Biden faces US political showdown after G20 trip

Vietnam's President Vo Van Thuong and US President Joe Biden hold a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on September 11, 2023. PHOTO / AFP

What you need to know:

  • Despite positive economic signs, America's oldest-ever president is polling neck-and-neck in a likely rematch with Donald Trump, his 77-year-old Republican predecessor.

US President Joe Biden is counting his wins from a grueling trip to Asia, but at home he faces a string of political showdowns to keep his reelection bid on sure footing.

The 80-year-old had 2024 in his sights when he said on his return from India and Vietnam on Monday that his travels had "strengthened America's leadership on the global stage."

With his Democratic Party reportedly alarmed by his poll ratings, Biden used his time at the G20 in Delhi and in Hanoi to talk up his credentials as US commander-in-chief and international statesman.

But the situation on his return to Washington looks increasingly like an uphill battle.

Despite positive economic signs, America's oldest-ever president is polling neck-and-neck in a likely rematch with Donald Trump, his 77-year-old Republican predecessor.

A possible US government shutdown looms at the end of the month; a potentially disruptive strike of US automakers is also in the cards. And hardline Republicans are even pushing for an impeachment inquiry over Biden's embattled son Hunter.

But the really bad news after an exhausting journey through all 24 time zones on Air Force One? Foreign policy is not top of mind for most US voters.

"I don't think going to other countries for summit meetings is going to make a big difference to him in terms of poll numbers," David Karol, who teaches government and politics at the University of Maryland, told AFP.

The issue in particular won't win over the small number of swing voters he needs to convince next year.

"Most voters are not focused on foreign affairs unless there's a war with American troops in it." 

- Panic -
Biden the statesman was on display even at home this weekend, in television campaign ads hailing his support for Ukraine against the Russian invasion.

At the G20 summit in Delhi, Biden "stepped into the void left by Xi (Jinping of China) and secured new infrastructure deals aimed at connecting India, the Middle East and Europe," said Josh Lipsky of the Atlantic Council, a think tank. 

In Vietnam he won a major upgrade in ties to rein in rival Beijing.

In Hanoi Biden riffed -- at considerable length -- on a favorite story about a supposed quote from a movie starring legendary US actor John Wayne, describing climate change skeptics as "lying, dog-faced pony soldiers." 

But that, and a tired-seeming Biden's parting words that he was "going to bed" risked playing into the hands of his biggest electoral liability at home -- his age.

Democrats are starting to panic about his low polling, The Wall Street Journal's editorial board said on Monday, especially over what it called his "age and decline."

Back in Washington, a divided Congress is struggling to agree on a budget extension to avoid the first government shutdown since 2018-19, when Trump was in office.

The White House has asked Congress to swiftly vote on a budget extension to avoid such a situation.

Backed by Trump, far right Republicans are also pushing heavily for an impeachment inquiry, saying they won't vote to avoid a shutdown unless it goes ahead.

They want to launch the probe over Hunter Biden's business dealings in Ukraine and unproven allegations about whether the president benefitted from them.

While it would be doomed to failure as Biden's Democrats control the Senate, Republicans are keen to do whatever they can to capitalize on Hunter Biden's problems.

Adding to his woes, Biden's treasured credentials as a pro-union president could be hurt if workers at the "Big Three" automakers Ford, General Motors and Stellantis go on strike later this week.

Worse for Biden, the political noise is drowning out his pitch on the issue that voters do care about -- that the US has the "strongest economy in the world today".

"Messaging is a challenge because persuadable voters are not paying much attention," said Karol.