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Split screen: Biden heads to G7 summit as Trump returns to Capitol Hill

President to huddle with world leaders as aides tamp down expectations

President Joe Biden salutes as he boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Wednesday en route to Italy.
President Joe Biden salutes as he boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Wednesday en route to Italy. (Mandel Nan/AFP/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — President Joe Biden on Wednesday headed to Italy for a G7 summit that lacks a central theme — but with the Middle East on fire, Europe drifting to the right, China flooding markets with cheap goods and his own political future in doubt.

He also left one day after his son, Hunter Biden, was found guilty by a Wilmington, Del., jury on three gun-related charges, possibly slowing any momentum he picked up from recent positive economic trends and a state visit in France that honored D-Day veterans while talking of increased cooperation with America’s oldest ally.

The trip also is set to provide yet another 2024 campaign split screen. That’s because while Biden will be huddling with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom, former President Donald Trump is slated to be in Washington on Thursday. The presumed Republican presidential nominee is scheduled to speak to Business Roundtable CEOs, as well as House and Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill. The planned meetings will be Trump’s first with congressional Republicans since he became a felon, convicted on May 30 by a 12-person jury in Manhattan.

A senior White House official on Tuesday signaled Biden’s biggest focus during the annual G7 summit would be on the world’s hot spots, as well as trying to rally support to counter China’s economic practices — one of the few issues that mostly unites Republican and Democratic lawmakers at home, even if they often disagree on how to blunt Beijing’s trade tactics.

U.S. officials hope G7 leaders might reach some kind of consensus on using frozen Russian assets to directly help Ukrainian citizens, though White House national security communications adviser John Kirby made clear a joint decision is not guaranteed.

During a virtual briefing with reporters on Tuesday, Kirby sent mixed signals about the expectations for a joint announcement on those assets.

During his prepared opening remarks, he said: “First, we will announce new steps to unlock the value of the immobilized Russian sovereign assets to benefit Ukraine and to help them recover from the destruction that Mr. Putin’s army has caused.” But when pressed for more information by a reporter, Kirby was more measured about the prospects for a deal in Italy.

“I won’t get ahead of the discussions on the frozen assets. As I said, that will be a topic of discussion. The president will continue to reiterate our desire to move in lock step with our allies and partners on using those frozen assets appropriately to help with reconstruction in Ukraine,” he said. “As I said in my opening statement, there’ll be some announcements on that. But I don’t want to get too far ahead of all that. And I certainly won’t speak for other of our G7 partners.”

The G7 agenda indicates that the seven world leaders will bounce from topic to topic to topic. For instance, the schedule begins Thursday with a session on “Africa, climate change and development” and is followed by a working lunch focused on the Middle East, before nearly two hours discussing Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Although White House officials notably have not touted any expected “deliverables” — meaning tangible new joint agreements, in diplomatic-speak — they have said some new initiatives should be rolled out in Italy.

To that end, the leaders are expected to go in-depth on the “full scope of Russia’s malign activities,” Kirby said, adding the G7 honchos intend to “announce measures to hold Russia accountable, certainly for what they’re doing in Ukraine, and to make it harder for their defense-industrial base to threaten the Ukrainian people and the [European] continent.”

Biden and other G7 leaders are expected to announce an “impactful set of new sanctions and import-control actions” on “entities and networks helping Russia procure what it needs for this war,” Kirby said.

The goal of those new economic penalties would be to “further restrict Russia’s future revenues in key sectors,” he said, adding the summit will focus on Chinese support for Moscow’s war and Beijing’s trade antics.

“We will address the PRC’s support for the Russian defense industrial base,” Kirby said. “And we will confront China’s non-market policies that are leading to harmful global spillovers, working with partners in and beyond the G7 to promote economic resilience and security.”

‘Will not be easy’

All G7 leaders will participate in a Thursday meeting with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and Biden will huddle with the wartime president one-on-one before they address the media together.

That likely will be the first time reporters will have a chance to ask Biden about his son’s guilty verdict, after which the president altered his plans and left Washington, D.C., for his Wilmington, Del., residence on Tuesday afternoon to be with his family.

Before Biden and Zelenskyy face reporters around 1:30 p.m. EDT on Thursday, some U.S. lawmakers will be watching from afar to see if the seven leaders reach agreement on the “immobilized” Russian assets.

During a June 5 Senate Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., applauded the administration’s “continued efforts to implement tough sanctions on Russia, including the price cap to reduce Russian oil revenues as Putin continues his attacks on the people of Ukraine.”

Van Hollen told Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen he had been keeping tabs on the administration’s “work to build consensus with our G7 allies on a plan to utilize the value of immobilized Russian sovereign assets to help address the issues within Ukraine.”

Yellen appeared to try managing expectations for any G7 accord on how to use the frozen assets and the interest some are earning while parked in Euroclear, a Belgium-based financial services firm. The goal at the Italy summit, she added, will be to continue “working together to try to find a way forward.”

“So that’s a flow that amounts to somewhere in the $3 [billion] to $5 billion range per year and will accrue as long as they remain immobilized,” Yellen said, referring to the interest. “We’ve been discussing the possibility of giving Ukraine the G7 loan and allowing … this flow of windfall profits to be used to pay off those, the loans that would be given. And this is an approach that seems to be commanding considerable support. So we’re hopeful that this can be worked into something to be presented to the leaders at the G7.”

But Daniel Fried, a former State Department sanctions coordinator and now an Atlantic Council fellow, noted in an article on the group’s website Tuesday that while “the upcoming G7 summit in Italy would be the time and place to reach agreement” on the frozen assets, “that will not be easy.”

“Some Europeans seem stuck in a mode of thinking that has not yet internalized Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and its ongoing aggression against other European countries through disinformation, assassination and sabotage,” according to Fried. “Neither these nor any serious economic steps against Russia are risk-free or simple; if they were, they would have been introduced already. Each will require resources to identify targets, anticipate potential risks, and enforce.”