Five takeaways from Biden’s trip to attend G-7, NATO meetings
President Biden on Thursday wrapped his fourth trip to Europe as president, capping a chaotic six days largely focused on further responding to Russia’s war in Ukraine and its ripple effects.
Biden participated in a Group of Seven (G-7) meeting in Germany and a NATO summit in Spain, where he and other world leaders rolled out new plans to punish Russia, support Ukraine and bolster defenses on NATO’s eastern flank.
But Biden’s turn on the world stage was complicated by domestic challenges. Biden departed for Europe a day after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and the fight at home over abortion rights in many ways eclipsed the president’s overseas trip.
Here are five takeaways from Biden’s Europe visit.
Domestic issues overshadow foreign policy
Biden began his press conference on his last day in Europe by taking a victory lap touting his foreign policy agenda but quickly faced an array of questions on domestic issues and the many conflicts at home he will have to confront when he returns.
His call for a filibuster exemption to codify Roe v. Wade dominated headlines out of the news conference. He also pushed back on the notion that other world leaders think the U.S. is going in the wrong direction when it comes to abortion rights, gun violence and high inflation.
“They do not think that. You haven’t found one person, one world leader to say America is going backward. America is better positioned to lead the world than we ever have been. We have the strongest economy in the world, our inflation rates are lower than other nations in the world,” Biden told reporters in Madrid.
The president’s trip to Europe also came the same week the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol held a last-minute hearing with the most damaging testimony yet from Cassidy Hutchinson, a special assistant to former President Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Biden will also return to Washington in the face of the Supreme Court’s final rulings of the term — including one in his favor.
The high court determined Thursday the Biden administration did not violate federal immigration law when it sought to rescind immigration policy that requires U.S. asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their applications are processed.
But on the same day, the justices also curbed the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate climate change, striking a blow to the White House.
Biden notches win with Sweden and Finland invited into alliance
The NATO summit yielded a significant, and surprising, breakthrough as Turkey relented in paving the way for Sweden and Finland to join NATO.
Biden was eager to play up the development on Thursday as he declared the alliance united and strengthened in the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The U.S. president has been a proponent of NATO expansion and made a big show of supporting the bids by Finland and Sweden with a White House Rose Garden event last month.
“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin thought he could break the transatlantic alliance. He tried to weaken us. He expected our resolve to fracture. But he’s getting exactly what he did not want,” Biden said in opening remarks at his press conference.
The historic development involved a flurry of last-minute diplomacy, with Biden placing a call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday on his way to the NATO summit. Sweden, Finland and Turkey all signed a memorandum addressing Turkey’s concerns about counterterrorism in which Ankara agreed to back their bids for membership.
Biden also on Thursday voiced support for the U.S. selling upgraded F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, though he insisted such a move was a concession that led to Ankara dropping its objections.
Russia dominates — but some focus on China
The dominant theme over the course of both the G-7 and NATO summits was Russia’s war in Ukraine — not the challenges posed by China’s aggression and growing influence.
At the G-7 meeting, countries agreed to pursue an effort to impose a global price cap on Russian oil and commit billions of dollars to food security to counter disruptions caused by the war. They also pledged to support Ukraine for the long haul, seeking to quash questions about their commitments as the war shows no signs of abating.
There was still some focus on China. Biden rebooted his global infrastructure plan along with G-7 leaders that is widely seen as a counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
And at the NATO summit, countries approved a new strategic concept that for the first time explicitly mentions China and its threats to international order.
Biden on Thursday argued that the alliance was positioning itself to take on both the immediate threat from Russia’s attack on Ukraine and longer-term challenges from China.
“This summit was about strengthening our alliance, meeting the challenges of our world as it is today and the threats we’re going to face in the future,” Biden said.
Still, the Russia-Ukraine war has forced the administration to split its attention between Moscow and Beijing, despite Biden entering office with the intention to focus on countering China’s influence and threats on the economic and military realms.
Inflation concerns cut across borders
Global inflation was a point of concern for each of the world leaders gathered at the G-7 summit in Germany, as the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine have led to higher gas prices and higher food prices.
The issue of inflation is particularly pointed for Biden, as it has been a leading contributor to his sinking approval ratings. But he argued on Thursday in Spain that the U.S. was better positioned to deal with the challenges of rising costs than other nations.
“I can understand why the American people are frustrated because of inflation, but inflation is higher in almost every other country, prices at the pump are higher in almost every other country,” Biden said at his press conference before heading back to Washington. “We’re better positioned to deal with this than anyone.”
In a bid to both limit Moscow’s profits and potentially lower prices domestically, G-7 leaders endorsed moving forward with a price cap on Russian oil, though some of the details around the plan remain unclear.
Biden argued the price cap, if paired with his push for a gas tax holiday in the U.S., could help lower prices of gasoline in the U.S.
Ultimately, though, Biden and other world leaders have been consistent that Russia’s actions are responsible for a number of challenges facing the global economy.
“The reason why gas prices are up is because of Russia. Russia, Russia, Russia,” Biden said Thursday. “The reason why the food crisis exists is because of Russia, Russia not allowing grain to get out of Ukraine.”
NATO projects unity
One of Biden’s goals over the last six months has been to maintain a united front among NATO allies in the face of Russian aggression, a message the president and other members underscored during this week’s summit.
NATO members updated the alliance’s ambitions with a new strategic concept that names Russia and China as threats to global stability and highlights the growing risk of cyberattacks and climate change.
Biden announced separately plans to bolster the U.S. troop presence in Europe to guard against Russian aggression. The U.S. plans to permanently headquarter U.S. Army V Corps in Poland, add a rotational brigade in Europe stationed in Romania and increase rotational deployments to the Baltic states.
And NATO allies pledged additional support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia amid reports Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told G-7 leaders he hoped to see the war end by winter.
“We are going to stick with Ukraine, and all of the alliance is going to stick with Ukraine as long as it takes to in fact make sure that they are not defeated … in Ukraine by Russia,” Biden said.