Biden Wraps Up His European Trip

[ Posted Wednesday, June 16th, 2021 – 16:20 UTC ]

President Joe Biden wrapped up his tour of Europe today with a personal meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin and then a solo press conference afterwards (Putin also gave his own solo press conference, before Biden spoke). The summit meeting between the two leaders was built up with breathless anticipation in the political media, but the actual outcome was pretty mundane and more process-oriented than many might have expected. This first meeting was never supposed to be about big breakthroughs or bilateral agreements, it was designed to lay the groundwork for future negotiations and possible cooperation.

On those levels, the summit appeared to be successful. Both leaders emerged and (as always) had different viewpoints and different opinions about a lot of things -- but neither denigrated or insulted or challenged the other in public. Which, for Russian/American summits, is pretty normal.

That's really what not just this summit meeting but the entire European trip was all about, for Biden. As he repeatedly put it, the big message was: "America is back." And that was a welcome message indeed for most to hear. Who knows what Putin expected to hear -- he's a pretty inscrutable guy -- but what was actually said couldn't have been too bad, from what Putin said about it afterwards.

In his press conference, Biden laid it out as the two countries having a meeting of the minds. They stated their positions, and where they could not agree they at least attempted to inform the other of how things would be, going forward. This involved, Biden swore, not "threats" but rather promises of consequences for bad behavior on Russia's part. But that's just a very diplomatic way of admitting that such threats were indeed clearly communicated and understood.

Where the two countries' interests were aligned, a framework was begun for perhaps future agreements to keep the world a little more stable. Meetings would be held at the highest levels, to see if some things might be hashed out. Again, this is all pretty par for the course for a Russian/American summit.

At least, one with a normal U.S. president. That's an important qualifier that didn't even used to even be necessary to state (but now, of course, is).

Biden's manner throughout the press conference was what I would sum up as: "realistic." He wasn't some sunny optimist (more on that in a moment), but neither was he predicting doom and gloom for the two countries' relations. And he laid all questions of possible future achievements right where they belonged -- at Putin's feet. Things could improve, Biden said again and again, but let's just wait and see what Putin does. Let's see how serious the Russians are about any of this stuff, in other words. Both Biden's expectations and his attitude towards the future was incredibly realistic.

Being a press conference with American reporters, the majority of the time was completely wasted by asking Biden the same question over and over and over again. This question essentially was (I refuse to directly quote any of them): "What did you threaten Putin with? What will you do on cybercrime or prisoners or human rights [or a few other assorted things]? What, exactly will you do if Putin doesn't follow through and continues to misbehave?"

Biden's answer didn't change, and was essentially (also not a direct quote): "There will be consequences, I communicated that clearly to Putin, but I'm certainly not going to stand here and brag about threatening him, because I understand why diplomacy is so important." Which was a pretty normal way to answer, for such summit meetings.

Biden was confident and sharp throughout the entire press conference, with only two exceptions. The first was he briefly misspoke and said "President Trump" instead of "President Putin." He then corrected himself, and moved on, but this clip will doubtlessly be played a number of times in the next few days in an attempt to embarrass him.

The second was a little more dramatic. Biden really needs to learn something every new president has to learn -- that when you say "Thank you" and step away from the podium, then you should just ignore all those shouted questions and continue walking off the stage without breaking stride. Biden didn't. Instead, he turned around and engaged, multiple times. The last of these was the one you'll doubtlessly see clips of.

Here's one report of what happened:

By the end of the news conference, Biden engaged in a terse exchange with a CNN reporter who pressed him, as he walked away, on whether he was tough enough with Putin. The reporter asked "Why are you so confident he'll change his behavior, Mr. President?"

Biden bristled and disputed the premise.

"I'm not confident," Biden said, turning back toward the gathered press. "I said what will change their behavior is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I'm not confident of anything. I'm just stating the facts."

Biden indeed hadn't necessarily predicted success, instead saying, "We'll find out within the next six months to a year whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue that matters."

The reporter noted that Putin had earlier continued to dispute Russia's role in cyberattacks and human rights abuses, including on [imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexi] Navalny, even after meeting with Biden.

"If you don't understand that, you're in the wrong business," Biden shot back.

Here is the full transcript of this exchange, from the White House site:

[Q:] Why are you so confident he'll change his behavior, Mr. President?

[THE PRESIDENT:] I'm not confident he'll change his behavior. Where the hell -- what do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident? I said --

[Q:] You said in the next six months you'll be able to determine --

[THE PRESIDENT:] I said -- what I said was -- let's get it straight. I said: What will change their behavior is if the rest of world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I'm not confident of anything; I'm just stating a fact.

[Q:] But given his past behavior has not changed and, in that press conference, after sitting down with you for several hours, he denied any involvement in cyberattacks; he downplayed human rights abuses; he even refused to say Alexei Navalny's name. So how does that account to a constructive meeting, as President -- President Putin framed it?

[THE PRESIDENT:] If you don't understand that, you're in the wrong business.

Thank you.

Later, on the tarmac boarding Air Force One, Biden began his remarks with an apology: "I owe my last questioner an apology. I shouldn't have been such a wise guy with the last answer I gave."

So it was really just a minor annoyance at a reporter (not even a right-wing one, she was from CNN) putting words he did not say into his mouth.

But, again, he could have avoided the entire exchange if he had just continued walking off the stage and ignored the question. Oh, well -- every president has to learn this, and some eventually do a lot better at it than others. We'll see if Biden learns his lesson the next time he takes umbrage at how a question is framed.

Overall, though, this was just a minor coda. Overall, Biden's press conference was just as normal as could be imagined. He told us he took a tough line with Putin, but yet was diplomatic enough that even Putin didn't say anything particularly negative afterwards. He explored possible areas of agreement, and where the two men could not (or will not) agree, Biden laid down the U.S. position -- up to and including possible retaliation for continued bad behavior. And then Biden too was politic and diplomatic in how he described the meeting, which could be summed up as: "cautious and very careful optimism."

Or, in a word, it was all so very normal. This is what Americans want to see -- indeed used to expect as a regular thing -- from an American president meeting with the leader of Russia. And that, really, was the best thing about it.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


27 Comments on “Biden Wraps Up His European Trip”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Once again, a snarky CNN reporter embarrasses herself by, first, misreporting what Biden said (what else is new) and then by completely misunderstanding what a constructive meeting between a US president and an adversary like Putin looks like.

    Yup, she's in the wrong business, obviously.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I don't supppose Caitlin Collins even considered apologizing for wasting Biden's time with an asinine question ...

  3. [3] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Can I just mention what I took away from your entire piece, aside from the pro forma summary of a normal diplomatic summit?

    Biden apologized in public for being rude to a reporter, within a short period of time and before it had become a thing.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    But, again, he could have avoided the entire exchange if he had just continued walking off the stage and ignored the question. Oh, well -- every president has to learn this, and some eventually do a lot better at it than others. We'll see if Biden learns his lesson the next time he takes umbrage at how a question is framed.

    Oh, well, indeed. :)

    President Biden is all about engagement - with reporters or anyone else. That won't change, I hope.

    Just like me (hey, that's a PRiSM tune!), Biden still gets frustrated by incompetent journalism. I don't expect that to change, either. Heh.

    As for lessons learned - I'll bet the CNN reporter still doesn't understand how these meetings work and she'll never understand anything about Putin. And, I doubt she'll ever learn to ask an intelligent question but, I'd love to be proved wrong. ;)

    Oh, I almost forgot ...

    Just Like Me - PRiSM

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Do you think the reporter should apologize to Biden? I'm just sayin' ...

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Biden has always taken those extra questions after beginning to walk away from the podium, often times when the questioner poses enlightened questions and, consequently, everyone learns something.

    In my view, this is one of the many Biden attributes.

  7. [7] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Elizabeth on [5]

    Well, that would be nice, but that's not my point. It was a stupid question, not an actually rude one, and heck, she's just a CNN reporter. Who cares about her? But he's the president of the United States. And at this point, for once, who's the bigger man, the president or the vampire press (as Mary Lincoln referred to them)?

    That's the real point. He's not into pissing contests or one upmanship or hissy fits or hysterical projection - he's just got some quiet good manners and a sense of his office.

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I know the history between Biden and most of the press so, I'm a bit sensitive on the subject. Ahem.

    And, yes, it's just like Biden to apologize for being a smart ass. Heh.

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    The Oxford English Dictionary, as historian Simon Schama noted in November 2015, defines trumpery thusly: OED definition of trumpery: 1) deceit, fraud, imposture, trickery; 2) something of less value than it seems..worthless stuff, trash, rubbish

    I admit, I just this minute learned about that word.

  10. [10] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Did Trump ever apologize for anything he ever said? Biden’s effort to defuse a pointless conflict with a reporter is what normal, rational, leaders do.

  11. [11] 
    Bleyd wrote:

    John M [3]

    To your point, by the time I first read about Biden's little kerfuffle with the reporter, it was also being reported that he he had already apologized. Biden didn't even give the media time to make an issue out of it. Nobody's going to think less of Biden for making the apology (despite what the previous president might think), and by apologizing as quickly as he did, nobody had a chance to think less of Biden for not apologizing. Whatever else you want to say about the exchange, that was a smart way to diffuse the situation.

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I just don't understand why Biden would call the reporter a wise ass...

  13. [13] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Seriously, though, I wouldn't be surprised if Biden called her up and offered to explain to her how this meeting with Putin was constructive. It would be a win-win!! :)

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    But, apparently, this reporter is hell-bent on focusing on all of the examples where Putin hasn't changed his behavior and the big question in her mind is when will he change his behavior. What a woman!

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    So, the US Supreme Court has decided to leave the Affordable Care Act in place. Barrett and Thomas voted with Bryer!

    I wonder how much the fact that Republicans have proposed NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to replace Obamacare while working to destroy it had to do with this surprising vote ...

  16. [16] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    they didn't really rule on its constitutionality though, they basically just said the states don't have standing to sue against it.

  17. [17] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Yeah, but, this is a BFD, no? I mean, do you hear Republicans talking about this anymore!?

  18. [18] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Besides, they have already ruled on the constitutionality of it, at least in one respect. I think people who rely on the ACA and who are yet to understand how it can work for them can breath a big sigh of relief.

    This issue is all about common sense, regardless of what end of the political spectrum you are coming from, as the justices today demonstrated.

  19. [19] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Does anyone know what the two justices who voted in the minority based their objections on?

  20. [20] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Elizabeth, SCOTUS voted 7-2 that 18 red state weren't harmed and therefore lacked the legal standing to sue to toss the whole ACA (because Congress had overturned the Individual Mandate along the way.)

    The two dissenters were Alito and Gorsuch. They argued that the plaintiffs in fact had standing and indicated that they would have struck the whole ACA down. A coupla Corporatist Citizens United thinking clowns, methinks.

  21. [21] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    You know. The members of SCOTUS whom I would qualify a true Enemies of the People.

  22. [22] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Those who vote for things like whatever Big Money wants or Christofacists getting to supervise other women's uteruses while voting against individual rights and unions.

  23. [23] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Don't get me going.

  24. [24] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    LizM [1],

    she's in the wrong business, obviously

    Really? She is from Alabama and her previous employer was The Daily Caller. If you want to fault somebody for being in the wrong business, you might try CNN rather than her. She's doing exactly what they hired her to do.

  25. [25] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    CNN is good for catastrophe porn and not much else.

  26. [26] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    CNN hired her to ask asinine questions!???

    Well, I only watch a couple of shows on CNN and they're starting to irritate me, so ... whatever.

  27. [27] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Yeah, they weren't harmed.

    Because Republicans took away the individual mandate!!!

    Hehehehehehehehehehehehe ...

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