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Biden faces a major test on the world stage with the NATO summit underway

President Biden’s performance at the NATO summit this week has come under close scrutiny not only by Western alliance leaders but also by Democratic lawmakers as the man facing Donald Trump.

The other 31 NATO leaders descended on Washington, while Democrats returned to Capitol Hill to intensify debate over whether the president should be their nominee. European leaders have closely scrutinized Biden’s public and private dealings amid concerns over whether he can defeat Donald Trump, the Republican nominee who has threatened to tear up NATO.

After her shaky debate performance against Trump on June 27, several Democratic lawmakers urged her to drop her re-election bid. The president’s forceful rejection of those recommendations initially appeared to halt the departures, but former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted Wednesday morning that Biden had to make an important decision.

When NATO leaders arrived in Washington for their summit on Tuesday, they compared notes after their conversation with Biden, a European official familiar with the contacts said, in an effort to create as complete a portrait of the most important alliance leader as possible.

Biden’s most important test will come Thursday as he prepares to hold a rare news conference that Democrats say is crucial to demonstrate he has the energy and mental agility to campaign against Trump. European leaders will also be watching the president’s news conference closely, trying to determine whether his debate performance was a bad night, as Biden has argued, or a sign of a larger problem that could make defeating Trump more challenging.

“This summit gives the president an opportunity to demonstrate his strong global leadership, unlike Donald Trump, who would weaken NATO,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “The full summit gives him an opportunity to showcase his leadership and foreign policy credentials, and the press conference gives him an opportunity to address concerns.”

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At a reception with all 32 NATO leaders on Tuesday, Biden’s demeanor was similar to that in his welcome speech that evening, acknowledging other leaders without prompting and engaging fluidly during brief meetings, the European official said. The president attended alone with other leaders, without his aides, the official said.

Another European official said some in the audience watched closely as the president placed a medal around the neck of outgoing NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, but the ceremony went off without a hitch. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss candidly their assessments of the US president.

Biden will participate in a working session with other NATO leaders on Wednesday before hosting Britain’s new prime minister, Keir Starmer, at the White House. Later in the evening, he and First Lady Jill Biden will host NATO leaders and their spouses at a White House dinner.

Earlier in the morning, Biden stopped by a meeting of AFL-CIO leaders, a friendly group that reaffirmed its support for the president. “I’ve never been more optimistic about America’s prospects, not because of me, but because of what we’re doing together,” Biden told union leaders.

Biden’s demeanor and mental agility will come under close scrutiny at NATO meetings and dinners. During last month’s Group of Seven summit in Italy, many European leaders were struck by how much the president seemed to have aged since they last interacted with him a year or even months ago. Their reactions are told.

Leaders noticed that he was very tired and weak, and was more likely to lose his ability to think, although he would soon be back on track. The overall impression is that leaders believe Biden is capable of fulfilling his duties now, but wonder how he can serve another four years in office.

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Biden tried to calm those concerns, starting with a speech welcoming NATO leaders to Washington on Tuesday. He spoke passionately about the alliance’s renewed strength — the addition of two new countries, Finland and Sweden, and an increase in countries spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense — and implicitly condemned Trump. The former president threatened to tear up the alliance and said he would let Russia “do whatever they want” to any NATO country that doesn’t spend enough.

Biden did not mention Trump by name, but insisted that a bipartisan majority of Americans support the alliance and spoke of the danger of a world without it.

“We had better be stronger than ever because this moment in history calls for our collective strength,” Biden said. “The American people understand what will happen if there is no NATO, another war in Europe, American troops fighting and dying, dictators spreading chaos.”

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