President Joe Biden can claim some victories from his trip to Europe, but his domestic agenda is still waiting back home.
Minutes before Biden took the stage Tuesday in Scotland for a news conference to wrap up his travel to meet with other world leaders at an international climate change conference, Democratic lawmakers back home were announcing an agreement on prescription drug pricing for inclusion in the president’s economic legislation.
The president’s departure for the G-20 meetings in Rome last Thursday had been seen as a target date for the House to advance the sweeping social infrastructure legislation featuring a number of climate components, alongside the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill that has been held in the House.
But once that soft deadline came and went, negotiations continued through the weekend with the goal for Democrats of agreeing on a package that can get through the House as quickly as possible.
The apparently now-resolved question of whether Democrats would reach a consensus among themselves on allowing Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs had been one of several key issues that remained up in the air as the president was overseas.
The G-20 leaders meetings were followed by the World Leaders Summit at the opening of COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Glasgow. Among the items still unclear as the president returned to the U.S. on Tuesday night was whether any immigration-related legislation could pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian, as well as the specifics of climate-related language.
Biden said Tuesday that he was not prodded by any foreign leaders about how the ongoing debate over his agenda back in Washington would affect the commitments the U.S. was making at the U.N. event.
“What they're looking at is what in fact has happened in terms of everything from dealing with deforestation to what we’re going to do on Build Back Better and how we’ve been able to focus now,” Biden said.
Earlier Tuesday, former Secretary of State John Kerry, the White House’s special envoy for climate, said that making a convincing argument about the U.S. agenda in Glasgow was not determined by domestic political realities.
“No, because we’re not dependent on the schedule of Congress,” Kerry told a group of reporters, according to Yahoo News. “Congress will, I’m confident, do what they’re planning to do,” he added. “And that’s the president who’s negotiating that, not me, so I’m not going to get involved in that.”
The president Tuesday reiterated a familiar theme, that it was important for the U.S. to have a significant in-person presence in both Rome and Glasgow, with delegations led by Biden himself and including Cabinet secretaries and other envoys like Kerry.
Among the key announcements from the two major international meetings were a historic agreement on the establishment of a global minimum tax, and a deal between the U.S. and the European Union to ease tariffs first imposed under former President Donald Trump on European steel and aluminum, citing purported national security considerations. That agreement comes with corresponding benefits for American exporters trying to sell products in Europe, including U.S. distillers.
“Europe is our ally. The EU is among our strongest and longest allies. The thing that endangers American national security and economic security is China. China’s excess capacity — dumping cheap steel into the EU and into the U.S — that is very much imperiling our steel industry and steelworkers. We will continue to work with our allies in the EU and elsewhere against China’s unfair trade practices,” Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo said in a statement to CQ Roll Call.
“That is what this deal all about — coming back together with the EU and our allies on the global stage to protect our businesses, workers, and consumers from China.”
Forests and methane
On the environmental front, Tuesday brought formal announcements of new commitments that seek to restore and conserve the planet’s forests, drive innovation in the corporate world and allocate money to help poorer countries respond to a changing climate.
For the U.S., the headline may be the new effort to combat methane emissions. New U.S. rules are expected to include regulations on the natural gas that is a byproduct of oil production and is frequently vented or flared off, a major contributor to global warming. The rules also will cover other operations that release significant quantities of methane.
“Methane emissions are a fast-acting risk to the climate and health of this planet, and we need urgent action to fight this urgent threat,” Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement supporting the announcement.
“While today’s proposal is an important step for millions of Americans who are breathing dirty air from nearby oil and gas operations, and for the billions imperiled by the climate crisis, more work is needed to prioritize frontline communities, combat emissions across scales, stop dangerous industry practices, and secure international commitment to address this pressing issue.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin were not among the in-person attendees. Both leaders are facing significant COVID-19 situations in their home countries.
“The rest of the world is going to look to China and say what value added are they providing? They’ve lost the ability to influence the people around the world,” Biden said Tuesday.
The White House also made several domestic policy announcements in conjunction with a supply chain summit hosted by Biden as part of the G-20 meetings in Rome.
“This agreement will also help address supply chain issues and help to lower prices for American consumers who are shopping for cars, kitchen appliances, and other items that rely on steel and aluminum,” Raimondo said of the agreement with the EU.
Supply chain and inflationary pressures have contributed to slipping approval ratings for the president back home, but Biden offered a closing note for his trip, seeking to put in context the improved position for the United States from a year ago.
“This year we’re working on a supply chain issue. Well, last Thanksgiving, I sat down with my wife, my daughter and my son-in-law. This Thanksgiving we’re all in a very different circumstance. Things are a hell of a lot better,” the president said. “And the wages have gone up higher, faster than inflation, and we have generated real economic growth.”
Joseph Morton contributed to this report.