5 things to watch for as Biden heads to Europe

President BidenJoe BidenChina eyes military base on Africa's Atlantic coast: report Biden orders flags be flown at half-staff through Dec. 9 to honor Dole Biden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package MORE will leave Washington for the second overseas trip of his presidency on Thursday, a high-stakes adventure that will include stops at major economic and climate summits. 

 Nations are expected to finalize an agreement on a global minimum tax at the Group of 20 summit in Rome, the premier global economic forum.

And at the United Nations climate summit, known as COP26, Biden plans to press other countries to more aggressively tackle climate change, despite falling short of securing votes to pass his own climate agenda at home.

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Here are five things to watch:

 

How much does Biden’s domestic agenda distract? 

Biden’s focus has been consumed in recent weeks by the haggling over his domestic agenda on Capitol Hill. 

He is poised to depart for Europe on Thursday short of a deal on a sweeping climate and social spending package, though top Democrats and White House officials insist they are closing in on an agreement. 

Biden had hoped to have a deal in hand on the legislative package, which is expected to include about $500 billion to address climate change, prior to his overseas trip, but that appears unlikely. A deal would strengthen his hand and serve as evidence that American democracy can deliver. 

White House officials say that Biden will be working the phones while overseas in order to facilitate the negotiations, but it’s unclear whether his absence could dampen momentum for his agenda at home or his leverage abroad.

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 “There are phones on Air Force One and also in Europe,” White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiUS expected to announce diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics soon: report Joe Biden: The Brian Williams presidency Biden plan for free at-home tests faces hurdles MORE said this week. “He will continue to be engaged even as we move to the trip.” 

Josh Freed, senior vice president for the climate and energy program at Democratic think tank Third Way, said if the legislation’s passage “comes a week or two later, it’s still a powerful statement. It’s the difference between we’ve done it and we’re going to do it.”

 

Can Biden rally nations on climate change?

The U.N. climate summit in Glasgow gives Biden a high-profile opportunity to demonstrate a sharp turn from the Trump administration, which withdrew the U.S. from the landmark Paris climate agreement.

Biden is expected to deliver a speech and is likely to highlight executive actions he’s taken on climate, as well as the funding included in the spending package under negotiation on Capitol Hill.

Biden has pledged to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and will look to convince other nations to commit to curbing methane emissions.

A U.N. report issued in the days leading up to the summit said that countries were falling short of their goals in the Paris agreement to prevent climate change. Developed nations are also falling short of their target to send $100 billion annually to poorer nations to address the disproportionate harms they are experiencing from climate change largely caused by richer countries.

Freed predicted there would be “bits and pieces of progress” at the summit but not wholesale change. He said there would likely be more conversations about technologies like carbon capture in helping to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“COP is an assembly of nations with a huge number of different interests, and these are really difficult conversations that are even harder in the years since the Paris agreement,” Freed said. 

 

Can Biden, Macron hit reset?

Biden and French President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronMacron becomes first major Western leader to go to Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi killing Justice for Josephine Baker means restoring her US nationality Far-right commentator joins presidential race in France MORE will meet for the first time face-to-face since a spat over a deal for the U.S. to sell nuclear-powered submarines to Australia. 

The two have spoken twice over the phone in an effort to smooth things over, but Friday’s meeting will be a true test of whether both leaders have moved beyond the controversy last month. 

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Biden is likely to use the meeting to advance U.S. cooperation with France in the Asia Pacific, in an effort to ease bad feelings over a regional security agreement between the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia.

France was given little notice of the agreement, called AUKUS, before it was announced by the three countries last month. It resulted in France losing out on a major defense contract to deliver submarines to Australia. France briefly recalled its ambassador to the U.S. over the snub.

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenChina eyes military base on Africa's Atlantic coast: report Biden administration prepared to use 'other tools' on Iran amid troubled nuclear talks US intelligence says Russia planning Ukraine offensive involving 175K troops: reports MORE met with Macron in Paris shortly after the crisis and said the U.S. and France “are very much focused on moving forward.” Vice President Harris is meeting separately with Macron in Paris later in November.

 

What do China’s, Russia’s absences mean?

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinUkraine rejects claims that it violated Belarus air space Ernst on Russian buildup on Ukraine border: 'We must prepare for the worst' Biden cannot allow his domestic fumbles to transfer to the world stage MORE, both of whom cited COVID-19 concerns as a reason to stay home, are likely to be the most high-profile absences of the G-20 summit and COP26.

This could provide Biden a key opportunity to reassert U.S. global leadership without vocal pushback from the two countries most at odds with Washington.

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National security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanBiden to receive 'regular updates' about Michigan school shooting Biden administration resists tougher Russia sanctions in Congress GOP holds on Biden nominees set back gains for women in top positions MORE on Tuesday said the president will push back on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s decades-long project of infrastructure investment across the world, by touting a global version of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. 

“He will show how a high-standards, climate-friendly alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative can help American firms and American workers compete globally on every aspect of infrastructure, from physical to digital to health,” Sullivan said in a briefing at the White House. 

Richard Fontaine, CEO of the Center for a New American Security and former foreign policy adviser to the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe bully who pulls the levers of Trump's mind never learns GOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, Chris Christie battle over Fox News MORE (R-Ariz.), argued that the absence of Xi and Putin will play to Biden’s advantage. 

“He’s a back slapper and a personal diplomacy kind of a political leader. That is a disposition that is very conducive to in-person diplomacy,” Fontaine said. “He won’t have the other two great power rival national leaders around to do the same thing.”

But Mary Lovely, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said that China’s and Russia’s absences can hamper the effectiveness of what the global meetings can accomplish.

“We obviously lose something, which is some contact between the leaders of these countries,” she said. “It’s really not a global solution if China isn’t involved; Russia, if you’re discussing energy, there is something lost.”

 

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US ‘laser-focused’ on supply chains 

Sullivan also said the president will be “laser-focused” on supply chains at his meetings in Europe. The global shipping bottleneck has affected delivery of everything from household goods and toys to manufacturing parts across the United States. 

The administration has sought to relieve bottlenecks in the U.S. by pushing sea ports, train operators and truck drivers to operate on a 24/7 schedule. 

Josh Lipsky, director of the Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Center, said the issue of supply chains was added to the G-20 agenda relatively last minute but that the global economic forum presents an opportunity to achieve concrete success in easing bottlenecks around the world.

“There are things that could come out of that meeting, very concrete and won’t even be in communiques that come out at the end of this, but are specific things that leaders follow up with,” he said during a virtual panel with the Atlantic Council on Tuesday.

“ ‘We really need to expand capacity at this port, ‘We really need to do this, this is a key choke point, and it’s keeping this much flow from the global economy,’ ” he gave as examples. “I think there’s a lot that actually can be done from a coordination mechanism at this summit.” 

Lovely, of the Peterson Institute, said she’s going to be watching closely for how global leaders balance the tension of coordinating with allies on global trade while also seeking to build up manufacturing capacity domestically, where countries are battling to have the most high-quality products built at home and that grab a high profit when shipped abroad. 

“This is an area where you need coordination, but there’s also intense competition, so coordination is difficult,” she said.