Biden seeks to undermine a Trump talking point in NATO summit address

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden sought in a speech Tuesday to rebut a critique of the NATO military alliance that rival Donald Trump has made in arguing that the U.S. should abandon its obligations to allies in the pact.

In the address to kick off the NATO summit meeting as it began in Washington, Biden made a point of noting that on his watch, the number of NATO member countries that are spending 2% of gross domestic product on defense has jumped from nine to 23. Trump frequently argued that by pressuring allies to spend more on defense, he was protecting American taxpayers from shouldering too much of the load.

Biden didn’t mention Trump by name, but his message was unmistakable: For all of Trump’s bluster about NATO countries that don’t meet their financial burdens, more nations have met the budgetary target since he left.

“Remaining countries that have not reached that milestone will get there soon,” Biden said.

Biden appeared at a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of NATO. He spoke in front of the towering Doric columns in the Mellon Auditorium, the building where leaders signed the treaty establishing NATO in 1949.

The summit coincides with a fraught political moment in the U.S., with Biden’s re-election bid in jeopardy. The uncertainty surrounding his political future is an unexpected complication as he plays host to allied leaders. As his counterparts from 31 other NATO countries gathered for the summit, another Democrat, Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, came forward and called for Biden to drop his candidacy.

Biden’s weak performance during his debate with Trump on June 27 has drawn attention to his acuity and ability to project strength on the national and global stage. He delivered his 15-minute speech with no discernible gaffes and with more vigor than he displayed during the debate.

He took aim at Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggesting that Putin’s war against Ukraine is ruinous for his people.

“Make no mistake,” Biden said. “Russia is failing in this war. Nearly 1 million Russians, many of them young people, have left Russia because they no longer see a future in Russia.”

Ukraine’s fate may hinge on the outcome of the presidential race. Trump has said that, if he is elected, he would end the war quickly, but that promise has sparked fears that the peace deal he envisions would favor Putin.

Biden has championed Ukraine from the start.

“Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine continues, and Putin wants nothing, nothing less than Ukraine’s total subjugation,” he said.

Putin’s aim, he added, is to “end Ukraine’s democracy, to destroy Ukraine’s culture and to wipe Ukraine off the map. And we know Putin won’t stop at Ukraine. But make no mistake: Ukraine can and will stop Putin.”

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