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NATO summit: Biden faces major test on the world stage

NATO summit: Biden faces major test on the world stage

President Biden’s appearance at the NATO summit this week is being closely watched not only by the Western alliance’s leaders but also by Democratic lawmakers. Biden is trying to curb calls for him to drop out of the presidential race and prove to his party that he is Donald Trump’s best opponent.

The other 31 NATO leaders arrived in Washington at the same time as Democrats returned to Capitol Hill to intensify their debate over whether the president should remain their nominee. European leaders closely analyzed Biden’s public and private interactions amid concerns about his ability to defeat Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee who has threatened to tear NATO apart.

After his shaky performance in the debate against Trump on June 27, several Democratic lawmakers urged him to abandon his re-election campaign. The president’s forceful rejection of these suggestions initially seemed to stop the defections, but former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) reiterated Wednesday morning that Biden had an important decision to make.

As NATO leaders arrived in Washington for their summit on Tuesday, they shared their experiences after their talks with Biden, a European official familiar with the talks said, with the aim of painting as complete a portrait as possible of the alliance’s most important leader.

Biden’s most important test will come on Thursday, when he is scheduled to hold a rare news conference that Democrats say will be crucial to proving he has the energy and mental agility to campaign against Trump. European leaders will also be watching the president’s news conference closely to find out whether his debate performance was a bad night, as Biden claims, or a sign of a larger problem that could make it harder to defeat Trump.

“The summit provides an opportunity for the president to demonstrate his strong global leadership in contrast to Donald Trump, who would weaken NATO,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland). “The entire summit gives him an opportunity to demonstrate his leadership and foreign policy credentials, and the press conference gives him an opportunity to address concerns.”

At a reception with all 32 NATO leaders on Tuesday, Biden’s manner was similar to that of his welcoming speech that evening: He acknowledged other leaders without being asked and engaged in casual, if brief, conversations, the European official said. The president met alone with the other leaders, without his or their advisers present, the official said.

Another European official said some people in the audience at Biden’s speech watched closely as the president placed a medal around the neck of outgoing NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, but the ceremony went smoothly. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to candidly discuss their assessments of the U.S. president.

Biden was scheduled to attend a working session with other NATO leaders on Wednesday before hosting new British Prime Minister Keir Starmer at the White House. Later that evening, he and First Lady Jill Biden will host NATO leaders and their spouses for a dinner at the White House.

Earlier in the morning, Biden attended a meeting of labor leaders from the AFL-CIO, a friendly group that has reiterated its support for the president. “I have never been more optimistic about America’s chances, not because of me, but because of what we are doing together,” Biden told the union leaders.

Biden’s demeanor and mental agility are likely to be closely scrutinized at the NATO meetings and dinner. During the G7 summit in Italy last month, several European leaders expressed surprise at how much older the president seemed compared with when they last met just a year ago, or in some cases just months, said several officials familiar with their reactions.

Politicians noticed that he seemed more tired and weaker and more likely to lose his focus, although he quickly got back on track. The overall impression, officials said, was that politicians believed Biden was capable of fulfilling his duties now, but questioned whether he could serve another four-year term.

Biden sought to allay those concerns, starting with his speech on Tuesday welcoming NATO leaders to Washington. He spoke passionately about the alliance’s renewed strength — highlighting the addition of two new countries, Finland and Sweden, and the increase in countries spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense — and issued an implicit rebuke to Trump. The former president has threatened to break up the alliance and said he would allow Russia to “do whatever it wants” with any NATO country that doesn’t spend enough.

Biden did not mention Trump by name, but stressed that a bipartisan majority of Americans supported the alliance and spoke of the danger of a world without the alliance.

“It’s good that we are stronger than ever, because this historic moment requires our collective strength,” Biden said. “The American people understand what would happen if there was no NATO, another war in Europe, American troops fighting and dying, and dictators spreading chaos.”