker across the aisle. Coons has become something of a Senate Ambassador of sorts for his friend and colleague Delawarean Biden lately, but it will be more difficult for Young to fully take on that role for the GOP.
As often as the legislature asserts that consensus building in foreign policy is an important united front for the rest of the world, bipartisanism is not easy to find in today’s political environment. Not to mention, Young’s partnerships with Democrats shouldn’t be confused with cracks in his conservative cloak: he fought hard against his Democratic foreign policy allies to ensure the GOP retained the Senate.
Now that Young has to be re-elected next year in the reliably red Indiana, Schatz joked, “I hope my compliments won’t hurt him in his home state.”