Biden mounts midterm validation in high-stakes meeting with Xi |  CNN Politics

Biden mounts midterm validation in high-stakes meeting with Xi | CNN Politics


Thirty-seven minutes after wrapping up a late-night gala dinner with Asian leaders — punctuated by plates of wild Mekong lobster and saraman beef — an aide handed President Joe Biden the phone.

At the other end of the line was David Trone, the millionaire wine retailer from Maryland who was thousands of miles away and in a 12-hour time zone and had just won another term in the House.

The call wasn’t long, a person familiar with him said, but reflected the warmth and enthusiasm Biden had displayed dozens of times in calls to winning candidates over the past week – each reinforcing yet another midterm election that radically reshaped the dominant view of his presidency.

“There was nobody not running on what we did,” Biden told reporters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, shortly after the Democrats won another two years of Senate control — and one more. another round of congratulatory calls. “So I feel good and I’m looking forward to the next two years.”

As Washington grapples with the national repercussions of a voter-induced electoral earthquake that has kept the Senate in Democratic hands and put the inevitability of Republican House control on shaky ground, the most important short-term effect is palpable here, in Biden’s long-term. -planned trip abroad where the first face-to-face with Chinese President Xi Jinping is looming.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan provided insight into the dynamics of the moment, noting that “many leaders took note of the midterm election results, approached the President to engage him and say that they were following them closely. ”

As Biden met with Asian leaders ahead of his meeting with Xi, those conversations provided a critical boost.

“I would say a theme that emerged over the two days was the theme of the strength of American democracy and what this election said about American democracy,” Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One. as Biden traveled from Phnom Penh to Bali, Indonesia, for the G20 Summit.

White House officials, even those who braced for losses in the weeks leading up to Election Day, set aside any reluctance to use their Twitter accounts or TV interviews to call out the pundits and politicians who had predicted opposite.

It’s a reflection — both overseas and back in Washington — of a team that officials say feels consistently underappreciated and has long coveted unambiguous success after a relentless, tainted first 21 months in office. crisis.

But halfway around the world, Biden’s advisers say there was a tangible effect of election results that, if consistent with historical trends, threatened to undermine his position ahead of the most important meeting of his first two years.

White House officials had circled the G-20 as a likely meeting with Xi for months. There were intensive preparations between the two parties before the public announcement of the engagement. The precarious state of the relationship necessitated a meeting, regardless of domestic politics.

In the weeks leading up to the election, White House advisers downplayed the effect sweeping midterm losses would have on the weight of Biden’s presence and message abroad, citing the same historical trends. which they would overthrow later.

But privately, several people familiar with the matter said there was a realization of the potential split-screen of a US president grappling with his party’s political defeat at the same time Xi arrives in Bali for the summit. of his power following the Community Party Congress, in which he secured an unprecedented third term in office.

“Perception matters, as does political stance,” a US official said. “It’s not the be-all and end-all, and it’s never been a central focus or driving momentum, but we’re well aware that everyone around the world was watching this election.”

Far from being a liability, however, each of the congratulatory calls home underscored the wind blowing at the back of a president entering the meeting with Xi at a time when US-China relations appear to be drifting apart. from great power competition to the inevitable conflict.

When asked if the results put him in a stronger position heading into the game, Biden didn’t hesitate.

“I know I’m stronger,” Biden said, before noting that given his longstanding relationship with Xi formed when he was their country’s vice president, the results were not a necessary for the meeting to achieve its objectives. U.S. officials are also careful not to overstate the effect on a trip — and in a region — where the layers of complexity and challenges far outweigh what voters decide in a congressional district or swing state.

Yet Biden is not subtle about his overarching view of the geopolitical issues of a moment he has repeatedly touted as a generational “tipping point,” centering on the battle between democracy and autocracy.

While his advisers have moved to frame this construct broadly, Biden has made it clear that the primary autocracy driving strategy and policy in nearly every corner of his administration is Xi’s China.

Implicit in a White House mood that only seemed to grow more buoyant with each new day of races called, the election results prove that Biden’s theory on the affair works, to some extent, than a landscape American policy that has served to rattle allies and foes alike over the past few years has, in fact, stabilized.

Biden has placed high-stakes competition with China at the center of his engagements with foreign leaders, urging allies by phone and in person to take a tougher line. US officials have sought new avenues to gain the upper hand in the proxy economic and technological competition taking place between the two powers over developing regions and neutral parties.

But officials have also experienced unmistakable – and according to many, understandable – hesitation.

“What I find is that they want to know: is the United States stable? Do we know what we are talking about? Are we the same democracy that we have always been? Biden said during his post-election press conference when describing his conversations with world leaders.

Until Election Day, allies and foes alike were largely compelled to take Biden at his word when he tried to answer those questions with an emphatic “yes.”

Former President Donald Trump, whose campaign lies led to the assault on the US Capitol, had not gone away and he remained the most powerful figure in the Republican Party.

Biden had navigated the narrowest majorities in Congress to pass a far-reaching national agenda, part of which was carried out on a bipartisan basis. Yet it still held an approval rating in the 1940s, weighed down by four decades of high inflation and a population depleted by years of crisis after crisis.

The possibility that Biden would face the same harsh judgment from his first two years in office as nearly all of his recent predecessors wasn’t just likely. It was expected.

Instead, as he moved through bilateral meetings and sideshows, gala dinners and summit meetings, Biden’s own political rationale served another purpose for his approach on the world stage. : the validation.

Biden “believes it establishes a strong position for him on the international stage and we’ve seen that I think I’m playing lively today,” Sullivan told reporters after Biden left the ASEAN-US summit, then that Xi’s meeting was looming. “I think we’ll see that the same way as we head into both the G20 and its bilateral engagements in Bali.”

Biden’s last day in Phnom Penh included a side meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and critical meetings with the leaders of Japan and South Korea – all of which included a focus on China.

But in between, he found a few minutes to pick up the phone.

Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, who faced a tough re-election battle in a redesigned district, had won another term. Biden was to pass on his congratulations.

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