President Biden strode into Europe a year ago declaring “America is back,” but now he is making the rounds at a summit in Germany as a hobbled leader while Western allies openly take swipes at the U.S.
Mr. Biden arrived in the Bavarian Alps for a summit with the heads of six other leading industrial nations in what is known as the Group of Seven. He is trying to reaffirm world leaders’ support for Ukraine as it continues to fend off Russian invaders.
That message has been undercut by Mr. Biden’s domestic woes, which have left him much weaker than he was at last year’s summit. He is bogged down with abysmally low approval ratings as voters rage against soaring food and gasoline prices. A possible recession is looming, and the president’s party is at risk of losing control of the House and Senate in the November elections.
The rest of the world also is eyeing Congress’ Jan. 6 committee, which is investigating what Democrats call an “insurrection” against the U.S. government. There is also the scourge of mass shootings and gun violence across America.
As Mr. Biden left for Europe last week, the Supreme Court dropped a bombshell decision overturning the 1973 ruling that guaranteed women’s access to abortion, which sparked fierce protests across the U.S. and drew condemnation from abroad.
“I think Europeans no doubt look at the U.S. domestic situation with a degree of dread,” Max Bergmann, director of the Europe Program at the private Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Associated Press. “It’s sort of the best of times, the worst of times.”
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The White House insisted that the abortion issue would not overshadow the G-7 summit.
“There are real national security issues here that have to be discussed, and the president’s not at all concerned that the Supreme Court’s decision is going to take away from that at all,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
Comments by the heads of other G-7 nations proved otherwise.
Several leaders who have strong relationships with the U.S. took the unusual move of weighing in on domestic matters. Among the harshest critics were leaders who stood shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Biden as the summit kicked off.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the Supreme Court decision “horrific” and “a devastating setback.” He said he can’t imagine “the fear and anger” American women are feeling.
“No government, politician or man should tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body. I want women in Canada to know that we will always stand up for your right to choose,” he said.
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French President Emmanuel Macron declared abortion “a fundamental right” that must be protected. He accused the Supreme Court of undermining women’s liberties.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the ruling “a big step backward,” and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the decision shows “there is still a long way to go for gender justice.”
“Women’s rights are threatened. We must defend them resolutely,” Mr. Scholz said.
Even as the White House tries to downplay the Supreme Court’s impact on the G-7 allies, Mr. Biden said the decision makes the U.S. an “outlier” with some of the most stringent abortion restrictions among developed nations.
Mr. Macron’s party said last week that it would act to codify the right to abortion in the French Constitution. Meanwhile, Germany’s parliament abolished a law that banned doctors from advertising abortion services.
Even as Mr. Biden fiercely condemns the Supreme Court decision and vows to protect women’s access to abortion, he is confronted with the stark reality that there is little he can do. Democrats’ slim majorities in the House and Senate make codifying abortion access nearly impossible, and there is little he could accomplish through an executive order.
The controversy surrounding Mr. Biden underscores the stark contrast from last year’s G-7 summit in England. Mr. Biden’s approval rating stood at 53%, and he was widely praised for distributing COVID-19 vaccines.
Other world leaders hailed Mr. Biden as a welcome relief after four tumultuous years of sparring with President Trump.
Mr. Biden declared “America is back” and offered words of friendship to U.S. allies.
Yet a series of setbacks have dented Mr. Biden’s standing overseas. His social welfare and climate agendas are stalled, and the window is closing to get anything through Congress before the midterm elections.
Mr. Biden also has sustained criticism for his handling of a baby formula shortage and rising gas prices. Some Democrats are questioning whether he should seek a second term.
The president’s public approval rating fell for a fourth week to 36%, matching its lowest level last seen in May, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released last week. The president’s approval rating has stayed below 50% since August.
Soaring inflation isn’t threatening just Mr. Biden’s reelection chances. It could also undermine G-7 leaders’ ability to take further action against Russia. European nations have deep economic and trade ties with Moscow, which supplied the continent with most of its energy before the war.
The G-7 leaders are mulling a proposed cap on Russian oil to slash Moscow’s revenue, which is financing its war in Ukraine. The discussions have hit delays, however, and White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said it’s unclear whether a deal would be reached within weeks or months.
“The single biggest factor here is this is not something that can be pulled off the shelf as a tried and true method. … It is a new kind of concept to deal with a particularly novel challenge, which is how to effectively deal with a country that’s selling millions of barrels of oil a day,” Mr. Sullivan said.
Mr. Biden isn’t the only G-7 leader bogged down with inflation.
Mr. Macron lost his majority in parliament this month because of economic woes in France. In the United Kingdom, Mr. Johnson’s popularity has been dented by rising food prices and inflation that has topped 9%.