G-20: Biden says US is 'the most critical part' of global leaders' agenda
ROME – The United States is the most important player in addressing a pressing global agenda that includes ending the coronavirus pandemic, ensuring a strong and equitable economic recovery and addressing the climate crisis, President Joe Biden said Sunday as he finished three days of meetings with foreign leaders in Italy before heading to a second round in Scotland.
“Everyone sought me out,” Biden told reporters at a news conference. “The United States of America is the most critical part of this entire agenda.”
It’s Biden’s second foreign trip as president, and it comes as he is trying to reinvigorate U.S. leadership in the world while the bulk of his domestic agenda is pending in Congress – raising questions about whether he can deliver on promises.
“It’s going to pass. But we’ll see,” Biden said, referring to a major infrastructure bill and a package of social spending and climate measures to meet the nation’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions.
Biden said he found an eagerness for American leadership to help bring the world together – what he called “the power of America showing up and working with our allies.”
But Biden still has to prove he can work with his own party's majority in Congress to get things done.
The House could vote as early as Tuesday on the multitrillion-dollar legislative packages that comprise much of Biden’s ambitious domestic agenda.
House passage would give Biden a big win as he returns to the United States, though the president would have preferred that the bills had cleared the House before he left. That could have helped Biden pressure other countries to make new commitments to tackle climate change.
As he left the news conference, Biden didn’t directly respond to a reporter asking whether he has commitments from two key moderate senators to support the social spending and climate change measure if it passes the House.
Asked earlier if he could definitely tell the world that the United States will meet the goal of cutting carbon emissions in half by 2030, Biden had responded: "Yes, I can."
Tuesday is also when Virginia voters will pick their next governor. If Democrats lose the race, which is closer than expected, it could complicate efforts to pass the packages and would hurt the party going into next year’s midterm elections.
“The polls are going to go up and down, and up and down,” Biden said when asked about the challenges he faces, including recent polls showing he has lost support.
He started the trip with a meeting with Pope Francis that drew extra attention because of a push from conservative Catholics to deny Holy Communion to public officials like Biden who support abortion rights. After the meeting, Biden said Francis told him he should continue receiving that sacrament.
Asked what it meant to have the pope call him a good Catholic, an emotional Biden focused on the relationship he has developed with Francis over the years, particularly when the pontiff consoled the Biden family after his elder son died of cancer.
"This a man who has great empathy," Biden said. "He is a man who understands that part of his Christianity is to reach out and to forgive. And so I just find my relationship with him one that I personally take great solace in."
From G-20 to COP26
Biden and other leaders who attended the Group of 20 summit in Rome now head to Glasgow for the U.N. Climate Change Conference.
Britain’s Prince Charles warned on Sunday that the conference is “quite literally” the last chance to save the planet from the ravages of climate change.
“As the future of humanity and nature herself are at stake, it is surely time to set aside our differences and grasp this unique opportunity to launch a sustainable green recovery,” Charles said.
Biden was expected to speak at the conference on Monday.
Charles’ remarks served as a prelude to the climate change conference and came as G-20 leaders prepared to hold conversations on the role of the private sector in fighting climate change and on the need for sustainable development.
G-20 countries, which represent more than three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, are looking for common ground on how to reduce emissions while helping poor countries deal with the consequences of rising temperatures.
Biden, who has made fighting climate change a priority for his administration, said a deal between the U.S. and the European Union to relax tariffs on aluminum and steel also would help combat climate change. The tariffs, imposed by then-President Donald Trump, have been a source of friction between the U.S. and its European allies.
The agreement, announced Saturday, calls for the U.S. to allow some European steel and aluminum to enter the country tariff-free. Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a joint appearance Sunday that the deal would address climate change by discouraging steel and aluminum production that generates high levels of carbon emissions.
Biden said the agreement would restrict access to “dirty steel” from places like China.
“We can reject the false idea that we can't grow our economy and support American workers while tackling the climate crisis,” he said. “We can do all three of those things. We can and we must do both.”
Biden, Erdogan meet
Biden started the second and final day of the G-20 by meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who came close to creating a crisis last week when he threatened to expel 10 ambassadors from his country. The diplomats, including the U.S. envoy, had called for the release of jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala, who has been held in prison since 2017 even though he has not been convicted of a crime.
Erdogan backed down from his threat, but Biden was expected to raise the issue during his meeting with the Turkish president.
“We’re planning to have a good conversation,” Biden told reporters as he headed into the meeting.
Afterward, the White House issued a statement that said Biden underscored for Erdogan the desire "to maintain constructive relations, expand areas of cooperation and manage our disagreements effectively."
G-20 leaders back corporate tax
On Saturday, the opening day of the G-20 leaders' first in-person summit in two years, Biden and other leaders threw their support behind a 15% global minimum corporate tax.
The tax plan is part of a dramatic restructuring of the international tax system that is intended to make sure big companies pay their fair share and keep them from hiding their profits in lower-tax jurisdictions.
The endorsement is a victory of sorts for Biden, who is pushing Congress to pass a 15% minimum tax on corporate earnings to help pay for his package of climate change and social safety measures.
Also Saturday, G-20 leaders discussed COVID-19 vaccine distribution and other ways to prevent another global health crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 5 million people worldwide, including more than 743,000 Americans.
Only 3% of people who live in the poorest countries have been vaccinated, while 70% of people who live in wealthy countries have gotten at least one shot – a gap that the summit’s host, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, denounced as “morally unacceptable.”
In addition, Biden met Saturday with three European allies – German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson – to chart a path forward on negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
Afterward, the four leaders issued a joint statement reiterating their determination to see that Iran can never develop or acquire a nuclear weapon.
Biden’s advisers have been trying to revive a 2015 agreement that limited Iran’s ability to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels. Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018. Iran stopped complying with the pact, and negotiations to restart the agreement stalled in June after Ebrahim Raisi’s election as president of Iran.
In their statement, Biden and the three European allies urged Raisi “to seize this opportunity” and finish the talks.
Michael Collins and Maureen Groppe cover the White House. Follow them on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS and @mgroppe.
Contributing: The Associated Press