Biden heads to Europe with a little less shine and more work to do

At the same time, the trip has become a powerful intersection of Biden’s domestic and foreign agendas as he pleads with Democrats to agree on a broad spending program before Air Force One takes off for the Group of 20 in Rome on Thursday.

“It would be very, very positive to do that before the trip,” Biden told reporters this week, appealing to a higher power to see his ambitions come true: “With the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors.”

The climate is a topic he is expected to discuss on Friday morning during an audience with Pope Francis, a historic meeting between the country’s second Catholic president and a pontiff whose views on migration, income inequality and the environment match. closely to those of Biden. Later, he plans to give a big climate speech during his visit to the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

Biden is still widely regarded abroad as a balm after four years of former President Donald Trump, whose antagonistic presence at international summits has often rocked alliances. Yet during the G20 and ensuing climate talks in Scotland, Biden will find himself under further scrutiny.

Back to earth

The initial glow of Biden’s victory faded somewhat abroad, where some leaders began to question the new president’s commitment to strengthening traditional alliances.

A chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan has left foreign allies angry and freshly skeptical of Biden’s willingness to work cooperatively on global issues. A deal to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines angered France so much that the country’s foreign secretary suggested it was something Trump could have done – a comparison that deeply angered Biden, according to a person familiar with his reaction.

“It has been a sobering four and a half months for our European partners. And I think they have now realized, realized that there is a lot more continuity in American politics than they thought. “said Heather. Conley, director of the Europe and Russia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“It will be a very different trip,” Conley said, comparing Biden’s second overseas excursion to the first. “Our European partners very much believed that the Biden administration would be a stabilizing presence after the tumultuous years of the Trump administration, and they need America to be that stabilizing force because Europe itself is unstable and increasingly. more fragile. And so, this backdrop is very different. “

Speaking ahead of Biden’s departure, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States and Europe were “united” ahead of this week’s summits, despite the events of recent years. month. He noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have both decided to skip the meetings, leaving Biden and European leaders to define the contours of the talks.

“I would like to stress that neither China nor Russia will be attending the summit in person at the leadership level, largely, it seems, because of Covid-19. The United States and Europe will be there, and they will be energized and united with the G20 and COP26 leading the agenda, shaping the agenda with regard to these important international issues, ”he said.

Since the last time he went abroad, Biden’s political fortunes have suffered as Americans tire of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic side effects – like inflation and labor shortages. work – begin to have an effect on everyday life. Biden plans to focus intensely on supply chain issues and energy prices with G20 leaders, according to White House officials.

For the first time, the president’s approval ratings fell below 50% amid the messy withdrawal from Afghanistan, though the issue is unlikely to play a central role in this weekend’s summit. Instead, officials said the G20’s main goal is to cement support for a global minimum tax, another key part of Biden’s national economic agenda.

Critical Home Affairs

The president and his team are hopeful that the successful passage of his spending package alongside a bipartisan infrastructure bill can help revive Biden’s position among Americans.

This includes important emissions reduction provisions, although it has faced opposition from moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who represents coal-rich West Virginia. Biden has pledged to halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and hopes to use that pledge to convince other countries at the Glasgow climate summit to take action as well. ambitious.

White House officials have discussed other ways to promote clean energy and reduce carbon emissions in meetings with environmental groups, although it is not clear what Manchin will be willing to support. People familiar with the talks said options being considered included new home improvement credits for energy sources like wind and solar, increased subsidies to industries to switch to clean energy and incentives. tax to encourage the use of renewable energies.

The White House said before Biden left for Europe that his foreign counterparts were astute enough to admit he was trying to get new climate action, even though he hasn’t by the time he arrives in Scotland.

“I think you have a sophisticated set of world leaders who understand the politics in their own country and understand American democracy and recognize that working through complex and large-scale negotiations on some of the biggest investments in modern memory in states “United, it takes time. And so, I don’t think world leaders will take this a binary question – is it done, isn’t it done,” Sullivan said. .

But Biden’s desire to arrive in Europe with a deal goes beyond mere climate. The guiding mantra of all its foreign policy proves that democracies can help their people counter the spread of authoritarianism. The deadlock in Congress and a dysfunctional US political system could undermine this message as it seeks support abroad.

“I need this to go represent the United States abroad. I need people to see that the Democratic Party is working, that the country is working, that we can rule,” he said. to a group of progressive lawmakers at a meeting last week, according to one of the attendees.

Some critical players are missing

Biden’s first appearance at a G20 summit – where the world’s largest industrial economies meet every year – will be held back somewhat by the ongoing global pandemic.

The president’s aides once hoped to schedule an in-person meeting with Xi on the sidelines of the G20, as Trump did in Argentina in 2018. The two have yet to meet face to face, despite escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing. But Xi has not left China since the start of the pandemic.

Instead, he and Biden plan to host a virtual summit in the coming months. Sullivan said Tuesday that a date had not been chosen.

Rather, Biden’s most-watched bilateral meeting at the G20 will be with French President Emmanuel Macron, who reacted angrily when Biden announced a deal last month to help Australia develop nuclear-powered submarines. The deal, which happened without Macron’s knowledge, deprived France of a multibillion-dollar contract to supply Australia with conventional submarines.

Outrage in Paris over the deal drew a few glances in Washington, where officials were quick to point out that Macron was set to be re-elected early next year. Nonetheless, Biden made a conciliatory phone call to Macron where he conceded that communication around the deal could have been better. And he agreed to a one-on-one meeting at the G20.

The two will sit down on Friday after Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

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