Joe Biden will this week confront two relentless forces that could seriously hamper his presidency: Vladimir Putin and Capitol Hill deadlock. Both will test the President’s leverage and ability to fulfill his agenda of restoring American global leadership and enacting one of the most ambitious economic transformations at home in generations.
The first goal was advanced by the G7 summit, in which Biden proved he was more than just the anti-Donald Trump. The meeting closed with a commitment to provide a billion doses of Covid vaccines to the developing world, an agreement on thwarting tax evasion by multinational corporations and unity on human rights abuses in China. Of course, the real test of G7 summits comes when the leaders go back home. The vaccine pledge is for instance just a drop in the bucket of what is needed. A tough line on China will try trans-Atlantic unity. But the democratic world did show relief at working with an American president again and embraced his aspirations. Now, the US leader turns his attention, after the NATO summit in Brussels, to Putin.
Russia’s aggressive posture towards the US and a spate of ransomware attacks emanating from its soil have exposed Biden to considerable criticism at home for meeting Putin at all. The President says the Geneva summit will test whether a more stable and productive relationship is possible with a nation that US intelligence accuses of interfering in the last two US elections. But even Biden isn’t convinced it’s going to work. “There’s no guarantee you can change a person’s behavior,” Biden said on Sunday. “Autocrats have enormous power and they don’t have to answer to a public. The fact is that it very well may be that if I respond in kind, which I will, that it doesn’t dissuade him — he wants to keep going.” Things don’t get much easier when Biden files home. Senate Republican Minority leader Mitch McConnell has established a position of total obstruction against Biden and it is possible he could scupper last-ditch compromise talks on a bipartisan infrastructure bill the President is eyeing as a big win. And the concessions Biden will be forced to make to woo GOP support might make it difficult to get all his Democrats on board in a tightly balanced Congress.