The big idea
For Biden, America is back. But America is also first.
President Biden’s speech to the United Nations Tuesday highlighted the challenge for allies who cheered his “America is back” slogan in January, only to worry eight months later that “America First” hasn’t closed up shop, it’s just under new management.
But European partners and friends, in particular, have felt stung by some of Biden’s decisions, such as his long-foreseeable but uncompromising withdrawal from Afghanistan, which they vainly implored him to delay, but had no choice but to follow.
And now Biden is locked in a bitter feud with France, which took the historic step of pulling its ambassador from Washington after the United States, Britain and Australia surprised the world with a new security pact (“AUKUS”) that claimed a blockbuster submarine deal between Paris and Canberra as its first casualty.
Trump minus the tweets
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, normally a pretty cool customer, immediately compared Biden to Trump, just “without the tweets.”
"This unilateral, sudden and unforeseeable decision very much recalls what Mr. Trump would do," Le Drian said in an interview with France Info radio, amid cries of “treason” and “betrayal” from Paris.
In New York on Monday, Le Drian said France had thought such “unilateralism, unpredictability, brutal announcements and not respecting your partner belonged to the past,” another clear comparison to Trump.
Asked about French anger, Polish President Andrzej Duda told the Polish Press Agency's Oskar Górzyński it reminded him of Biden’s Nord Stream 2 decision, expressed sympathy with Paris, but suggested the White House was understandably pursuing U.S. interests.
"I understand that when they say it's a European problem, the French mean that if they can be treated this way, everyone else can be treated this way too. I can say the same about NS2," Duda said, according to Górzyński. "It's no wonder that the French are bitter about it and are protesting. On the other hand you could say that for the US it's a way of achieving some American interests."
Duda’s observation about American interests recalled what France’s former ambassador to Washington, the tart-tongued veteran diplomat Gérard Araud, had said about American leadership back in January, before Biden had taken the oath of office, invoking the literary image of tiny Lilliputians tying down the sailor Gulliver.
“American policy has always been ‘America First.’ Trump was “America alone.’ The United States have never been multilateralists, for fear of being ‘Gulliver constrained’ and will never be. They cooperate when it’s in their interest,” Araud tweeted.
That is, as Biden has forcefully made clear in the past, his job: To protect and expand American interests as he perceives them.
That is also, in essence, what troubles some Europeans: That Biden saw American interests as entirely compatible with surprising France, reducing its clout in the Indo-Pacific region and hurting bilateral relations in favor of invigorating cooperation with Australia to contain China, arguably his top foreign policy goal.
It’s too soon to say whether dark European warnings of reassessing relations or changing the strategic relationship will come true. Shared bedrock values and interests have acted as steadying ballast in other tempestuous moments.
But the incident has, for now at least, transformed the message from Europe.
When Biden visited Brussels back in June, European Council President Charles Michel diagnosed “America is back on the global scene” and declared “it’s great news. It’s great news for our alliance. It’s also great news for the world.”
In New York Tuesday, Michel was singing from a different hymnal. “The elementary principles for allies are transparency and trust,” he said. “And what do we observe? We are observing a clear lack of transparency and loyalty.”
So when Biden told the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday he believes a “fundamental truth” of 21st Century foreign policy is “our own success is bound up with others succeeding as well,” the French probably heard something different.
What's happening now
Biden is set to meet with Democrats today as he works to keep his party united around the $4 trillion agenda. “He is expected to meet with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, as well as lawmakers from across the ideological range of his caucus, according to people familiar with the plans,” the New York Times’s Emily Cochrane reports. The list of Democrats participating includes Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), per Cochrane.
Biden is set to play peacemaker for the Democrats’ warring factions – centrists and progressives, Politico’s Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris write. “I hope he is the secret sauce,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said.
Lunchtime reads from The Post
Economic heavyweights not making headway with McConnell on debt ceiling
Two former GOP treasury secretaries tried defusing the debt ceiling bomb in private talks with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. They said McConnell won’t budge. “The previously unreported talks involving the GOP economic grandees — Henry Paulson, who served as treasury secretary under President Bush; and Steven Mnuchin, treasury secretary under President Trump — did not resolve the matter and the U.S. is now racing toward a massive fiscal cliff with no clear resolution at hand,” Jeff Stein scoops.
- More inside-the-rooms details: “Paulson met with McConnell in his office in the U.S. Capitol last week and discussed the debt limit standoff … Paulson primarily listened to McConnell’s views on the matter as the Senate GOP leader made clear he was not bluffing about Democrats having to raise the debt limit without Republican support. Paulson expressed in the meeting a high degree of concern about the dangers and likelihood of a federal default and its implications for the global economy, the people said.
- Not bluffing: “After the discussion, Paulson told the Biden administration that McConnell is serious that Democrats must approve the debt ceiling hike on their own through the budget reconciliation process … Mnuchin called McConnell the week of Sept. 6 amid intensifying fears about the debt limit standoff, two other people familiar with the matter said. … Mnuchin also told the Biden administration that McConnell is not bluffing about Democrats needing to approve the matter on their own …"
- Yellen's role: “Yellen has personally spoken with McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) about the debt ceiling impasse … Yellen has made other calls to senior congressional Democrats and Republicans about the debt limit. But her conversations have focused on the economic consequences of default, not the mechanics of approving legislation through Congress.”
Kim Jong Un’s shift from nuclear development toward modernizing and expanding North Korea’s economy intensified internal debates in the country, a new report shows, Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports. “Those who supported greater defense spending on the military and nuclear programs — widely viewed by the North’s leadership as critical leverage with the world — made the case that investing in defense is actually good for the civilian economy. Meanwhile, the gloves were practically off among those who wanted to see greater spending on civilians.”
… and beyond
- Trump’s red, white and blue Air Force One paint job is not final — and is being delayed by supply chain issues. A top Air Force general said a final decision on the color will be made closer to when the planes enter service, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports. The Air Force is still evaluating how late Boeing will deliver the two planes, since the company says it’s having problems with a subcontractor related to supply chain issues that could delay the project another year.
- Speaking of supply chain issues — do most of us even know what that means? Not really, writes the Atlantic’s Amanda Mull. “Americans are habitually unattuned to the massive and profoundly human apparatus that brings us basically everything in our lives. Much of the country’s pandemic response has treated us as somehow separate from the rest of the world and the challenges it endures, but unpredictably empty shelves, rising prices, and long waits are just more proof of how foolish that belief has always been.”
More on the Biden agenda
Gallup: Biden's approval ratings sink to 43 percent
Biden’s job approval fell six percentage points to the lowest level in his presidency.
- According to a new Gallup poll, Biden’s approval fell to 43 percent. For the first time, a majority of Americans – 53 percent – now disapprove of his performance. The poll was conducted earlier this month, after the U.S. military evacuated more than 120,000 people from Adghanistan.
Biden will call France’s Emmanuel Macron today in a separate attempt at playing peacemaker
- Macron is seeking “clarification” on the Australian submarine dispute, France24 reports. “The call between Macron and Biden would be an opportunity to ‘clarify both the way in which this announcement was made and the way for an American re-engagement in its relationship with an ally,’ spokesman Gabriel Attal said after a French cabinet meeting.”
- “The White House would not confirm the expected conversation, but a U.S. official elsewhere said it would take place,” Anne Gearan, Rick Noack, John Hudson and Adam Taylor report. “The White House has said that Biden requested a conversation to ease tension caused by the announcement a week ago that the United States would sell nuclear submarines to Australia. “
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) sent miles of cars to the border to deter migrants
- “The ‘steel wall’ of cars, as Abbott called it, is only the latest of the stark images coming from the crisis unfolding in Del Rio, Tex., where nearly 15,000 border crossers, many Haitians living in Chile and other South American nations, have arrived,” Adela Suliman reports.
- “[Abbott] slammed the Biden administration while insisting his state would continue to take action, including by injecting $2 billion toward border security funding. ‘It has been the state of Texas that has had to step up,’ Abbott said.”
- “As Biden confronts external attacks from Abbott and other Republicans portraying his policies as weak and ineffective, many immigrant rights activists have said that Biden has not lived up to his campaign vows to defend vulnerable foreigners seeking a better life in the United States.”
- The U.S. is preparing to nearly double deportations to Haiti as some returnees decry being shackled. “Several deportees — including one who arrived Monday and five others who arrived Tuesday — said they and ‘many’ other deportees had been shackled during transit, including on flights, with one describing it as being chained ‘like a slave,’” Widlore Merancourt, Anthony Faiola and Nick Miroff report. “International agencies were told earlier Tuesday that the United States would begin ramping up to as many as seven flights daily, divided between Port-au-Prince and Haiti’s second-largest city, Cap-Haïtien, starting [today].”
The U.S. will buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to donate to countries in need, Biden will announce
- “The Biden administration already purchased 500 million doses of the vaccine in July to be distributed in tranches to poorer countries through Covax,” the global initiative, Annabelle Timsit reports. Biden will make the announcement during a virtual summit today.
- “This is a monumental commitment by the United States, bringing our total number of donated vaccines to the world to more than 1.1 billion,” White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients and Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote in an op-ed in The Post this morning. “For every one shot we’ve put in an American arm to date, we are now donating about three shots globally.”
- The summit, hosted by the White House, is broken into four parts, with the first on the need to vaccinate the world chaired by Biden. “Vice President Harris will host the third session, on financing a global system to fight future threats,” Dan Diamond reports. “The final session, which will be chaired by Blinken, will challenge global leaders to take additional actions, led by the United States.”
Pressure is growing on U.S. companies, particularly Moderna, to share their coronavirus vaccine technology
- Talks on this issue led to an agreement with Pfizer, which will be providing the 500 million vaccine doses at a not-for-profit price that Biden will announce today, the Times’s Stephanie Nolen and Sheryl Gay Stolberg report.
- But the discussions with Moderna have not been fruitful, a White House official said. The official “expressed deep frustration with the company.” “The World Health Organization has also had trouble getting Moderna to the negotiating table, according to Dr. Martin Friede, a W.H.O. official, and Charles Gore, who runs a United Nations-backed nonprofit organization.”
Who’s winning the U.S.-China tech race, visualized
Most lawmakers, tech experts and businesspeople agree that the United States is facing mounting technology competition from China. Some of the rivalry is still at an early stage, involving emerging fields such as quantum computing and artificial intelligence. But in industries including smartphones, drones and electric vehicles, Chinese companies are gaining ground — or already are far ahead. Here’s other nine charts that show who’s winning the tech race.
Hot on the left
If Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill dies in Congress, it will be because moderate Democrats killed it, writes Times columnist Jamelle Bouie. “Progressive Democrats want the bill to pass, even if it isn’t as large as they would like. They believe, correctly, that a win for Biden is a win for them. Moderate Democrats, however, seem to think that their success depends on their distance from the president and his progressive allies. Their obstruction might hurt Biden, but, they seem to believe, it won’t hurt them.”
Hot on the right
Rep. Liz Cheney’s reelection bid is pitting Trump against George W. Bush. Former President Bush’s first campaign event of the 2022 midterms will be a fundraiser to support the Wyoming Republican, the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender and Kristina Peterson report. Cheney is among Trump’s top targets to replace in the upcoming elections. So far, however, Cheney has “responded to Mr. Trump’s attacks with the two best fundraising quarters of her political career.”
Today in Washington
Biden is speaking at a virtual coronavirus summit on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly. He will later meet with members of the House and Senate to discuss the infrastructure act and his agenda.
It's the first day of fall, and the critters over at the National Zoo know it:
The autumnal equinox arrives at 3:21 p.m. Eastern, so prepare for 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.
Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.