Joe Biden will this week confront two relentless forces that could seriously hamper his presidency: Vladimir Putin and Capitol Hill deadlock. Both will test the President's leverage and ability to fulfill his agenda of restoring American global leadership and enacting one of the most ambitious economic transformations at home in generations.
The first goal was advanced by the G7 summit, in which Biden proved he was more than just the anti-Donald Trump. The meeting closed with a commitment to provide a billion doses of Covid vaccines to the developing world, an agreement on thwarting tax evasion by multinational corporations and unity on human rights abuses in China.
Of course, the real test of G7 summits comes when the leaders go back home. The vaccine pledge is for instance just a drop in the bucket of what is needed. A tough line on China will try trans-Atlantic unity. But the democratic world did show relief at working with an American president again and embraced his aspirations. Now, the US leader turns his attention, after the NATO summit in Brussels, to Putin.
Russia's aggressive posture towards the US and a spate of ransomware attacks emanating from its soil have exposed Biden to considerable criticism at home for meeting Putin at all. The President says the Geneva summit will test whether a more stable and productive relationship is possible with a nation that US intelligence accuses of interfering in the last two US elections. But even Biden isn't convinced it's going to work.
"There's no guarantee you can change a person's behavior," Biden said on Sunday. "Autocrats have enormous power and they don't have to answer to a public. The fact is that it very well may be that if I respond in kind, which I will, that it doesn't dissuade him -- he wants to keep going."
Things don't get much easier when Biden files home. Senate Republican Minority leader Mitch McConnell has established a position of total obstruction against Biden and it is possible he could scupper last-ditch compromise talks on a bipartisan infrastructure bill the President is eyeing as a big win. And the concessions Biden will be forced to make to woo GOP support might make it difficult to get all his Democrats on board in a tightly balanced Congress.
No one said it's easy being President.
Next stop, NATO
Biden has moved on from Cornwall to Brussels, where he'll meet with NATO partners on Monday.
Some simple courtesy could go a long way toward reinforcing the defense alliance after years of corrosive behavior by his predecessor. The US became something of a dreaded presence at summits after then-President Donald Trump repeatedly berated fellow leaders over their financial contributions, and in 2017 even shoved Montenegro's Prime Minister Dusko Markovic just to reach the front of the group.
Trump has left the White House. But his scandals keep on coming.
The scale of the political corruption and anti-democratic behavior that defined his presidency are still becoming clear. And they are pretty stunning. It has emerged that the Trump Justice Department obtained subpoenas to seize the email data of several top Democratic members of the House of Representatives who were investigating his earlier abuses of power. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Rep. Eric Swalwell, both of California, only found out about the investigation when the subpoenas to Apple to get their data recently expired. The sweep for data also included some of their staff, family members and even the email account of a child.
The latest revelation followed CNN's disclosure that its Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr was swept up in a separate investigation, and that the company battled the Justice Department in a secret court battle for months. The Department imposed a gag order on CNN's general counsel David Vigilante, prohibiting him from sharing details about the government's efforts with anyone outside the network's President and a small group of attorneys.
Reporters from the New York Times and Washington Post have also been informed that email or phone records were seized by the Department in separate leak investigations. The revelations appear to indicate yet more examples of the Trump team shattering the barrier of independence supposed to exist between the Justice Department and the White House. All of the targets involved in these investigations were exposing earlier alleged transgressions by the President. This sure looks like an intimidation campaign against his perceived enemies.
The question now is which officials were involved? Was this all orchestrated by Trump? And are the cases we have seen emerge just the first indications of a much wider scandal?
Democrats who run Congressional committees are pledging to find out. And a familiar dilemma is coming into view. Will Republicans choose to stand up for the rule of law and democracy? Or will they yet again shield the man who is still their party's effective leader -- and who is dreaming of a White House comeback?
The first G7 Summit under President Biden's Presidency was a return to a "familiar language" said French President Emmanuel Macron Sunday. "For four years we have, not only us Europeans, but also with our Canadian and Japanese partners in the G7, done everything possible to ensure that the world order in which we believe can continue to function," he said.
After previous tense summits involving former US President Donald Trump, he added, the summit which concluded Sunday has "shown that we have rediscovered a language that is more familiar to us, where developed economies, whatever their disagreements on regional issues...nevertheless share the essential and have the will to coordinate to defend their values, the reform of their systems and their ability to act together in the face of the great contemporary challenges."