President Biden heads to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday facing a litany of challenges at home and abroad.
The president will be walking a difficult tightrope as he seeks to maintain support for Ukraine among war-weary international allies and address global challenges like post-pandemic economies and climate change, all while facing the possibility of a looming government shutdown back home in Washington.
Biden will deliver his annual address to the global body Tuesday morning, during which he is expected to discuss the war in Ukraine and other issues where the White House believes U.S. leadership is in demand on the world stage.
That speech comes against the backdrop of Moscow fostering a new partnership with North Korea and leader Kim Jong Un’s recent six-day trip to Russia. During the unprecedented visit, Kim vowed to support what he described as Russia’s “just fight” and vowed that North Korea will always stand with Russia against the “anti-imperialist” West.
In addition to Ukraine, senior administration officials told reporters Biden’s speech will address issues like climate and global infrastructure, food and energy insecurity and the post-pandemic economic recovery of developing countries, acknowledging the many hurdles that exist.
“The president recognizes the world faces enormous challenges that no one country can solve alone. But he has a vision of how American leadership, based on principles, working in partnership with others can help tackle these challenges,” officials said. “We remain clear eyed and humble about the scale and scope of the global challenges we face.”
One of Biden’s most highly-anticipated engagements will be with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, marking their first face-to-face meeting since Netanyahu retook office last December and amid tense relations between the U.S. and Israel over judicial reforms backed by the prime minister that critics say would erase important checks and balances in Israel’s democracy.
Biden will also be in New York with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, while notable leaders skipping the U.S. visit include Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who also skipped the G20 summit in India earlier this month.
Aides and experts cited Biden’s G20 trip as giving him some leverage heading into the United Nations so soon after.
“I think he is going in with some momentum from those relationships and those conversations that he built. There are absolutely always going to be issues that the U.S. is going to be criticized for, climate being one of them,” said Marti Flacks, director of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
One thing Biden won’t do is attend a U.N. climate summit scheduled for Wednesday, though special envoy for climate John Kerry is expected to attend. That comes days after thousands of protesters descended on New York City to demand more action to address climate change.
Biden is set to participate in the first ever C5+1 presidential summit during the United Nations General Assembly, which includes presidents of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Biden’s trip ultimately though could be overshadowed by the challenges awaiting him in Washington when he returns Wednesday night – namely in the form of a potential government shutdown at the end of September.
Two factions of the House Republican Conference, the Main Street Caucus and House Freedom Caucus, reached an agreement late Sunday to avoid a government shutdown for another month ahead of a looming Oct. 1 deadline.
But the parameters of the agreement are unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled House or get Biden’s signature because it doesn’t include funding for Ukraine. The spending levels are also set at levels lower than what was agreed upon between Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) when they reached a debt limit deal earlier this year.
Zelensky for his part will also make a stop in Washington as the Biden administration pushes for Congress to approve $24 billion in additional funding for Ukraine in its war effort against Russia.
Zelensky is expected to meet with Democrats and Republicans, seeking to convince skeptical lawmakers that they should back additional humanitarian and military aide, even as some leading GOP voices have pushed back on continued support for Ukraine.
At the UN, Biden will also meet with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and labor leaders on Wednesday to focus on workers rights in both countries. That comes on the heels of another domestic issue for Biden as the United Auto Workers (UAW) began its strike on Thursday evening against the Big 3 automakers when the two sides failed to successfully negotiate a new contract.
“I think that the administration and the president can at this time use this particular moment in history to lean into leadership and humility,” said Noam Unger, a senior fellow at Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Recent history in the U.S. has shown that we too have our challenges, especially with democracy,” Unger continued. “And so for President Biden to basically lean into that narrative, while also leaning into the point that…he is actually of the mold of a sort of, you know, statesman long on the scene and in international affairs, I think he can balance both.”