President Joe Biden left Thursday for his second trip abroad with his massive domestic agenda -- and, by his own admission, his entire presidency -- hanging in the balance on Capitol Hill.
The trip has become a potent intersection of Biden's domestic and foreign agendas, as the President pleaded with Democrats to agree on a sweeping spending package before he took off on Air Force One for the Group of 20 summit in Rome.
In remarks from the White House ahead of his midday departure, Biden framed the months-long haggling over the deal as a good-faith effort to find middle ground between liberal and moderate Democrats.
"We spent hours and hours and hours over months and months working on this. No one got everything they wanted, including me. But that's what compromise is, that's consensus. And that's what I ran on," Biden said in a speech from the East Room.
He appeared to acknowledge the disappointment among members of his party after popular items that he's long touted, like paid family leave and tuition-free community college, were stripped from the final agreement.
"I know it's hard. I know how deeply people feel about the things that they fight for," he said.
As he prepared to represent the United States at a pair of major international summits, Biden said the new investments were a matter of national imperative.
"It's about leading the world or letting the world pass us by," he said.
Earlier, the President went to Capitol Hill to unveil the $1.75 trillion framework agreement, though progressives in particular are still seeking more specifics before signing off. The visit delayed his departure for Rome as he performs a high-wire act: he'll either be going to meet his fellow global leaders after securing a major legislative win or jetting off across the Atlantic with nothing.
"When the President gets off that plane, we want him to have a vote of confidence from this Congress," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told fellow Democrats in the meeting, stressing she wanted a vote on a bipartisan infrastructure package by the end of the day -- and imploring her her members "don't embarrass" Biden by voting down the package as he heads overseas.
Thursday morning's visit was a sign of how paramount the President views his success at home to his goals overseas. In private meetings, the President has acknowledged his credibility is at stake on this trip, locking eyes with lawmakers and warning that America's prestige is on the line as he works to secure a deal on the bulk of his domestic agenda, including measures to combat climate change.
He tried to project confidence as he walked into a House Democratic Caucus meeting in the Capitol.
"It's a good day" Biden said, adding, "Everyone's on board."
During the meeting, Biden told lawmakers: "I don't think it's hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week." He also emphasized a key theme from his presidency -- that the American must show the world that democracies can outperform autocracies and meet modern challenges.
"The rest of the world wonders whether we can function," Biden said.
By mid-morning, however, it was evident not everyone was on board quite yet. Liberal members of Congress said they wanted to see more details after key items, like paid family leave, were removed. And they remained firm in demands the social spending bill pass simultaneously with the infrastructure deal.
The framework encompasses a wide array of Democratic priorities, including expanding public preschool and child care. It also includes $555 billion in measures to combat climate change.
Climate is a topic he's expected to discuss Friday morning during an audience with Pope Francis, a historic meeting between the nation's second Catholic President and a pontiff whose views on migration, income inequality and the environment closely match Biden's. Later, he plans to deliver a major climate speech when visiting the COP26 summit in Glasgow.
Biden is still widely regarded overseas as a salve after four years of former President Donald Trump, whose antagonistic presence at international summits often rattled alliances. Yet at the G20 and the subsequent climate talks in Scotland, Biden will find himself under fresh scrutiny.Back to earth
It's a marked difference from Biden's three-stop tour of Europe in June, which was a parade of "America is back" reassurances. This week's excursion to summits in Italy and the United Kingdom will reflect a more workmanlike attempt to unify US partners against the world's most pressing challenges.
The initial glow of Biden's victory has faded somewhat abroad, where some leaders have begun questioning the new President's commitment to strengthening traditional alliances.
A chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan left foreign allies angry and freshly skeptical of Biden's willingness to work cooperatively on global issues. A deal to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines angered France so deeply that the country's foreign minister suggested it was something Trump might have done -- a comparison that deeply irritated Biden, according to a person familiar with his reaction.
"This has been a sobering four-and-a-half months for our European partners. And I think they have now come to the realization, to the acknowledgment, that there is much more continuity in US policy than they thought," said Heather Conley, director of the Europe and Russia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"This is going to be a very different trip," Conley said, comparing Biden's second foreign excursion to his first. "Our European partners very much thought that the Biden administration would be a stabilizing presence after the tumultuous years of the Trump administration, and they need America to be that stabilizing force because Europe itself is unstable and increasingly fragile. And so, this backdrop is very different."
Speaking ahead of Biden's departure, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the US and Europe were "united" ahead of this week's summits, despite the events of the last several months. He noted Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping had both decided to skip the gatherings, leaving Biden and European leaders to define the contours of the talks.
"I would point out that neither China nor Russia will be attending the summit in person at the leader level, largely, it seems due to Covid-19. The US and Europe will be there, and they'll be there energized and united at both the G20 and COP26 driving the agenda, shaping the agenda as it relates to these significant international issues," he said.
Since the last time he went abroad, Biden's political fortunes have suffered as Americans grow weary of the coronavirus pandemic and economic side-effects -- like inflation and labor shortages -- begin having an effect on everyday life. Biden plans to focus intently on supply chain issues and energy prices with leaders at the G20, according to White House officials.
For the first time, the President's approval ratings fell below 50% amid the messy Afghanistan withdrawal, though the issue is not expected to play a central role in this weekend's summit. Instead, officials said the principal objective of the G20 is to cement support for a global minimum tax, another key element of Biden's domestic economic agenda.Crucial business at home
The President and his team hope successful passage of his spending package alongside a bipartisan infrastructure bill can help revive Biden's standing among Americans.
That includes major emissions-cutting provisions, though he has faced opposition from key moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who represents coal-rich West Virginia. Biden has pledged to halve US greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and is hoping to use that promise to convince other countries at the Glasgow climate summit to take similarly ambitious steps.
The framework Biden announced Thursday included billions in clean energy tax credits, which cover electric vehicle credits for consumers, transmission and storage, and clean energy manufacturing. It also contains climate and resilience investments, including the first ever Civilian Climate Corps.
The White House said before Biden left for Europe that his foreign counterparts were astute enough to recognize he was trying to secure new climate action, even if he hasn't done so by the time he arrives in Scotland.
"I think you've got a sophisticated set of world leaders who understand politics in their own country and understand American democracy and recognize that working through complex, far-reaching negotiation on some of the largest investments in modern memory in the United States, that that takes time. And so, I don't think that world leaders will look at this is a binary issue -- is it done, is it not done," Sullivan said.
But Biden's desire to arrive in Europe with an agreement extends beyond just climate. The guiding mantra of his entire foreign policy is proving democracies can deliver for their people to counter the spread of authoritarianism. Gridlock in Congress and a dysfunctional American political system could undercut that message as he seeks to gather support for it abroad.
"I need this to go represent the United States overseas. I need people to see that the Democratic Party is working, that the country is working, that we can govern," he told a group of progressive lawmakers in a meeting last week, according to one of the participants.Some critical players missing
Biden's first appearance at a G20 summit -- where the world's largest industrial economies gather annually -- will be dampened somewhat by the ongoing global pandemic.
The President's aides once hoped to schedule an in-person meeting with Xi on the margins on the G20, as Trump did in 2018 in Argentina. The two men have yet to meet face-to-face, despite escalation tensions between Washington and Beijing. But Xi hasn't left China since the start of the pandemic.
Instead, he and Biden plan to hold a virtual summit sometime in the coming months. Sullivan said Tuesday a date hadn't been selected.
Biden's most-watched bilateral meeting at the G20 will instead be with French President Emmanuel Macron, who reacted in fury when Biden announced an agreement last month to help Australia develop nuclear-powered submarines. The deal, which transpired without Macron's knowledge, deprived France of a contract worth billions to provide Australia with conventional subs.
The outrage in Paris over the agreement caused some eye-rolling in Washington, where officials were quick to point out Macron is facing reelection early next year. Nonetheless, Biden placed a conciliatory phone call to Macron where he conceded the communication surrounding the deal could have been better. And he agreed to a one-on-one meeting at the G20.
The two men will sit down on Friday after Biden's meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
European gas prices plummeted Thursday after Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the country's major natural gas company to supply more gas to storage facilities in Austria and Germany, the Associated Press reported.
Prices fell immediately after Putin directed Alexei Miller, the head of the state-controlled gas giant company, Gazprom, to start putting gas into the company's storage facilities in Germany and Austria after it fills the domestic facilities by November 8.
"This will make it possible to fulfill our contractual commitments in a reliable, stable and consistent manner and to supply our European partners with gas in the autumn and winter," Putin said. "This will create a favorable situation, at any rate, a better situation in the European energy market in general."
The price drop comes after Europe's gas prices greatly increased in recent weeks. Demand had been growing strong in Asia, driven by the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and due to depleted European Union stocks.
The 27-member European Union relies on Russia for more than 40 percent of gas imports.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Video: Russia will supply more gas if Europe asks - Putin (Reuters)
Russia will supply more gas if Europe asks - Putin
Click to expand
While Gazprom has met its obligations under long-term agreements, it has not sold additional gas on the EU spot market, opting to fill domestic storages. Some European politicians alleged that Russia was withholding gas deliberately to pressure German and EU authorities into speeding final regulatory approval for the recently completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Putin noted last week one of the two links of the new pipeline under the Baltic Sea already has been filled with gas as part of preparations for its launch, adding that supplies could start "the day after" after regulators give their approval.
Nord Stream 2, with an annual capacity of 55 billion cubic meters of gas, is designed to deliver gas directly to Germany, bypassing Poland and Ukraine, which have vehemently opposed the project along with the U.S.
Ukrainian authorities fear the pipeline will deprive the country of $2 billion in annual gas transit fees and erode its international standing amid a tug-of-war with Russia following its 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists insurgents in eastern Ukraine.
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The coronavirus pandemic has caused “big losses” for gender equality in Europe, with few gains, according to an index published Thursday by the European Institute for Gender Equality, a European Union initiative.
The Gender Equality Index assigned the European Union 68 points out of 100, according to its scoring system, which evaluates gender equality according to a range of metrics. This means an improvement of 0.6 points compared to 2020, and a gain of 4.9 points since 2010.
However, the report warns that even that minimal fraction of a point of progress registered year-over-year is threatened by the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on women.
The scores are mostly based on data from 2019 and therefore don’t fully capture the impact of the coronavirus crisis on gender equality, although the report does include evidence on covid′s negative impact on women in key areas.
“Europe has made fragile gains in gender equality. But big losses are emerging as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The economic fallout is lasting longer for women, while life expectancy for men has dropped,” Carlien Scheele, the institute’s director, said in the report.
The Index, which has been produced since 2013 with the aim of providing data to inform E.U. policymaking, measures progress in gender equality in six core domains: health, power, work, money, time and knowledge, and two additional ones: violence against women and intersectional inequalities.How the pandemic set back women’s progress in the global workforce
Progress in gender equality in the region between 2010 and 2019 was mostly driven by significant advances in the “power” category, with greater gender balance on company boards and in the realm of politics, according to the report.
However, advancement in other areas continues to lag significantly, particularly in the “time” domain, which has a negative impact in the scoring. This category, which covers individuals’ participation in care and leisure activities, takes into account that women have spent more hours doing unpaid labor during the pandemic, either taking care of children when schools were closed or caring for the elderly.
A hard-hit domain was work, with some groups showing large gender gaps in full-time employment. The largest gap “is between women and men taking unpaid care of children,” the report says. “Both reflect the negative influence of gender roles and stereotypes on women’s participation in the labor market, and thus on their economic independence and empowerment.”
The pandemic has not only exposed gender divisions in the job market but has also had greater negative effects on employment opportunities for women than for men. And those effects are likely to linger longer, “as a result of labor market gender segregation and the highly unequal distribution of unpaid care duties,” the report says.
When it comes to domestic violence, the report warns that a dearth of data makes comparisons difficult. But it notes that covid-19 prompted lockdowns and increased time indoors, which resulted in an uptick in domestic violence against women. Women in disadvantaged groups such as older women, women and girls with disabilities and migrant women are at higher risk. The European Institute for Gender Equality also reports increased demand for support services for victims of domestic violence.
The index shows that, at the current pace, it will take nearly three generations to achieve gender equality in the region, and the pandemic could hamper progress further.