Shift in terms keeps Bi­den’s Se­nate papers un­der wraps

Can­di­date vows to re­turn fo­cus to democ­racy, Amer­i­can lead­er­ship

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MATT VISER

Joe Bi­den’s ef­fort to make his lengthy ex­pe­ri­ence the cen­tral is­sue of his cam­paign has been con­founded by ques­tions about his ac­tions dur­ing al­most four decades as a U.S. sen­a­tor, on is­sues in­clud­ing crim­i­nal jus­tice, bus­ing and the hear­ings into the nom­i­na­tion of Supreme Court Jus­tice Clarence Thomas.

Those ques­tions might be an­swered in the mas­sive trove of Se­nate records he do­nated eight years ago to the Univer­sity of Delaware un­der an agree­ment that they could be made pub­lic by early this year.

But the records are be­ing kept se­cret, fol­low­ing new terms the univer­sity posted on its web­site just be­fore Bi­den made his presi

NEW YORK — Joe Bi­den used the first big for­eign pol­icy speech of his pres­i­den­tial run to blast Pres­i­dent Trump for em­brac­ing au­to­crats and prom­ise that his ad­min­is­tra­tion would make the de­fense of democ­racy the cen­ter of its for­eign pol­icy.

He ac­cused Trump of “walk­ing away from Amer­i­can re­spon­si­bil­ity, ly­ing about mat­ters big and small” and bankrupt­ing “Amer­ica’s word.”

“He has alien­ated us,” Bi­den said of Trump on Thurs­day.

Bi­den’s al­ter­na­tive largely in­volved a re­turn to tra­di­tional Amer­i­can prin­ci­ples such as the promotion of democ­racy and co­op­er­a­tion with al­lies. In­stead of fo­cus­ing ex­clu­sively on the United States’ uni­lat­eral in­ter­ests, he spoke of a re­turn to spread­ing Amer­i­can values.

“No army on Earth can match the elec­tric idea of liberty,” Bi­den said in his speech at the Grad­u­ate Cen­ter at the City Univer­sity of New York. “It jumps borders and tran­scends lan­guages. And can supercharg­e com­mu­ni­ties, or­di­nary ci­ti­zens and ac­tivists. We must once more har­ness that power and rally the free world.”

Bi­den’s speech was short on new for­eign pol­icy ideas, bold vi­sions or even de­tailed pro­pos­als. Rather, as he has through­out the early days of his pres­i­den­tial run, he promised a re­turn to nor­malcy and the broad out­lines of Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pol­icy after four years of Trump. The speech pri­or­i­tized earnest­ness over ex­cite­ment or even ap­plause lines, of which there were few.

The former vice pres­i­dent twice drew mod­est ap­plause, for propos­ing an end to Amer­i­can in­volve­ment in the war in Ye­men and promis­ing a re­turn to the Paris ac­cords on cli­mate change, along with re­newed in­vest­ment in green tech­nol­ogy.

The only new idea in Bi­den’s speech was a pledge to con­vene a meet­ing of the world’s democ­ra­cies, civil-so­ci­ety groups and so­cial me­dia com­pa­nies within the first months of his pres­i­dency. The goal, he said, would be to in­spire a “re­newal . . . of shared pur­pose” among the world’s democ­ra­cies at a time when au­toc­racy seems on the march.

Bi­den said he would de­mand that world lead­ers at the sum­mit make pledges to fight cor­rup­tion and ad­vance hu­man rights in their coun­tries. So­cial me­dia com­pa­nies, he said, would be asked to work harder to “en­sure their al­go­rithms and plat­forms are not used to sow divi­sion” or en­able au­to­cratic sur­veil­lance states.

For the can­di­dates at the top of the pres­i­den­tial polls, a big for­eign pol­icy speech has be­come a re­quire­ment, and that is es­pe­cially true for Bi­den, who has made his decades of ex­pe­ri­ence in Wash­ing­ton and in­ter­na­tion­ally the core ra­tio­nale of his cam­paign. Bi­den, how­ever, de­liv­ered a speech that was less dar­ing and dis­rup­tive than those of­fered by his chal­lengers.

One theme of the com­peti­tors’ ad­dresses has been to stress that the fail­ures of Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy pre­date Trump’s wreck­ing­ball ap­proach to U.S. al­liances and his em­brace of au­thor­i­tar­i­ans. “Much was al­ready bro­ken when this pres­i­dent ar­rived, and he im­me­di­ately set about smash­ing what­ever re­mained,” Pete But­tigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., said in a speech last month.

“It has been dif­fi­cult to iden­tify a con­sis­tent for­eign pol­icy in the Demo­cratic Party,” But­tigieg said of his party’s drift over the past two decades, a pe­riod that cov­ers de­ci­sions by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and then-Vice Pres­i­dent Bi­den.

Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren (DMass.) hit a sim­i­lar note. “While it’s easy to blame Pres­i­dent Trump for our prob­lems, the truth is that our chal­lenges be­gan long be­fore him,” she said in her for­eign pol­icy speech last fall.

Bi­den, who was a key fig­ure in shap­ing Obama’s for­eign pol­icy vision, can­not rep­re­sent a clean break from a Demo­cratic for­eign-pol­icy past built around big trade deals in­tended to bol­ster the U.S. econ­omy and ex­tend democ­racy to places such as China and Rus­sia. He sup­ported that ap­proach as vice pres­i­dent and ear­lier in the Se­nate.

“Wow! Did Wash­ing­ton get that one wrong!” War­ren mused, re­gard­ing free trade as a de­moc­ra­tiz­ing force.

In­stead of promis­ing a war on “global oli­garchy,” like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), or “new rules for global cap­i­tal­ism in the 21st century,” like War­ren, Bi­den of­fered up prac­ti­cal, mod­er­ate and in­cre­men­tal solutions, such as greater in­vest­ments in clean-en­ergy tech­nol­ogy, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and quan­tum com­put­ing. He vowed to make sure “the rules of the in­ter­na­tional econ­omy are not rigged against us . . . . When Amer­i­can busi­nesses are on an even play­ing field, we win.”

And he promised to re­store the United States’ global lead­er­ship role, which Trump had often cast as a bur­den and drag on the Amer­i­can econ­omy. “The world does not or­ga­nize it­self, and if we do not shape it . . . some nation will step into the vac­uum,” or no one will and “chaos will pre­vail,” Bi­den said.

Bi­den’s de­liv­ery through­out the speech was staid, and he oc­ca­sion­ally seemed to stum­ble over his words. He be­came most an­i­mated when at­tack­ing Trump, who he de­scribed as the big­gest threat to the coun­try’s in­ter­ests abroad.

Be­fore he stepped on the stage in New York City, Bi­den’s cam­paign tweeted a 90-sec­ond video at­tack­ing Trump that be­gan with footage of U.N. del­e­gates laugh­ing at the pres­i­dent in New York last fall. Bi­den then spent the first five min­utes of his speech de­tail­ing what he said were Trump’s fail­ings as com­man­der in chief.

“The threat that I be­lieve that Pres­i­dent Trump poses to our na­tional se­cu­rity and to our coun­try is extreme,” he said. Bi­den cited Trump’s words in the af­ter­math of a 2017 neo-Nazi and white-na­tion­al­ist rally in Char­lottesvill­e that erupted into vi­o­lence.

Trump said that there had been good peo­ple “on both sides” of the vi­o­lence.

Bi­den also slammed Trump’s em­brace of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and the pres­i­dent’s ten­dency to be­lieve the Rus­sian leader’s word over the find­ings of his in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. He called Trump’s sum­mit news con­fer­ence with Putin last year in Helsinki “one of the most shame­ful per­for­mances by Amer­i­can pres­i­dents in his­tory.”

The former vice pres­i­dent called the cur­rent pres­i­dent “dan­ger­ously in­com­pe­tent and in­ca­pable of world lead­er­ship” and promised that once he was pres­i­dent that there would be “no more Char­lottesvill­es and no more Helsinkis.”

Bi­den was par­tic­u­larly scathing re­gard­ing Trump’s at­tacks on in­ter­na­tional trade agree­ments and his ap­proach to NATO, which he said Trump has treated “like some sort of Amer­i­can-led protection racket.”

“Don­ald Trump’s ‘Amer­ica First’ has too often led to Amer­ica alone,” he con­tin­ued, in­vok­ing the pres­i­dent’s for­eign pol­icy slo­gan.

In­stead of new ideas, Bi­den stressed decades-old Demo­cratic for­eign pol­icy prin­ci­ples and his ex­pe­ri­ence in the Se­nate and the White House. He re­called his work in particular on nuclear non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, which dates to the 1970s and treaty agree­ments with the now-dis­ap­peared Soviet Union.

“I’ve worked on these is­sues my en­tire ca­reer. I un­der­stand what’s at stake,” he said. “And I un­der­stand the con­se­quences of fail­ing to act.”

Like vir­tu­ally all of the can­di­dates, he talked about re­con­nect­ing U.S. for­eign pol­icy to the needs of its mid­dle class rather than those of wealthy cor­po­ra­tions. But like most of his fel­low chal­lengers on the cam­paign trail, he pro­vided few de­tails as to what that ac­tu­ally would mean. “There’s not going to be a backto-busi­ness-as-usual on trade,” he said. “We need new rules and pro­cesses.”

There were nods in Bi­den’s speech to new threats in the cy­ber realm and prom­ises to pro­tect the U.S. elec­tion sys­tem from for­eign in­ter­fer­ence. But much of Bi­den’s speech was char­ac­ter­ized by a nos­tal­gia for the days when the United States’ lead­er­ship role was un­ques­tioned.

“We’ll be back. We’ll be back,” he promised an au­di­ence of diplo­mats and for­eign pol­icy ex­perts ear­lier this year in Mu­nich.

In New York, Bi­den of­fered a sim­i­lar mes­sage, calling for “more open­ness, not less, more friend­ships, more co­op­er­a­tion, more al­liances, more democ­racy.” All were taken as un­ques­tioned bedrocks of Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy by Repub­li­cans and Democrats only a few years ago. Now, Bi­den said, all seem un­der threat.

“The threat that I be­lieve that Pres­i­dent Trump poses to our na­tional se­cu­rity and to our coun­try is extreme.”

Joe Bi­den, Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date

CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS

Former vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den speaks Thurs­day at the Grad­u­ate Cen­ter at the City Univer­sity of New York. In the first ma­jor for­eign pol­icy speech of his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, he vowed a re­turn to global norms he said have been dan­ger­ously eroded by Pres­i­dent Trump.

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