It happens to every American president: a trip abroad gets derailed when crises are unfolding at home.
With the US economy hanging in the balance, President Joe Biden departs this week for a week-long visit to Asia. He’s acknowledged the trip may be scrapped as negotiations on raising the nation’s borrowing limit in order to avert a historic default slog forward with congressional Republicans, an effort he called the “single most important thing” on his agenda. Privately, however, Biden has told his team skipping this week’s Group of 7 summit in Japan should be a last-resort option only and could send the wrong signal – both to his Republican interlocutors and to foreign allies to whom he has repeatedly insisted “America is back.” “We’re planning to conduct this trip as scheduled,” said John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, during a briefing with reporters Monday. “Look, on any presidential trip – doesn’t matter where he goes or when – I mean, events back home and around the world can affect travel. But right now, there’s no plans to curtail the trip or cut it short or to not go.” Even if his visits to Japan, Papua New Guinea and Australia go ahead, however, the looming debt default will still shadow Biden’s attempts to cultivate critical relationships and restore American leadership. The effects of an American default would reverberate throughout an already unsteady global economy. World leaders already enter the talks with their own concerns about Biden economic policies they say are overly protectionist. His team has not yet made extensive contingency plans for the trip to be canceled and are instead proceeding as if it is still happening. So far, foreign officials say they are expecting to see Biden in person in Japan later this week. If Biden were to skip this week’s G7, he would likely still participate virtually, aides said. The G7 has met that way repeatedly over the course of the war in Ukraine, often producing results like new sanctions. Biden places a premium on in-person interactions, particularly with high-level leaders like those who will be gathering in Hiroshima later this week. At his first G7 meeting in 2021, he told counterparts gathered on the Cornish coast that American leadership was back – to some skepticism from the leaders gathered around the table. This week’s trip will be Biden’s first time abroad since announcing his reelection bid in April. A grueling, multi-stop swing through Asia is precisely the image of presidential stamina his aides hope to use to rebut concerns over his advanced age. Some Biden aides worry that abandoning his travel plans to remain in Washington could look like a concession to Republicans, who have been demanding spending negotiations in exchange for raising the nation’s borrowing limit. Others wonder what message would be sent to world leaders, observing the debt limit standoff from afar and nurturing their own concerns about American political stability. The White House has made clear that defaulting on US obligations would have damaging effects that stretch well beyond economic concerns. “That would certainly, from a national security perspective, have a detrimental effect,” said Kirby of a potential US default. “Certainly in terms of our reputation and standing around the world, it sends a horrible message to nations like Russia and China who would love nothing more than to be able to point at this and say: ‘See? The United States is not a reliable partner, the United States is not a stable leader of peace and security around the world.’” Biden’s team has taken to describing the G7 as the “steering committee of the free world,” and the White House views the grouping as among the most effective in dealing with global issues, including Russia and China. Because Japan, the only Asian member of the G7, is hosting this year’s summit, China is due to loom larger than usual. Members are expected to sign on to a statement condemning Beijing’s economic practices. At previous G7 summits, the issue of China has proved contentious. Some European leaders are cautious of a major confrontation with Beijing. But candid, in-person conversations among the group have yielded a more collective approach. Any decision on skipping the summit is likely to be made later this week, after Biden sits down with congressional leaders on Tuesday at the White House. That meeting will provide the president and his team a gauge of how far apart the two sides are and whether remaining in Washington would help move along the negotiation. Aides also point out the president will still be available on the phone if negotiations ramp up while he is abroad. Biden said Sunday he still planned on leaving this week for the G7. “That’s my plan as it stands now,” he said during a bike ride through Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Other stops on Biden’s trip, including the first-ever presidential visit to Papua New Guinea and another leaders’ summit in Australia, also remained in question. Returning to the US directly from Japan and skipping those countries remained a possibility. But that, too, could prevent Biden from engaging key leaders as he works to deepen cooperation in the region. The White House has billed his stop in Papua New Guinea – where he will meet leaders from the Pacific Island Forum – as a key opportunity to develop strategic ties with nations China is also heavily courting. And the Quad leaders summit in Sydney marks an important moment for Biden to boost relations with Australia, India and Japan as he works to create a counterbalance to China. Biden isn’t the first US president to face a choice between traveling abroad and staying behind to tend to fiscal talks. Budget disagreements and a government shutdown prevented then-President Barack Obama from visiting Indonesia and Brunei in 2013. Then-President Bill Clinton skipped a meeting in Japan amid an earlier debt ceiling dispute in 1995. Both times, pains were taken to avoid the appearance of a snub. Clinton placed a personal phone call to Japan’s prime minister to inform him of his decision. But the cancellations raised questions nonetheless. Japan’s leading financial newspaper, the Nikkei Shimbun, said the cancellation demonstrated the “inevitable diminishing of America’s leadership role.”.President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s struggle to cling to power in a tight election in Turkey is the latest twist in a tale of global strongmen who are defining Joe Biden’s presidency. Erdogan’s fate will have major implications not just for his country’s democracy, which he has worked to weaken, but for US foreign policy too. Although Turkey is a NATO ally, Erdogan has often frustrated Washington – for instance, by cozying up to Russia and suggesting a rapprochement with Syria. Vote counts late Sunday put Erdogan ahead but slipping below the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff that could lock him out of power or lead to horse-trading among key figures to extend his rule. Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu vowed to undertake “any struggle necessary” to secure rights, law and justice for Turks. “Our people should be confident that we will definitely win, and we will bring democracy to this country,” he said. He also accused authorities of preventing the counting of ballots with the highest percentage of the opposition vote. Erdogan said he believed final vote counts would show him above 50%, enough to avoid a potentially risky runoff. Erdogan has perplexed successive US presidents. In recent times, his civility toward fellow strongman Russian President Vladimir Putin has vexed the US as it seeks to save Ukraine’s sovereignty following Moscow’s unprovoked invasion more than a year ago. Biden’s entire presidency has unfolded in the shadow of autocrats, assaults on democracy and aspiring strongman leaders – abroad, and most remarkably at home. His eventual White House legacy will be dominated by his showdown with Putin and reinvigoration of the trans-Atlantic alliance to support democracy in Ukraine with a multibillion-dollar pipeline of aid and weapons. America’s most important foreign policy challenge – the rise of a stronger, more nationalistic China – is meanwhile being exacerbated by the most aggressive leader in Beijing in decades, President Xi Jinping, who is offering the world an alternative political model to Western democracy and increasingly challenging US global interests. In recent months, Biden has also been estranged from a longtime sparring partner, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over now-paused attempts to overhaul the judiciary, which some US experts say will allow his hard-right government to curtail democracy. Biden confronts a threat from democracy at home But none of those leaders pose an existential threat to US democracy. For the first time in generations, that danger comes from within. A CNN town hall event in New Hampshire last week showed former President Donald Trump – the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination – deeply contemptuous of US democracy with his fresh and false claims that he won reelection in 2020 and his downplaying of what really happened when his supporters attacked the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Trump has signaled that he’d return US diplomacy to the days when he relished sitting down with strongman leaders in transactional meetings featuring the likes of Putin, Xi and North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un. In New Hampshire, for instance, he refused to say whether he wanted democratic Ukraine or Russia to win the war. At his political rallies, meanwhile, Trump has promised his followers he’d demolish institutions of governance and an independent justice system that is seeking to hold him to account in multiple criminal investigations. And last week, amid a cresting border crisis, he vowed to launch the biggest mass deportations of migrants in US history. Given the scale of support Trump enjoys in the GOP primary race and through multiple interviews with voters, it’s clear that his wannabe-autocrat act strikes a chord among his supporters, who have long disdained Washington institutions that they believe condescend to them. Biden has frequently said that Trump’s equivocation over extremism after a deadly White supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 was what convinced him to run for office again. Such a message was at the center of the Democratic midterm campaign last year. And it’s already a foundation of Biden’s reelection bid. The theme was on his mind Saturday in a commencement address to Howard University graduates in Washington, which also served as a preview of his message to Black voters – a critical Democratic constituency that will be relied on for turnout in November 2024. “It is still a battle for the soul of the nation,” the president said, calling for a new effort to counter an assault on US elections and the right to vote and lashing out at the “dagger at the throat of democracy” that was leveled by Trump in 2020 and early 2021. The backdrop of many of Biden’s domestic initiatives is an attempt to prove to some voters attracted by Trump’s strongman rhetoric and denigration of government that democracy can still deliver. That’s why he enacted a bipartisan infrastructure law that is sending billions of dollars to projects countrywide. The White House argues that the measure triggered an industrial rebound – including in many areas, like the Midwest, where Trump’s support has run strong. Biden’s global quest to save democracy Biden has repeatedly invoked an international struggle to preserve democracy to complement the one he says he is waging at home. At a summit of democracies that he convened at the White House in March, he cited his presidency and the massive Western effort to save Ukraine as a sign of a pivot in history away from autocratic rule as well as signs of a democratic revival in parts of Asia and Africa. “Thanks to the commitment of leaders gathered today and the persistence of people in every region of the world demanding their rights be respected and their voices be heard, we’re seeing real indicators that we’re turning the tide here,” Biden said. A defeat for Erdogan would remove a leader who has worked for two decades to weaken the influence of democratic institutions in Turkey, such as the courts, the press and key economic power bases. In a new term, however, he’d likely further curtail freedoms while continuing to frustrate Western leaders. In recent months, for instance, Erdogan blocked the entry into NATO of Sweden and Finland after their leaders decided to join the alliance following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. He demanded a crackdown on Kurdish exiles in the two Nordic countries whom he considers terrorists. He eventually lifted his veto on Finland but is still blocking the accession of Sweden. The move was a classic example of how Erdogan advances his own – and nominally Turkey’s – interests, regardless of existing alliance structures and why he has long been a headache for the West. Ahead of the election, Kilicdaroglu was talking in very similar terms about the need to preserve democracy as Biden does in the US. The echo in their rhetoric was yet another sign of how things have changed – in that America, the longtime guardian of democracies abroad, is now facing some of the same threats to the rule of law at home. Biden offered a quixotic comment about Turkey’s election after encountering a pool of reporters Sunday during a bike ride in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, saying, “I hope whoever wins, wins. There’s enough problems in that part of the world.” Biden’s quest to preserve democracy abroad has revived a classic dilemma that has long complicated American foreign policy – what to do when the country’s democratic values and strategic interests collide. This balancing act was crystallized most dramatically in recent years with the killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and US resident, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Amid a storm of global criticism, Trump refused to cut off ties with Saudi strongman and de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman, reasoning that the US and the kingdom had lucrative commercial links – including billions of dollars in weapons sales. Biden, on the 2020 campaign trail, demanded a rethink of the US relationship with Saudi Arabia but, as president, took a trip there and fist-bumped the crown prince last year at a time when the US was calling on the kingdom to pump more oil to alleviate high gasoline prices that were hurting Democrats. A similar dilemma could play out on a smaller scale in another kingdom – Thailand, after an election on Sunday that saw progressive, democratic parties campaign to restore full democracy after years of military-backed rule and leaders heavily swayed by the country’s powerful generals. Any attempt by the conservative establishment to suppress a defeat would raise pressure on the US to speak out in favor of democratic reform. But doing so would risk pushing Thailand – a longtime US ally that was especially critical to Washington during the Vietnam War – further toward China in a move that would weaken US influence in Southeast Asia at a time of critical tensions. Such calculations underscore that supporting democracy – while embedded in America’s DNA – is often complicated when wider geopolitics is involved. And they help explain why the US cannot simply ignore or reject a regional strongman like Erdogan, even if he emerges as the winner from a tainted election..House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul announced Sunday that he had formally requested a series of transcribed interviews from current and former State Department officials as part of his panel’s investigation into the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Republican-led committee’s requests for on-the-record interviews are its first in the probe of the frenzied final weeks of the 2021 withdrawal, during which a suicide bomber attacked the Kabul airport and killed 13 US service members and more than 100 Afghans. The Texas Republican sent requests Friday to Jonathan Mennuti, former acting chief of staff to acting Under Secretary of State for Management Carol Perez; Mark Evans, former acting deputy assistant secretary for Afghanistan; James DeHart, former leader of the Afghanistan Task Force; Consul General Jayne Howell; and former Ambassador Daniel Smith, who led the State Department’s after-action review of the withdrawal. McCaul asked that the witnesses contact the committee to arrange for their interviews by May 22. “Through our ongoing investigation, we have determined these five individuals have important information that is critical to uncovering how and why the Biden administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of 13 U.S. service members and the injury of 47 more, and in the abandonment of more than a thousand U.S. citizens and hundreds of thousands of our Afghan partners in a country controlled by terrorists,” McCaul said in a statement on Sunday. “It is crucial they speak with the committee without delay. As we continue to gather evidence, the Committee will continue to interview additional current and former administration officials involved in the planning and execution of the withdrawal,” he added. The requests come after McCaul threatened to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a subpoena for a dissent cable written in March by former US diplomats in Kabul criticizing the administration’s plans to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. McCaul said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that he is “prepared to move forward” with contempt of Congress proceedings against Blinken for not providing the requested material. “This would be the first time a secretary of state has ever been held in contempt by Congress and it’s criminal contempt. So I don’t take it lightly,” McCaul said. A State Department spokesperson previously called the panel’s threat to hold Blinken in contempt of Congress an “unnecessary and unproductive action.”.Cooper’s swift veto comes just over a week after the Republican-controlled state Senate advanced the bill to his desk in a party-line vote. Speaking to a crowd of supporters at a rally in Raleigh before his veto, Cooper urged those gathered to put pressure on four state Republican lawmakers who had previously vowed to protect abortion rights to stand by their comments and not join any veto override. “We are going to have to kick it into an even higher gear when that veto stamp comes down. If just one Republican in either the House or the Senate keeps a campaign promise to protect women’s reproductive health we can stop this ban,” Cooper said at the Saturday rally. “But that’s going to take every single one of you to make calls, to send emails, to write letters. Tell them to sustain this veto. Tell them to ask the Republican leadership to stop it.” This is a breaking story and will be updated..
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