The dissonant realities of President Joe Biden’s second year in office were exposed Thursday as he wrapped up a five-day trip to Europe that highlighted both the key role of the United States in setting up a strong allied response to Vladimir Putin’s aggression and the domestic unrest dragging Biden home.
Huddled with the leaders of the advanced economies of the Group of Seven in the Bavarian Alps and with NATO allies in Madrid, Biden was warmly welcomed by his colleagues and recorded significant political achievements on the modernization of the transatlantic alliance. to adapt to new threats from Russia and China.
At home, however, the United States was grappling with the fallout from last week’s Supreme Court ruling ending the constitutional right to abortion, which Biden on Thursday condemned as “destabilizing.” Biden faces both the lowest approval ratings of his presidency and growing pessimism about the direction of the country.
Biden appeared to welcome the time away from Washington as a respite from his domestic circumstances, insisting that despite domestic turmoil on issues ranging from inflation to gun violence, world leaders still value America and its leadership.
“I haven’t seen anyone come up to me and … say anything other than thank you for American leadership,” Biden said in a spirited remarks at a press conference at the end of what he called a historic summit. “America is better placed to lead the world than we have ever been.”
The three-day NATO meeting included the Biden administration’s announcement of its intention to permanently strengthen the American military presence in Europe, an agreement between Turkey, Finland and Sweden championed by Biden to open the Nordic countries to join NATO, and the alliance will update its strategic concept to reflect that China’s “coercive policies” are a challenge to Western bloc interests.
Biden noted that the last time NATO updated what is essentially its mission statement was 12 years ago, when Russia was called a partner and the document didn’t even mention China. . The new concept paper responds to a years-long effort by US presidents to reorient the alliance to meet challenges from China.
“The world has changed, changed a lot since then,” Biden said. He added: “This summit was about strengthening our alliance, addressing the challenges of our world as it is today and the threats we are going to face in the future.”
Biden’s efforts drew praise from across the aisle, with North Carolina GOP Senator Thom Tillis, who led a delegation to the Madrid summit with Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen and met with Biden on Thursday. morning, saying, “I think the administration played a key role in making this summit a success.”
It was a far cry from the rancor that pervades Washington, where even positive developments become political cudgels.
“Here we have a bipartisan delegation and a president who have a common goal. Back home, maybe not as much,” Tillis said.
Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer, a Republican, added that Biden should also apply some of his approaches to successful diplomacy abroad to Washington.
“I think it would only be helpful for the president if he contacted us in our country as well as here,” she said.
At home, Biden has been burdened by the ongoing account of the Capitol insurgency and former President Donald Trump’s attempts to cancel the 2020 presidential election and by his own weakened political posture.
That fueled concern among allies over who might follow Biden in the White House and whether his successor would reverse Biden’s efforts to rebuild the transatlantic alliance.
Soaring inflation, a global problem, is particularly acute for Americans as they hit the road for the July 4 holiday. And his legislative agenda was largely stalled, albeit for a modest gun control measure that passed after a pair of horrific mass shootings.
Just 24 hours before Biden left for Europe, the abortion decision was thrown into the mix.
“One thing that has been destabilizing is the outrageous behavior of the Supreme Court of the United States in not only overturning Roe v. Wade, but essentially challenging the right to privacy,” Biden said, “We’ve been a leader in the world in terms of personal rights and privacy rights.”
And just minutes after leaving Madrid on Air Force One to return home, Biden suffered another legal blow to his agenda, as the Supreme Court drastically curtailed the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate. carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
Kathleen McInnis, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said a president’s influence tends to reach much further abroad than at home.
“The American presidency has its own weight and gravity that cannot be ignored,” she said.
This was evident when Biden helped persuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to drop his opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO.
As he parries questions from reporters with a microphone in hand, Biden also pointed to announcements made at the G-7 meeting for increased economic and military assistance to Ukraine as it aims to fend off the month-long invasion of Russia and announcements of tougher sanctions to punish Moscow.
“We’re going to stay with Ukraine and the whole alliance is going to stay with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” Biden said. “I don’t know…how it’s going to end, but it won’t end with Russia defeating Ukraine in Ukraine.