This is probably not how President Joe Biden envisioned the end of his big foreign policy week.
Biden spent much time making clear to world leaders in the U.N. General Assembly, as well as Democratic donors and voters, that his decades of foreign policy experience and demonstrated moral clarity distinguished him from Donald Trump, the first front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination .
But just as Biden seeks to put a spotlight on his foreign policy prowess as his 2024 re-election campaign heats up, he is confronting a growing list of national security issues, several of which have emerged in recent days.
There is a diplomatic row between U.S. allies Canada and India over the killing of a Sikh activist on Canadian soil, growing concerns about the future of U.S. funding for Ukraine and the indictment of the influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee , Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J. Everyone will test Biden and his administration.
Menendez and his wife were indicted on federal bribery charges Friday. The lawmaker is accused of leaking confidential government information and taking other steps to secretly help the Egyptian government in exchange for about $480,000 in cash, gold bars and a luxury car.
Under Senate Democratic caucus rules, Menendez was forced to resign as chairman of his committee at a time when the administration is trying to push Congress to approve an additional $24 billion in aid to help Ukraine To help defend Russian forces in the 19-month-old war.
“It just adds to voter fatigue,” Ross Baker, a distinguished professor of political science at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said of the impact of the Menendez charges. “It’s moments like these when popularity wanes and credibility fades – especially among a section of the electorate that is already cynical. No politician wants to have to compensate for something like that.”
The president also faces growing global concerns that future U.S. aid to Ukraine could become contingent on a looming government shutdown in the United States.
Biden received Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House on Thursday. The Ukrainian leader also visited lawmakers on Capitol Hill to call on the United States to continue its aid.
Biden wants the money to be included in a government funding measure. But some in the most conservative wing of the Republican Party, allied with Trump, are pushing to leave that aid out of the bill. The vast majority of Republicans and Democrats support continued support for Ukraine.
“I count on the good judgment of the US Congress,” Biden told reporters as he and his top advisers met Zelensky. “There is no alternative.”
Biden has stepped up his attacks on Trump’s foreign policy record, portraying the former president and his close Republican allies as lackeys of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In his UN address, Biden also praised the mobilization of allies to stand up to Putin and the renewal of American leadership around the globe.
Biden, 80, faces increasing skepticism about his age among voters, including some Democrats. Last week he made perhaps his most compelling argument about the benefits of having an experienced politician in the White House at a delicate moment for the world.
“When Russia invaded Ukraine, I knew what to do — because I had been doing it for a long time,” Biden told donors at a fundraiser in New York City this week.
He will need that experience as he tries to manage tensions between Canada and India over the killing of Indian-born Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in a Vancouver suburb in June. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday there were “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the killing of Nijjar by masked gunmen, which India had been searching for years.
The claim was dismissed as absurd by Indian officials. India on Thursday stopped issuing visas to Canadian citizens and ordered Ottawa to reduce its diplomatic presence in the country. Canada’s foreign ministry said it is adjusting its staffing levels at missions in India due to concerns about the safety of its diplomats.
Biden has not commented publicly on the matter. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday the U.S. has had and will continue to have “high-level” contacts with New Delhi on the matter.
The situation could complicate Biden’s dealings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a key ally as Biden seeks to focus more on the Indo-Pacific amid China’s growing economic power and military assertiveness.
In addition to shared concerns about China, the US and India want to work more closely together on the challenges of climate change, artificial intelligence, the resilience of global supply chains and other issues.
The Canada-India dispute “will probably lead to a little more consternation in the U.S.-Canada relationship, but I think we’re willing to risk that a little bit to take advantage of the positive side that this relationship is building with India.” “he said Richard Rossow, chair of U.S.-India policy studies at the Center for Strategic and Independent Studies in Washington.
The corruption allegations against Menendez, a fellow Democrat who plays a major role in foreign affairs, are a distraction that Biden could do without.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on the charges Friday.
The Biden administration did not always agree with Menendez.
Last year, the senator criticized the White House after Biden administration officials visited Caracas for talks with members of Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro’s government to bring detained Americans home and rebuild ties with the South American oil giant. Menendez also was critical of the administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which was sealed under President Barack Obama and scrapped by the Trump administration in 2018.
John Feeley, a retired U.S. diplomat and long-time observer of Latin America, said the indictment against Menendez was an “own goal” of U.S. foreign policy – using the soccer term for when players accidentally shot the ball into their own net.
“Without prejudging the outcome, the impeachment alone is a gift to dictators and authoritarians in Havana, Caracas and Nicaragua,” said Feeley, who resigned as U.S. ambassador to Panama in 2018 over moral failings by the Trump administration. “They will label all his corruption allegations as typical US hypocrisy and jump to the conclusion that he is guilty.”