Bold abroad with NATO, Biden is more measured at home
President Biden’s five days of meetings in Europe and the bold actions taken by the United States and its G-7 and NATO allies reflect a sea change in the West’s approach to its own defense in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The conclusion of a historic summit here saw members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ratify a new strategic concept that will maintain a stronger military presence in Eastern Europe and the formal invitation of Finland and of Sweden to join the alliance.
This follows a G-7 summit in the Bavarian Alps where leaders committed billions more to Ukraine’s defense and agreed to work to impose price caps on Russian oil to further hamper the country’s ability to finance its war.
“This summit was about strengthening our alliance, meeting the challenges of the world as it is today,” Biden said Thursday at a press conference, adding that “the world is changing. And NATO is changing too. Allies at all levels are stepping up their efforts, increasing defense spending.
“The United States,” he added, “is rallying the world to stand with Ukraine.”
But the president, determined to defend global democracy, has been slower to respond to changes tearing at the democratic fabric of his own country. His summit meetings were overshadowed by the Supreme Court’s decision striking down Roe v. Wade and a blockbuster congressional hearing in which a former aide to President Trump testified about how his lopsided behavior on January 6, 2021 contributed to the violent insurrection in the Capitol. .
Conviction of Biden in Bavaria and Madrid is unlikely to improve his poor reputation with wallet-obsessed voters. But it offered a stark contrast to his reluctance to seek to consolidate democratic institutions in the United States.
“We talk about democracy in crisis in other countries. Democracy is in crisis in the United States, and it doesn’t always feel like this White House understands that,” said Amanda Litman, founder of Run for Something, a progressive organization that helps young people run for office. elections.
At Biden’s NATO press conference, his final event before returning to Washington, the questions he received ranged as much from domestic issues as the foreign policy steps he and his allies have taken this week. Asked about a poll showing 85% of Americans think the country is on the ‘wrong track’, he was defiant, blaming their frustrations with inflation on Russia’s war in Ukraine and the Supreme Court .
“America is in a better position to lead the world than it has ever been,” he said. “The only thing that has destabilized is the outrageous behavior of the Supreme Court.”
Again urging Americans to channel their frustrations into voting in November’s midterm elections, Biden renewed his call for Congress to codify federal abortion protections into federal law, saying for the first time that he supported an exception to the Senate 60-vote filibuster rule so that legislation can advance with only 50 votes to preserve women’s reproductive rights.
“If the filibuster gets in the way, like voting rights, there should be an exception for that action,” he said.
That stance could help alleviate some of the growing frustration with Biden on the left in the wake of the court’s Roe ruling. But Democrats don’t appear to have the 50 votes needed to actually change the filibuster requirement and pass federal abortion protections.
Though he forcefully denounced the decision as a “tragic mistake,” his administration was clearer in spelling out what the president would not do, ruling out a proposal to locate abortion clinics on federal lands and the possibility of adding justices to a dominated Supreme Court. by curators, including three appointed by his predecessor.
Many prominent Democrats, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, expressed disappointment that Biden didn’t seem to share their outrage or sense of urgency to help women in peril. When asked Thursday if he would call a public health emergency as Warren and others have asked, Biden balked, saying only that he planned to meet with a group of governors at the White House on Friday to discuss actions at the state level.
When a reporter asked if he was the best messenger to lead his party’s response to the Roe decision, Biden offered a somewhat offhand response. “I am the President of the United States of America,” he said with a smile. “That makes me the best messenger.”
By comparison, Biden’s pledge to defend Ukraine “as long as it takes” was articulated more forcefully, even as he acknowledged the effects on American consumers and the global economy. When asked how long Americans should tolerate paying more for gas in the wake of the war in Ukraine, he was blunt, repeating to himself, “As long as it takes that Russia can’t actually defeat Ukraine and go beyond Ukraine,” he said. “It’s a critical position, critical for the world.”
Republicans, a few of whom attended the summit and met with Biden before he left Madrid, have been broadly supportive of the president’s response to Ukraine. Nevertheless, many also blamed him for the rising gasoline prices and war-torn inflation.
“There’s more bipartisanship when it comes to NATO than any of Biden’s domestic challenges,” said Ash Jain, a democracies expert at the Atlantic Council.
The juxtaposition between how Biden performs abroad alongside like-minded allies and at home is evidence that the president faces more constraints and political challenges within the American political system.
“It’s just a much harder environment to operate in and the solutions are a lot more complicated,” Jain said.
Despite the seriousness of the commitments outlined this week by the G-7 and NATO allies, Biden’s political weakness at home — and that of other G-7 leaders, who have seen their own support and governing coalitions waver in recent weeks – could contribute to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advantage over time, as the autocrat seeks to outlast the West on the battlefield.
NATO allies continue to express concern over US political instability. They fear making commitments to Biden that could be thrown out if he loses re-election in 2024.
“Other leaders want to know what he’s going to do about a Supreme Court stripping people’s rights, about these efforts by Trump and others to attack American institutions,” said Brett Bruen, a former head of the Obama administration’s National Security Council. . “He doesn’t have a big plan, and if he doesn’t, the domestic quagmire can become a major drag on what he is able to achieve internationally.”
Presidents have more leeway to act in foreign affairs than in domestic affairs, where they are more constrained by Congress and the courts. But Biden’s reluctance to consider structural changes to the Constitution has been a source of frustration among his party’s base long before the Supreme Court’s Roe ruling.
“Even though there are very real structural barriers in place, we have to see the White House and the president feeling the same rage, fury and frustration as we do,” said Litman, the progressive organizer. “We have to see that he sees the crisis and is not afraid to do everything in his power because he asks us to sacrifice and organize ourselves.”
With Democrats narrowly controlling the equally divided Senate thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability to break a tie vote, Biden nonetheless saw much of his legislative agenda derailed.
Until Thursday, he had been reluctant to ask Democratic leaders to change the filibuster rule requiring 60 votes to advance legislation – after briefly doing so in a failed effort to push through voting rights protections. – to codify the right to abortion in federal law.
The spurting of new revelations about President Trump’s role in fomenting the mob that attacked police officers and stormed the Capitol in a brazen attempt to prevent Senate certification of Biden’s election victory only helps. add to the pressure on the administration. Pressure on the Justice Department to prosecute the former president — and Biden’s potential 2024 challenger — has grown in recent weeks.
Biden’s apprehension about such actions, aides privately confirm, stems primarily from a sense that they would be perceived as political expediency and exacerbate the country’s already extreme polarization. But with an approval rating of just 39%, Biden and the Democrats face a potentially disastrous midterm election — especially if frustrated progressive voters choose not to run.