G20, G21, Whatever It Takes
The G20 gathering of world leaders included American President Joe Biden, but it was the absence of two major world players and lack of concrete progress that left many unimpressed.
Buoyed by a three-day return to the interpersonal negotiations that have defined his political career and still overcome emotionally by an extended Friday audience with Pope Francis, Mr. Biden shook off questions about his sagging poll numbers at home and projected new optimism for his teetering domestic policy agenda.
He acknowledged contradictions and stumbling blocks to his long-term ambitions on issues like reducing greenhouse gas emissions with a smile. And he claimed significant progress from a summit that produced one large victory for his administration — the endorsement of a global pact to set minimum corporate tax rates — along with a deal between the United States and Europe that will lift tariffs including those on European steel and aluminum.
In other areas, like climate change and restoring a nuclear accord with Iran, the summit produced few concrete actions.
But the president told reporters repeatedly that the weekend had shown the power of American engagement on the world stage, and that it had renewed relationships that frayed under his predecessor, Donald J. Trump.
“They listened,” Mr. Biden said. “Everyone sought me out. They wanted to know what our views were. We helped lead what happened here. The United States of America is the most critical part of this entire agenda and we did it.”
In the course of his Roman holiday, Mr. Biden sought to patch up relations with the French over a soured submarine deal, to bask in the blessing of the tax deal that his administration pushed over the line after years of talks, and to galvanize more ambitious climate commitments ahead of a global conference in Glasgow, Scotland, that he was traveling to next.
The president left behind the chaos and disappointments of Washington, where recent surveys show that voter disapproval is mounting over his performance in office and that Democrats remain divided over a pair of bills that would spend a combined $3 trillion to advance his wide-ranging domestic agenda. Polling conducted by NBC News shows that seven in 10 Americans and almost half of Democrats believe America is going in the wrong direction.
But after days of indulging in backslapping diplomacy at a time when bipartisan cooperation is in short supply at home, Mr. Biden emerged for his news conference on Sunday professing hope that both bills would pass the House in the next week and playing down the polls.
“The polls are going to go up and down and up and down,” Mr. Biden said. “Look at every other president. The same thing has happened. But that’s not why I ran.”
One reason Mr. Biden sought the presidency, after more than four decades as a senator and vice president, was for meetings like the Group of 20, where he is able to practice the flesh-pressing politics he has long enjoyed.
World leaders have been slow to reconvene in person as the pandemic has stretched into its second year, but Mr. Biden attended a Group of 7 meeting in England in June that was a diplomatic icebreaker of sorts for wealthy countries. The summit in Rome brought a larger group of leaders together, though some of Mr. Biden’s largest rivals on the world stage, like China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, stayed home.