NUSA DUA, Indonesia — When many analysts predicted a Republican sweep shortly before the midterms, some Democrats worried it would undermine President Biden’s message on the world stage that the United States is back as leader of the world’s democracies.
“How can I say this tactfully? I think the election held in the United States … has sent a very strong message around the world that the United States is ready to play,” Biden said after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. “The Republicans who survived, along with the Democrats, are of the view that we’re going to stay fully engaged in the world and that we, in fact, know what we’re about.”
White House officials said that as Biden met with Southeast Asian leaders in Cambodia, they often remarked with great specificity and knowledge about the U.S. midterm elections, which delivered Democrats a stronger-than-expected showing.
Before his highly anticipated meeting with Xi, Biden said he was going in “stronger” after Democrats clinched control of the Senate on Sunday. And as he emerged from the meeting, the president said voters had sent a clear message to the world.
“The American people proved once again that democracy is who we are,” Biden said. “That is a strong rejection of election deniers at every level, from those seeking to lead our states and those who seek to serve in Congress and also those seeking to oversee the elections.”
Many of the candidates most vocal in falsely questioning Biden’s win in 2020, and in declining to commit to honoring election results in the future, lost their races Tuesday. But several key contests remain unsettled, and most on both sides still expect the Republicans to take control of the House, albeit narrowly.
Biden conceded Monday that he did not think Democrats would maintain control of the House — “I think we’re going to get very close, but I don’t think we’re going to make it,” he said.
Trump is expected shortly to announce another presidential bid, an event that will test Biden’s attempts to move the United States past Trump’s challenges to democracy and long-standing norms.
While Biden has not responded to Trump’s plans since he left for Asia on Thursday, he commented on the state of the Republican Party as its internal finger-pointing unfolded.
“I think the Republican Party is going to have to make like our parties in the past have done — it’s going to have to decide who they are,” Biden said earlier this week.
Some GOP leaders have taken issue with what they depict as Biden’s assertion that if Republicans win, it means American democracy has lost.
The interplay between domestic politics and global diplomacy has emerged as a major theme of Biden’s trip. In Egypt, he asserted the U.S. commitment to fighting climate change; in Cambodia, he sought to counter China’s influence in Asia; in Indonesia, he is signaling U.S. leadership of the world’s democracies.
All of those messages would have been far harder to deliver had Trump and his supporters appeared to be surging toward a return to power.
That could still happen in two years, but for now Biden and his aides have been triumphant as they circumnavigated the globe over the past several days. Before the president began his second day of meetings in Cambodia on Sunday, networks called Nevada for Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D), cementing Democratic control of the Senate even before the Georgia runoff election in December.
The White House considered it especially important that Biden was able to meet Xi on Monday as the leader of a country whose democratic values, it argued, had just been confirmed instead of repudiated.
While the United States still faces considerable political volatility — the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was assaulted with a hammer in their home days before the midterms — Biden said voters made clear their disdain for political violence.
White House aides said they have heard repeatedly from allies and competitors that they followed the U.S. election results in great detail, scrutinizing them for signs of which way the American political winds are blowing.
“It’s interesting to see how closely all of the leaders from these different countries, including leaders from countries that are not themselves democracies, very closely follow American politics — right down to state races that they’re all quite familiar with, surprisingly,” Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, told reporters.
Another senior adviser said the results “allowed us to come to these meetings with the wind at our backs.” The adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic interactions, also said it was among the first things foreign officials commented on — both “the conduct of the election and general expression of the acceptance of democracy.”
The midterm elections unfolded in a global landscape that has seen far-right figures gain support, if not always full power, in countries from Italy to France and Brazil to Hungary.
Biden’s tone was a shift for a president who has often recounted going abroad just after becoming president and attempting to convince a skeptical world that the United States was still prepared to lead the free world, despite Trump’s chaotic presidency and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“America is back,” he has recounted telling the leaders of the Group of 7 industrialized democracies. “And one of them turned to me and said, ‘For how long? For how long?’ It was a deadly earnest question: ‘For how long?’”
Another leader, he said, suggested the analogy of an attack on Parliament in Britain. “What would you all think?” Biden said last week. “You’d think England was really in trouble. You’d think democracy was on the edge if that happened in Great Britain.”
The question on the world’s mind, Biden said on the eve of this foreign trip, was: “Are we the same democracy we’ve always been?”
If that was a bit of an open question last week, Biden seemed to have a firmer answer this week following additional election results coming in and some election deniers conceding.
“What these elections showed is that there is a deep and unwavering commitment in America to preserving and protecting and defending democracy,” Biden said.