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Amid heightened post-debate scrutiny, Biden hosts NATO leaders

Facing calls from some in his party to drop reelection bid, Biden to host NATO summit

President Joe Biden makes his way to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on May 29, 2024.
President Joe Biden makes his way to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on May 29, 2024. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

There’s no whirlwind overseas trip for President Joe Biden ahead of his scheduled Thursday news conference. But that’s because the world is coming to him.

Still facing criticism for his poor performance in the June 27 debate against former President Donald Trump, and with Democrats still pondering whether or not the incumbent president is the best candidate, Biden will host leaders from across NATO for a summit marking the 75th anniversary of the formation of the alliance.

Events are scheduled at venues across Washington including at the convention center and the White House, as well as the Mellon Auditorium, which is where the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in 1949.

At this summit — domestically and overseas — all eyes will be on Biden, who insists he’s staying in the race.

“I’m not advising this campaign, but if I were, I would probably suggest that the president get out there and do a town hall, that he do a press conference, that he show the country that he is still the old Joe Biden, one of the best retail politicians this country has ever seen. The president says he can do that,” Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., said Sunday on CNN. “I trust that he can.”

Murphy has not been among the handful of lawmakers who have called for Biden to cede the Democratic nomination in the wake of the debate performance and an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

The ABC interview took place on the presidential campaign trail in Wisconsin, and Biden was also in Pennsylvania over the weekend. He has other battleground stops coming up, including in Michigan and Nevada.

“This election is going to be about block and tackle and simple, basic politics,” Biden said Sunday in Philadelphia.

“There’s only one person in this country who has kicked Trump’s ass in an election, and that is your president,” Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., who was traveling with the president Sunday, said during that stop. “I know what it’s like to have a rough debate, and I’m standing here as your senator.”

Fetterman had a widely panned debate performance after suffering a stroke in 2022, but he ultimately defeated Republican Mehmet Oz with a clear margin of victory.

Asked whether Biden remains fit for the job of president, John Kirby, White House national security communications adviser, said Monday that world leaders know what the incumbent commander in chief has accomplished.

“What I can tell you is what I saw in that debate is not reflective of the man and the leader and the commander in chief that I have spent many, many hours with the last 2 1/2 years,” he said.

“This morning, he was asking me questions about the European continent I couldn’t answer and I told him I had to get back to him,” Kirby added. He said Biden typically seeks “specificity” on a number of issues.

Biden told Democratic governors last week he intends to hold fewer events after 8 p.m. Asked if the National Security Council has ever put off giving the president information at night out of fears he might be unable to process it, Kirby replied, “no.”

Giles Austin, senior analyst for North America at Oxford Analytica, which like CQ Roll Call is owned by FiscalNote, wrote in a daily brief Monday, “Discussion of Biden’s health and competency since last month’s presidential debate not only make the prospect of a Trump victory more likely but raise concerns about the current administration’s stability in the coming months, including its ability to focus on foreign affairs.”

Biden is far from the only NATO leader facing new political circumstances at the moment.

French President Emmanuel Macron is facing the prospect of a hung parliament after the left won the most seats in Sunday’s snap election.

And British Prime Minister Keir Starmer will be appearing for the first time in his new role, after leading the Labour Party to a landslide victory in July 4 elections. Biden and Starmer held a call on Friday, according to the White House. And Starmer is scheduled to hold meetings with congressional leaders including Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., during his time in Washington.

The NATO festivities kick off Tuesday evening with a commemoration event at the Mellon Auditorium. The official said Biden will officially welcome Sweden to the alliance on Wednesday before hosting NATO leaders for a White House dinner.

“When President Biden assumed office, he made it his mission to restore America’s standing on the world stage and revitalize and rebuild our alliances and partnerships, most especially NATO. He’s worked to expand the alliance by welcoming two new members, Sweden and Finland,” the official said.

“And he rallied the alliance to build a global coalition to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has shattered peace in Europe and shaken the rules-based international order, posing the greatest threat to transatlantic security in decades, if not longer.”

John T. Bennett contributed to this report.