NATO summit becomes high-stakes test of Biden’s fitness

July 9, 2024

President Joe Biden’s fitness for office will be put to the test this week during the NATO summit he is hosting in Washington, D.C.—a high-stakes endurance test that gives the president an opportunity to push back on critics saying he is too old for a second term, reports The Hill.

But the frantic debate over Biden’s future—as he tries to contain the fallout from his alarming debate performance last month—risks overshadowing an event aimed at projecting strength against threats from Russia and China.

“Journalists attending President Biden’s summit press conference will likely not ask one question about NATO, but instead ask about the president’s political future,” said Jim Townsend, a former senior Pentagon official focused on NATO policy and a current adjunct senior fellow with the Center for New American Security.

Biden has been defiant in the wake of increasingly public calls from Democratic lawmakers to drop out of the race and widespread concern behind closed doors that the president is too frail to mount a campaign against former President Donald Trump in the November election.

“I’m running the world,” Biden said during an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos—a 22-minute conversation that did little to dispel concerns over Biden’s fitness for office but did offer the president an opportunity to defend his record of leadership on the global stage.

“We are the essential nation of the world,” he said.

The NATO summit—beginning on Tuesday, July 9, and taking place over three days in Washington, D.C.—will focus on demonstrating the alliance’s enduring support for Ukraine in its defensive war against Russia, and signaling deep ties in the Indo-Pacific to counter Chinese President Xi Jinping’s designs on subsuming Taiwan.

Biden is credited with uniting allies in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022—a comprehensive effort that has so far endured through more than two years of war.

But Biden’s June 27 debate with Trump spurred panic among even ardent supporters, as the president failed to match Trump’s energy—speaking with a weak, raspy voice and trailing off on numerous answers.

White House National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby brushed off a question Monday about whether Biden’s poor debate performance late last month would cause trouble with allies, saying it “presupposes the notion that they need to be reassured.”

“I don’t believe that’s the case,” he said. “We’re not picking up any signs of that from our allies at all.”

And Kirby sought to put the focus back on Ukraine, saying announcements throughout the summit will include new commitments for air defense support for Ukraine; deterrence capabilities to boost NATO; and investments in the defense industrial base, including domestically in the United States.

He said leaders would also reaffirm that there is a path for Ukraine to join NATO in the future.

But Biden’s presence at the podium and his interactions with world leaders are going to be under close scrutiny as his campaign seeks to convince skeptical Democrats in Congress to stand by him as they return this week from recess.

Research contact: @thehill