WASHINGTON • Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden visited State Department headquarters to tell the rest of the world that the United States could be counted on again after four years of foreign policy. of Donald Trump.
“America is back,” Biden said, in what has become a mantra.
But delivering on his promises on the international stage has proven far more difficult than Biden could have expected. Domestic politics has regularly been an obstacle when it comes to taking action on climate change, taxes and pandemic relief, undermining hopes that Biden can quickly restore the United States to its undisputed role as world leader.
The result is an administration scrambling to maintain credibility abroad while Biden leads rearguard action on Capitol Hill. It’s just harder to pressure other countries to do more to address challenges that cross borders when it’s struggling to address those same issues at home.
“Every new thing takes away a bit of the luster and helps give the impression of a struggling president,” said Michael O’Hanlon, director of research for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.
Biden has earned respect for organizing an international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the United States has shipped more coronavirus vaccines around the world than any other country.
Adrienne Watson, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said Biden “re-established our alliances, including our critical partnership with Europe, built new platforms and institutions in some of the most relevant regions of the world,” including including the Indo-Pacific, and showing leadership on “the issues that matter most”.
But his foreign policy record is far more mixed when it comes to securing congressional support.
Despite securing nearly $54 billion in military and financial aid for Ukraine — what Watson described as a historic amount delivered with “unprecedented speed” — Republicans remain uniformly opposed to many of the his initiatives, and Biden has been hobbled due to disagreements among Democrats. .
The latest issue has been the breakdown of on-and-off negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., who withdrew support for a potential compromise on legislation to tackle climate change and create a global minimum tax.
On both issues, Biden had already made commitments or reached an international agreement, but the US commitment is now in doubt.
The global minimum tax aims to make it harder for businesses to dodge taxes by moving from country to country in search of lower rates. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen played a leading role in brokering the deal between 130 countries.
“Reaching this consensus has not been easy,” Biden said when announcing the deal just over a year ago. “It took an American vision, as well as a commitment to cooperate closely with our partners around the world. It’s a testament to how leadership rooted in our values can bring significant progress to families around the world.”
He acknowledged that “building on this agreement will also force us to take action here at home” – and now it looks like that action is not happening.
Biden wanted Congress to pass a proposal that would allow the United States to impose additional taxes on companies that do not pay at least 15%, whether domestically or abroad.
But Manchin opposed the tax changes in the legislation currently under consideration,
Administration officials said they were not giving up on a plan they said would “level the playing field for American businesses, reduce incentives to move jobs overseas and close the loopholes that companies have used to transfer their profits abroad”.
“It is too important to our economic strength and our competitiveness not to finalize this deal, and we will continue to examine all possible avenues to achieve this,” said Michael Kikukawa, spokesman for the Treasury Department.
But moving forward with the original deal is likely to prove difficult at this point, said Chye-Ching Huang, executive director of the New York University Law School’s Tax Law Center.
“There’s no doubt that it reduces momentum,” she said.
She added: “There’s a good chance that major trading partners will do it without the United States, but the way forward is more difficult.”
Manchin has also been an obstacle to Biden’s plans on climate change, a reflection of his outsized influence at a time when Democrats hold the narrowest margins in the Senate.
A few months after taking office, Biden hosted a virtual conference with other world leaders and announced that he would increase the country’s target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The decision was welcomed by scientists and politicians who fear not enough is being done to stop the planet from warming to dangerous levels, and Biden has spoken of tackling climate change with “the power of our example”.
Biden’s ability to deliver on his promise has been compromised twice recently, however. First, the conservative Supreme Court majority limited the administration’s powers to regulate emissions, and then Manchin said he would not support new spending to support clean energy projects.
John Kerry, Biden’s global climate envoy, said earlier this month that the administration’s struggles could “slow the pace” of other countries’ emissions cuts.
“They will do their own analysis which will likely impact what they decide to do or not do,” he said.
Biden is trying to demonstrate that he will move forward on his own, without legislation, and he is considering declaring a state of emergency that would allow him to redirect more resources to climate initiatives.
But his powers are limited and hitting the target can be difficult, if not impossible.
Nathaniel Keohane, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said time is running out until the next UN climate change summit, scheduled for Egypt in November.
Unless the administration is able to demonstrate progress by then, “it will hamper the ability of the United States to continue to push further from other countries,” Keohane said. “It would profoundly undermine the credibility of the United States on climate.”
He added: “More rhetoric will not satisfy the need at this point.”
Biden also struggled to convince Congress to provide him with more funding to deal with the pandemic.
When Dr. Ashish Jha, who leads the administration’s coronavirus task force, first appeared in the White House briefing room in April, he stressed that global vaccinations were needed to prevent coronavirus. emergence of new variants.
“If we want to fight a global pandemic, we have to have a comprehensive approach,” he said. “That means we need funding to make sure we get the shots around the world.”
Biden originally wanted $22.5 billion. Lawmakers trimmed the proposal to $15.6 billion, but even that was dropped from a $1.5 trillion government spending plan the president signed into law in March.
Efforts to resurrect the proposal were not successful.
“The debacle of getting new funding into the pipeline has really set us back,” said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There is paralysis and uncertainty.”
Morrison stressed that the United States has played “a very serious and honorable leadership role” with its vaccine donations and its work with the World Bank to set up a new fund to prepare for future pandemics.
But without new legislation, Morrison said, stronger plans to support vaccination campaigns in other countries are on hold.
“We are in a difficult situation right now,” he said.
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