Storm clouds at home put the brakes on Biden’s return to Europe

Among the fiercest critics of the decision were some of the world leaders alongside Biden at the German castle on Sunday. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it “a big step backwards”, while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “No government, politician or man should tell a woman what she can and can’t do with his body”.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted in the hours following the decision that “abortion is a fundamental right for all women”.

“I wish to express my solidarity with the women whose freedoms are undermined by the Supreme Court of the United States,” Macron wrote.

Biden strongly condemned the court’s decision and pledged to use the federal government to protect women’s ability to choose. But there was little within the purview of her executive powers to help millions of American women.

The abortion decision came just days after Biden also strongly denounced the Supreme Court’s decision that significantly weakened gun control measures. The rulings, handed down by judges appointed by Republican presidents who lost the popular vote, added to the sense of helplessness around Biden, who has suffered suffrage and climate change setbacks and seen his results polls reduced by the rise in inflation.

The difference with last year’s G-7, held on the rocky coast of England, was stark.

Twelve months ago, Biden enjoyed strong public support after overseeing the distribution of Covid relief and vaccines, and was greeted by his G-7 peers as a return to normal after four turbulent years of the former President Donald Trump. Even before Russia invaded, he pushed other leaders to demonstrate that democracies could still serve their citizens.

But a series of domestic challenges have brought Biden down, particularly inflation which has hit 40-year highs.

Although Democrats are hoping anger at the Supreme Court could boost voter enthusiasm, many in the party fear rising costs could lead to annihilation in November’s midterm elections. World leaders noted on Sunday that inflation is a global problem, exacerbated by Putin’s invasion, which has led to significant energy and food insecurity around the world.

The West unleashed a series of punitive sanctions against Russia and made Putin a pariah on the world stage. The ban on Russian gold, officially announced on Tuesday, could amount to a fine of tens of billions of dollars on Moscow’s second-biggest export.

One of the aims will be to prevent Russia – which has dodged the impact of previous sanctions – from circumventing the new ban. White House officials suggested on Sunday that additional sanctions could be announced, but it was unclear whether they would come this week.

Much to the fury of Moscow, a decision to expand NATO to include Sweden and Finland is set to dominate the alliance summit in Madrid, which is to be held later this week. Although Turkey has registered objections to the expansion, other members of the alliance are seeking to act quickly.

But there are signs of growing tension between European allies as limits on Russian energy imports have strained economies in the region. Fearing that they could be Putin’s next target, small Baltic states near the front lines pushed for unwavering resistance, while some of Western Europe’s biggest economies began pushing Kyiv to consider a negotiated settlement.

Biden aims to push allies beyond reluctance this week amid massive Russian progress in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region. Russia inflicted heavy casualties on Ukrainian forces and launched its first airstrikes on Kyiv in weeks on Sunday – just as world leaders began gathering about 1,100 miles away in Germany.

Biden said on Sunday that the strike was more about Russia’s “barbarism”. Later, some of the other world leaders took a lighter tone, with Johnson asking if the men should take off their jackets “to show we’re tougher than Putin.” This prompted Trudeau to joke that he should have a “shirtless horseback riding show”, a nod to an infamous old photo of the Russian leader.

In light of the escalating violence, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was due to use his virtual address to the G-7 on Monday to urge the West to send more weapons to the front.

Biden has received high marks — even from some Republicans — for his handling of the war, but White House aides have resigned themselves to the reality that he likely won’t change a single vote this fall as the election seems certain to be dominated by inflation and other issues. Instead, they are acting to prevent domestic public opinion from souring on the war and hampering Biden’s ability to execute on his preferred approach.

Russia was not the only global rival to catch the eye of world leaders gathered under sunny skies in the Alps, but the other nation was not named.

Leaders have sought to launch a new $600 billion global infrastructure program – to replace one from a year ago that never got off the ground – intended to compete with China’s “Belt and Road” initiative to build projects in the developing world. Biden said that if democracies worked together, they would “provide better options for people around the world.”

But even then, Biden could not escape the shadow of the Supreme Court. After the program was announced, the president came down from the stage, chatting with his peers, when a reporter shouted a question not about infrastructure – but whether other leaders had followed up their public remarks by privately discussing the decision on abortion with him.

Biden ignored the inquiry and stared straight ahead.

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