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Biden hosts high-stakes NATO summit as campaign struggles

Biden hosts high-stakes NATO summit as campaign struggles

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden faces a pivotal moment this week as he prepares to host leaders from more than 31 countries in Washington with a surprising new mission: dominating the world stage and stabilizing his reelection campaign in crisis.

Much was already riding on Biden’s performance at the summit, which marked NATO’s 75th anniversary. While his election opponent, former President Donald Trump, questioned America’s role in the organization, Biden sought to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to NATO.

But after Biden’s dismal debate performance 11 days ago, he must now assuage the concerns of anxious Democrats who are openly debating whether he should drop out of the race or remain their party’s presidential nominee. Biden is under immense pressure to placate his critics by showing competence and coherence as he welcomes NATO allies and partners to Washington for the three-day summit and tries to make his case against Trump.

Biden’s interactions with his European counterparts will come under particularly close scrutiny following previous incidents in which he mixed up the names of foreign leaders. Most recently, he struggled to complete his thoughts and sentences during his late June debate against Trump, sparking consternation among Democrats that has yet to subside.

Visiting leaders will be looking for similar assurances about his ability to defeat Trump. European officials have expressed particular concern about how Trump might treat the alliance if he returns. Biden has also claimed that Trump will not defeat him. In previous summits Heads of state called him aside to tell him, “You can’t let him win.”

“The gravity of this moment for Biden is greater than anticipated,” said Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center. “I think it puts additional pressure on him to deliver in a way that reassures allies and reassures the American people that he is fit and ready to do the job, not just for the rest of his presidency, but perhaps for another four years.”

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A growing number of elected Democrats and prominent party figures have said Biden should step down, and the list could grow as lawmakers return to Capitol Hill this week after a long recess.

Biden himself is likely to face questions from reporters about whether he will abandon the 2024 race when he holds a news conference at the end of the NATO summit — his first since the disastrous confrontation with Trump.

“This is critical,” Todd Belt, professor and director of the Political Management Program at George Washington University, said of the NATO summit. “Not only will the spotlight be on Biden, but the job of the commander in chief is to be able to work with our allies. The critical job of keeping the nation safe is one of the reasons we want someone who is cognitively and physically capable of doing that job.”

Political concerns may overwhelm NATO

Biden will spend much of his time at the summit participating in group discussions on topics of critical importance, ranging from military and financial support for Ukraine in its costly fight to defend itself against Russia to the longer-term goals of the defensive alliance created after World War II.

His agenda includes a one-on-one meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose country has sought but not received a formal invitation to join NATO, and a face-to-face meeting with newly appointed British Prime Minister Keir Starmer, who took office last week after a landslide Labour election victory.

The president and first lady Jill Biden will open the summit Tuesday evening with a commemorative event at Mellon Hall, where the North Atlantic Treaty that established NATO was signed on April 4, 1949. Biden will address NATO allies publicly Wednesday afternoon and host a dinner that night for the leaders and their spouses. His schedule on Thursday includes a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council and an event with nearly two dozen countries that have signed individual security agreements with Ukraine. He will conclude the summit with his own press conference.

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“Most of these meetings are usually held behind closed doors,” said Stephen Fish, a political science professor at Berkeley and author of “The Comeback: Channeling Trumpism, Reclaiming the Nation, and Reclaiming the Edge of Democracy.”

That means Biden’s public statements “can often be scripted,” he added. “So this is not the kind of event where you would expect him to stumble. It’s not like a debate or an open interview.”

His ongoing political crisis may draw more attention than his larger geopolitical message this week, as foreign officials field inquiries about Biden’s age.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, He said last month Before the Biden debate, Trump said he was “a very clear person, he knows exactly what he’s doing and he’s one of the most experienced politicians in the world.”

But Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski Hit Biden After the discussion ended, he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter: “Marcus Aurelius was a great emperor but he ruined his succession by handing the baton to his reckless son Commodus (him, from Gladiator). His disastrous reign was the beginning of Rome’s decline.

“It is important to be able to manage your flight into the sunset,” Sikorski wrote.

US officials claimed ahead of the summit that foreign leaders know Biden and what he is capable of.

“You’re going to see the president act like a leader” as he brings together NATO allies at the summit, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said at a briefing. “Look, foreign leaders have seen the president up close and personal over the past three years. And I think that’s important. They know who they’re dealing with and how effective he is,” Jean-Pierre said.

Biden challenges

In his highly anticipated interview Friday with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Biden stuck to his guns amid Democratic turmoil following the debate debacle. He refused to acknowledge Democratic critics who want him to drop out of the race, dismissed concerns about his mental fitness and dismissed the veracity of polls showing him losing to Trump.

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“Well, if the Lord Almighty came down and told me to, I might do it,” Biden said of withdrawing. He insisted that most Democrats wanted him to remain their nominee, even as five House Democrats publicly called for his exit and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., was reported to be rallying Senate Democrats to ask Biden to withdraw.

If Democrats wanted to hear a more conciliatory president — one who understands the consequences of his debate performance — they didn’t get it from Biden. “I don’t think he did himself any favors,” Belt said. “He seemed really stubborn.”

Biden is “dangerously disconnected from the concerns people have about his ability to move forward and his place in this race,” said David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama.

“Four years ago at this time, he was 10 points ahead of Trump. Today, he’s 6 points behind,” Axelrod said in a post on X (formerly Twitter) after his interview ended.

Biden has used his previous appearances at international events to make a strong case for American democracy, a key theme of his re-election campaign. Without explicitly mentioning Trump, he said last month: World War II veterans were called up. Americans “confront aggression abroad and at home.”

“This would be a good opportunity for him to perhaps regain some of the authority he had at home, or had more of at home, because this is the forum where he really shines,” Fish said of NATO.

But he added: “I don’t think there will be a lot of opportunities at the summit for him to get out of the hole he seems to have fallen into, especially after the debate.”