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At NATO summit Biden aims to reassure leaders the alliance with the U.S. is strong

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

U.S. allies have a reminder this week of how much their fate is tied to the U.S. presidential election.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

They're in Washington for a NATO summit, and President Biden spoke there about how the North Atlantic Alliance came to the defense of the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks and is now working to support Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Again and again, we stood behind our shared vision of a peaceful and prosperous transatlantic community. Here at this summit, we gather to proclaim NATO is ready and able to secure that vision, today and well into the future.

(APPLAUSE)

PFEIFFER: But Biden himself is under pressure. He's trying to reassure Democratic lawmakers, donors and the allies in the room that he can win this fall's election and serve four more years. When Trump was president, he had difficult relations with European leaders. Trump has also sometimes praised Russia's leader and said he will end the Ukraine war, although he hasn't specified how.

INSKEEP: NPR senior national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: In an interview last week, to reassure voters that he's up to the job, Biden told George Stephanopoulos, watch me at this NATO summit. So we were watching. What did he do?

LIASSON: Well, you heard him give a ringing endorsement of the principles of the alliance from the very same room, the Mellon Auditorium, where the treaty was signed 75 years ago. In terms of style, you're right - Biden has been under a microscope since his disastrous debate with former President Donald Trump. This speech last night was from a teleprompter. He did deliver it clearly and firmly. In terms of substance, it was music to the ears of NATO leaders. Biden said there's a bipartisan commitment to the alliance. He quoted former Republican President Ronald Reagan, saying if fellow democracies are threatened, we are threatened, too. Of course, that's the idea behind Article 5, which is the beating heart of NATO. That's an attack on one is an attack on all.

INSKEEP: How are Europeans viewing this moment?

LIASSON: Well, many European leaders are very nervous. This election represents an existential moment for NATO. The U.S. president wields tremendous, pretty much unchecked executive power when it comes to foreign policy, and the contrast, as you said, between Biden and Trump on NATO couldn't be clearer. Trump has had a consistent antipathy towards NATO. He had to be talked by his aides into staying in the alliance during his first term. He famously said he would let Russia do, quote, "whatever the hell they want" to NATO members who he thought didn't spend enough on their defense. And Biden last night noted that under his leadership, NATO members have boosted their defense spending. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: In the year 2020, the year I was elected president, only nine NATO allies were spending 2% of their defense - GDP on defense. This year, 23 will spend at least 2%.

(APPLAUSE)

LIASSON: Biden is very, very proud of his legacy, that, under his watch, NATO has expanded. Sweden and Finland joined.

INSKEEP: Yeah, and not a small point that he mentions there. Trump's attack on NATO was built around the idea that they're not spending enough, which is a bipartisan idea. Obama said this, then Trump said it. President Biden is saying that most of them are now spending up to the levels that they committed to, but what does he say about the challenges the alliance faces now?

LIASSON: Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to wipe Ukraine off the map and that Putin won't stop there. Biden said the U.S. and some other allies are going to be giving Ukraine more air defense systems. The contrast to Trump was implicit - Trump has been extremely positive towards Putin and negative towards Ukraine. Many Republicans in Congress were reluctant to provide more funding for Ukraine this year and held it up for months. Now, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is at this summit. Today, he'll be meeting with Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, and tomorrow, he meets with Biden.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, where does he stand with the Democrats who are worried about his candidacy?

LIASSON: Well, he's dug in. He says he won't step aside, despite polls showing significant movement to Trump in the battleground states, and Democrats are beside themselves. They're worried they're going to lose the White House and that Republicans will keep the House and take the Senate.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks so much.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.