(Trends Wide) — US President Joe Biden is leaving this week on his second overseas trip in markedly different circumstances than his first.
June’s three-stop tour of Europe was a parade of “America is back” assurances, but this week’s excursion to summits in Italy and the UK will reflect a more practical attempt to unify American allies in the face of the world’s most pressing challenges.
At the same time, the trip has become a potent intersection of Biden’s domestic and foreign agendas as he pleads with Democrats to agree to a comprehensive spending package before Air Force One takes off for the Group of 20 summit in Rome on Thursday.
“It would be very, very positive to do it before the trip,” Biden told reporters this week, calling on a higher power to see his ambitions realized: “With the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors.”
It was a sign of how paramount the president considers his success at home to his goals abroad. In private meetings, the president has acknowledged that his credibility is at stake on this trip, glaring at lawmakers and warning that America’s prestige is at stake as he works to secure agreement on most of his national agenda, including the measures to combat climate change.
Climate is a topic he is expected to discuss Friday morning during an audience with Pope Francis, a landmark meeting between the nation’s second Catholic president and a pontiff whose views on migration, income inequality and the environment. vibe closely match Biden’s. Later, he plans to deliver a major climate speech when he visits the COP26 summit in Glasgow.
Biden is still widely regarded abroad as a balm after four years from former President Donald Trump, whose antagonistic presence at international summits often rocked alliances. However, at the G20 and subsequent Scotland climate talks, Biden will find himself under new scrutiny.
Back down to earth
The initial glow of Biden’s victory has faded a bit abroad, where some leaders have begun to question the new president’s commitment to strengthening traditional alliances.
A chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan left foreign allies angry and recently skeptical about Biden’s willingness to work cooperatively on global issues. A deal to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines infuriated France so deeply that the country’s foreign minister suggested it was something Trump could have done – a comparison that deeply irritated 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 now they have realized, they acknowledge, that there is much more continuity in American politics than they thought,” said Heather Conley, Europe and Russia program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“This is going to be a very different trip,” Conley said, comparing Biden’s second overseas tour to his first. “Our European partners thought a lot that the Biden administration would be a stabilizing presence after the tumultuous years of the Trump administration, and they need the United States to be that stabilizing force because Europe itself is increasingly unstable and fragile. So this one. context is very different. “
Speaking before Biden’s departure, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States and Europe were “united” before this week’s summits, despite the events of recent months. He noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping had decided to skip the meetings, leaving it to Biden and European leaders to define the contours of the talks.
“I would like to point out that neither China nor Russia will attend the summit in person at the leader level, in large part, it seems due to covid-19. The United States and Europe will be there, and they will be there energetically and united in both the G20 and at COP26 pushing the agenda, shaping the agenda regarding 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 economic side effects, such as inflation and labor shortages, begin to take a toll. effect on everyday life. Biden plans to focus intensively on energy price and supply chain issues with G20 leaders, according to White House officials.
For the first time, the president’s approval ratings fell below 50% amid the disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, although the issue is not expected to play a central role at this weekend’s summit. Instead, officials said the G20’s main goal is to cement support for a global minimum tax, another key element of Biden’s national economic agenda.
Crucial matters at home
The president and his team hope that the successful passage of his spending package along with a bipartisan infrastructure bill can help revive Biden’s position among Americans.
That includes significant emission reduction provisions, though it has faced opposition from key moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who represents coal-rich West Virginia. Biden has pledged to cut America’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and hopes to use that promise to convince other countries at the Glasgow climate summit to take similarly ambitious action.
White House officials have discussed alternative ways to promote clean energy and reduce carbon emissions in meetings with environmental groups, although it is unclear what Manchin will be willing to support. People familiar with the discussions said options being weighed include new home improvement credits for energy sources like wind and solar, expanded grants for industries to switch to clean energy, and tax incentives to encourage use. of renewable energies.
The White House said before Biden left for Europe that his foreign counterparts were shrewd enough to acknowledge that he was trying to secure new climate action, even if he hadn’t done so by the time he arrived in Scotland.
“I think you have a sophisticated set of world leaders who understand politics in their own country and understand American democracy and recognize that by working through complex and far-reaching negotiations on some of the largest investments in modern memory in America, that that It takes time. So I don’t think world leaders see this as a binary issue: it was done, it wasn’t done, “Sullivan said.
But Biden’s desire to reach Europe with a deal extends beyond the weather. The guiding mantra of all its foreign policy is to show that democracies can help their people counter the spread of authoritarianism. Stagnation in Congress and a dysfunctional American political system could undermine that message as it seeks to garner support for it abroad.
“I need this to represent America abroad. I need people to see that the Democratic Party is working, that the country is working, that we can govern,” he told a group of progressive lawmakers at a meeting last week, according to one of the participants.
Lack of some critical actors
Biden’s first appearance at a G20 summit, where the world’s largest industrial economies meet annually, will be somewhat affected by the ongoing global pandemic.
The president’s aides had hoped to schedule an in-person meeting with Xi on the sidelines of the G20, as Trump did in 2018 in Argentina. The two men 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 hold a virtual summit sometime in the next few months. Sullivan said Tuesday that a date had not been selected.
Biden’s most-watched bilateral meeting at the G20 will instead be with French President Emmanuel Macron, who reacted furiously when Biden announced a deal last month to help Australia develop nuclear-powered submarines. The deal, which was concluded without Macron’s knowledge, deprived France of a billions-worth of contract to provide Australia with conventional submarines.
Outrage in Paris over the deal caused some eyes to roll in Washington, where officials were quick to point out that Macron faces reelection early next year. Nonetheless, Biden made a conciliatory phone call to Macron where he admitted that communication around the deal could have been better. And he agreed to a one-on-one meeting at the G20.
The two men will sit down on Friday after Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican.