ELMAU, Germany — President Joe Biden stepped back onto the world stage Sunday looking to rally the world’s most powerful free nations against a common foe. But turmoil back home has raised questions about the health of his own democracy and political standing.
Biden began a pair of Europe summits looking to reinforce the need for the world to continue to back Ukraine against Russia by urging democracies to prove that they can stand together to defeat the globe’s rising autocracies.
But his appearance at the G-7 in Germany’s stunning Bavarian Alps was overshadowed by the Supreme Court ruling to overturn abortion rights, delivering a staggering below to his presidency and leaving other world leaders to condemn — and pity — what they have watched in the United States.
Biden announced that the G-7 would impose a ban on new imports of Russian gold in an effort to further weaken Moscow’s economy and punish Russian president Vladimir Putin for the invasion of his neighbor. And Biden offered his central message for his week in Europe: that, despite growing fiscal strains, that the West must continue to support Kyiv.
“We have to make sure us all stay together and we’re going to continue working on the economic challenges we face and I think we’ll get through all this and come out stronger,” Biden told German chancellor Olaf Scholz in his first meeting of the summit.
“What Putin has counted on from the beginning is that somehow that NATO and the G7 would splinter,” Biden said, “but we haven’t and we’re not going to.”
But despite Biden’s efforts to refocus the meeting on Putin’s aggression, the gathering at picturesque Schloss Elmau in Krun was pushed from the front pages by the Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday that overturned the landmark Roe vs. Wade case that had protected national abortion rights for nearly 50 years. The ruling was cheered by many conservatives but, per polling, stands as broadly unpopular in the U.S. and has led to throngs of protests from angry, scared women and their allies.
Among the fiercest critics of the decision were some of the world leaders flanking Biden at the German castle on Sunday. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson deemed it “a big step backwards” while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared “No government, politician, or man should tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body.”
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted in the hours after the ruling that “abortion is a fundamental right for all women.”
“I wish to express my solidarity with the women whose liberties are being undermined by the Supreme Court of the United States,” Macron wrote.
Biden has forcefully condemned the court’s decision and has pledged to use the federal government to protect the ability of women to choose. But there was little under the purview of his executive powers to help millions of American women.
The decision on abortion came just days after Biden also forcefully denounced the Supreme Court’s ruling that dramatically weakened gun control measures. The rulings, driven by justices appointed by Republican presidents who lost the popular vote, added to the sense of powerlessness around Biden, who has suffered setbacks on voting rights and climate change and has seen his poll numbers pummeled by rising inflation.
The difference from last year’s G7, held on the rocky English coast, was stark.
Twelve months ago, Biden enjoyed strong public support after overseeing the distribution of COVID relief bill and vaccines and was greeted by his peers at the G7 as a return to normalcy after four turbulent years of Donald Trump. Even before Russia’s invasion, he pushed the other leaders to demonstrate that democracies could still deliver for their citizens.
But a series of domestic challenges have laid Biden low, particularly inflation that has soared to 40-year-highs.
Though Democrats are hopeful that anger at the Supreme Court could boost voter enthusiasm, many in the party fear that rising costs will lead to a wipeout at this November’s midterm elections. The world leaders on Sunday noted that inflation is a global problem, exacerbated by Putin’s invasion, which has led to significant energy and food insecurity across the world.
The West has unleashed a punishing array of sanctions against Russia and rendered Putin a pariah on the world stage. The ban on Russian gold, to be announced officially on Tuesday, could amount to a penalty of tens of billions of dollars on Moscow’s second largest export.
One aim will be to prevent Russia — which has dodged the impact of previous sanctions — to get around the new ban. White House officials on Sunday suggested that further sanctions could also be announced but it was not clear if they would come this week.
Much to Moscow’s fury, a move to expand NATO to include Sweden and Finland is poised to dominate the alliance’s summit in Madrid, which is to be held later this week. Though Turkey has registered objections to the expansion, others in the alliance look to move swiftly.
But there are signs of growing tension between the European allies as the limits placed on Russian energy imports has strained the region’s economies. Fearing they could be Putin’s next target, the smaller Baltic states near the frontlines have pushed for unwavering resistance while some of the larger Western European economies have begun nudging Kyiv to consider a negotiated settlement.
Biden aims to push the allies past any reluctance this week amid Russia’s grinding progress in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Russia has inflicted heavy losses on Ukrainian forces and on Sunday launched its first air strikes on Kyiv in weeks — just as the world leaders began to gather about 1,100 miles away in Germany.
Biden on Sunday declared the strike more of Russia’s “barbarism.” In light of escalating violence, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy was set to use his virtual G7 address on Monday to urge the West to send more weapons to the front.
Biden has received high marks — even from some Republicans — on his management of the war but White House aides have resigned themselves to the reality that it likely will not change a single vote this fall, as the election seems certain to be dominated by inflation and other issues. Instead, they’re moving to prevent domestic public opinion from souring on the war and hampering Biden’s ability to execute his preferred approach to it.
Under sunny skies high in the Alps, the Western leaders are also expected on Sunday to announce further details on a global infrastructure initiative, a proposal that was first announced at last year’s G7 as a counter to China’s Belt and Road project but has yet to see much in the way of progress.