Biden's foreign policy moves raise bipartisan eyebrows: The Note

The president has riled up Russia with his hard-line stance.

March 19, 2021, 6:03 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

It's hard to argue that President Joe Biden won an election based on foreign policy, notwithstanding the deep experience on the world stage he often touts.

Yet, it's been striking how many of the biggest surprises of the early weeks of the Biden administration have come in the foreign realm -- in ways that have scrambled political reactions, and have left a few erstwhile Biden allies a bit concerned.

The president's description of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "killer" in an interview with ABC News marks as clear a turnabout from his predecessor as one could imagine. It has the Russians fuming, taunting and threatening diplomatic retaliation.

The interview also showcased another break with the Trump administration when Biden suggested that the May 1 deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan would probably have to slide. That's one Trump goal many on the left -- those who condemn "forever wars" -- wanted to see stand.

Then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin shakes hands with then-Vice President Joe Biden during their meeting in Moscow, March 10, 2011.
Alexander Natruskin/Reuters, FILE

Another curveball has come on Iran. Former President Donald Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner this week offered praise for what he called Biden's "smart diplomatic move" of refusing concessions with Iran that might have brought back the nuclear deal negotiated under the Obama administration.

At the nexus of foreign policy, immigration and the pandemic lies a move that's distinctly un-Trump. An agreement to send AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico and Canada could be announced as soon as Friday; it appears to be linked to Mexican help on the migrant crisis, though the White House has not confirmed as much.

That move in particular serves as a reminder that foreign policy has particular domestic implications during a global pandemic. It means that Biden's moves abroad will matter even more than usual at home.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

In light of the spa shootings in the Atlanta area, in which six of the eight victims killed were Asian women, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have modified plans for their trip to Georgia on Friday.

Instead of the scheduled political event to tout the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, Biden and Harris will meet with state lawmakers and community leaders from the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. The pair will "discuss the ongoing attacks and threats against the community," according to White House officials.

The trip follows a day of testimony on Capitol Hill from AAPI members of Congress, scholars and actor Daniel Dae Kim. During the hearing, witnesses repeatedly tied the racist rhetoric of former President Donald Trump associating the coronavirus with China to the rise in attacks.

In this March 12, 2021, file photo, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris walk along the White House colonnade as they arrive to speak in the Rose Garden in Washington.
Alex Brandon/AP, FILE

Personal aspects of both Biden and Harris are as important as the fact that they're holding this meeting with AAPI leaders at all. Biden comes with the moniker of "empathizer-in-chief" because of his keen ability to comfort those who are suffering. It is significant for a community that is grieving the lost, helping the injured recover and facing fears of future attacks.

What action Biden and Harris will take on the issue following the meeting is unknown. Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Rep. Maize Hirono, D-Hawaii, have put forth a bill that seeks to combat hate violence against the AAPI community by improving hate crime reporting systems. The bill would create a position within the Department of Justice to expedite review of hate crimes related to anti-Asian sentiment amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harris' presence as the first woman of color -- a woman of Southeast Asian descent -- to hold her title is also especially poignant in this moment. Harris told reporters Wednesday, "I do want to say to our Asian American community that we stand with you." She doesn't just offer the message metaphorically, she does so as a member of the community herself.

The TIP with Quinn Scanlan

The president and vice president's trip to Atlanta on Friday comes amid fresh outrage from voting rights advocates over another Republican-sponsored omnibus bill that would overhaul Georgia's election processes.

Just about an hour ahead of a House committee hearing Wednesday, a 93-page bill was unveiled -- by a reporter who obtained it -- as a comprehensive substitute to a once two-page bill that advanced through the state Senate on March 8. The bill, which contains many provisions included in two previously debated omnibus bills, was not publicly posted on the General Assembly's website ahead of that hearing and was still missing following a second hearing Thursday afternoon.

A coalition of organizations staunchly against these "voter suppression bills" swiftly convened a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday to respond to the latest attempt to push legislation through the General Assembly before March 31, the final day for votes in 2021. The organizing director for Fair Fight said it was "a complete insult" that this new bill came a day after the horrific shootings of Asian American women.

PHOTO: Demonstrators hold a sit-in inside the Capitol building in opposition of House Bill 531 on March 8, 2021, in Atlanta. HB531 will restrict early voting hours, remove drop boxes and require the use of a government ID when voting by mail.
Demonstrators wear chains while holding a sit-in inside of the Capitol building in opposition of House Bill 531 on March 8, 2021, in Atlanta. HB531 will restrict early voting hours, remove drop boxes and require the use of a government ID when voting by mail.
Megan Varner/Getty Images, FILE

The coalition has ramped up its efforts against the bills, now pressuring major corporations based in Georgia to publicly oppose their passage, but Democratic lawmakers alone don't have the votes to stop them, and the committee may vote on this new bill Monday.

While the coalition opposes much of the new bill, two of the most controversial proposals introduced this session have been axed entirely: It would not repeal no-excuse absentee voting and all counties would have the option to offer advance voting on both Sundays that fall within the three-week preelection period.


ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Friday morning’s episode features National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum President Sung Yeon Choimorrow, who further examines the anger from the Asian American community following the spa shootings in Georgia. ABC News’ Anne Flaherty tells us why the U.S. is sending vaccines to Mexico and Canada. And ABC News’ Conor Finnegan breaks down Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first in-person overseas meetings.


  • President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Atlanta Friday. They will tour the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at 2:15 p.m. and speak with lawmakers and leaders in the AAPI community about anti-Asian violence at 3:35 p.m. Biden will deliver remarks at 4:45 p.m.
  • Friday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing about American's way forward in the Indo-Pacific at 10 a.m.
  • Friday, the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing entitled, "Investing in an Organic Industrial Base to Support Service Modernization Plans" at 11 a.m.
  • Friday, the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing entitled, "Department of Defense Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations: Challenges and Opportunities in the Invisible Battlespace" at 3 p.m.
  • Sunday on ABC's "This Week": Co-anchor Martha Raddatz goes one-on-one with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Plus, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, joins “This Week” Sunday with reporting from ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl and ABC News Chief National Correspondent Matt Gutman.
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