Biden faces a trying week at NATO summit

by Anthony Zurcher, North American Senior Reporter

White House grills reporters about Biden’s health

It’s judgment week for Joe Biden.

Twelve days after an awkward debate performance that may go down as one of the most damaging in modern American history, the president is fighting for political survival under intense scrutiny at home and abroad.

The NATO summit in Washington DC this week may offer at least a temporary reprieve, but it may also be the president’s final stand.

Biden has lashed out at his critics in recent days, claiming he has the mandate of Democratic primary voters and challenging his opponents to come forward and try to unseat him.

As he presses ahead in his campaign, he has repeatedly promised that the time for regret and uncertainty is over, and that progress will begin with the NATO summit.

Biden will host allied leaders for three days of meetings and public events and hold a solo news conference on Thursday afternoon.

This should be a comfortable playing field for Biden, who is well-versed in foreign affairs, but it also raises the already high stakes of his presidency, given the domestic and international repercussions of a poor outcome.

A mistake could spark a political uprising within the Democratic Party that could destroy any hope of staying in the polls, let alone winning, the general election in November.

It could also intensify concerns among European allies who fear the growing likelihood of a Donald Trump presidency and the dramatic foreign policy changes that would accompany it.

“Biden has lost momentum this week,” said Kristin Belzina, managing director of North GeoStrategy at the German Marshall Fund.

“I don’t know how he gets out of that.”

Concerned foreign leaders

Many European leaders are likely concerned about Trump and his foreign policy strategy, given his disdain for multilateral international alliances.

But in the past two weeks, Bergina said, these leaders have experienced something new: anxiety about Biden.

She said that after the president’s shaky performance in the debate, America’s allies were beginning to question whether he was up to the job.

Heading into the NATO summit, they hope to see evidence that Trump’s performance that night was an aberration and not reflective of the new normal.

Getty Images G7 leaders look up to the skyGetty Images

It will be a reunion for some of the leaders after last month’s G7 summit in Italy.

“It’s worrying to see a close ally, a most important ally, weakened,” Bergina said.

“So I think there’s a lot of hope that Biden will pass this test. But if he doesn’t deliver, it raises further questions about the credibility of the United States.”

All eyes will be on the US president as he attends the summit, hosts world leaders at the White House and holds bilateral meetings with key leaders, including newly elected UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer.

Even behind closed doors at a NATO meeting, rumors, good or bad, are sure to leak out about Biden’s performance.

Democratic Panic Attack

Biden faces even tougher challenges at home this week.

The president has cited strengthening and expanding NATO in the face of Russian aggression as one of his main achievements.

This is what distinguishes his leadership from that of President Trump and any Democratic candidates who might replace him, and the summit will be a chance for him to demonstrate this to the American people.

“Who can hold NATO together like I can?” the president said in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Friday, adding that the NATO summit would be a good opportunity to gauge his own capabilities.

“Listen,” he said, “and see what they say.”

But dispelling low expectations at the NATO summit and Thursday’s press conference may not be enough for many politicians, commentators and party activists who are already calling for him to step down.

“Making yourself look good isn’t going to stop the questions,” said Bill Scheer, a liberal commentator and editor of Washington Monthly, who recently wrote a column arguing that Biden should step aside and install Vice President Kamala Harris.

“Time was of the essence to forestall all speculation, but they wasted a week. There is no clear way out of this situation.”

Scheer, a longtime Biden ally, said the president is only trying to fight back through media interviews, letters and calls to Democratic politicians after public backlash has solidified.

And once that sentiment is fully established in the polls (which could take several weeks), it will probably be too late to replace him cleanly.

“I understand how painful it can be when you’re nearing the end of your life and you’re no longer functioning as well as you used to,” Scheer said. “To have to accept that in public must be excruciating.”

But increasingly clear data suggests Biden is losing support and faces defeat in November.

Polls show that nearly three-quarters of Americans, and even a majority of Democrats, believe the president should step down. Six Democratic senators have called on him to abandon his candidacy, and many others have offered only equivocal support.

Democratic voters express their views on Biden’s ability to run for office

But the president continues to say he will campaign, and the delegates to the national convention have committed to making him the Democratic nominee. The call is up to the president, and if he can get through this week without any major missteps, he may actually be able to weather the immediate storm.

But this week’s story is set in stone: NATO is not celebrating its 75th anniversary and focusing on the challenges ahead.

Instead, this could be the story that determines whether Biden survives politically to enter the next election campaign.

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