Clip: What the NATO summit accomplished for Ukraine's future and Biden's campaign

Jul. 14, 2023 AT 8:27 p.m. EDT

President Biden is back in the U.S. after a historic trip to Europe. He recorded some potentially legacy-building wins, including the expansion of NATO with Finland and Sweden. But Biden left Ukraine wanting by refusing to push for NATO membership for now but reaffirming a pledge it will eventually be invited to join the alliance.

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Lisa Desjardins: Tonight, President Biden is back in the country after a historic trip to Europe. He recorded some potentially legacy-building wins, including the expansion of NATO and increased support for Ukraine. On Thursday, he wrapped up his three country swing in Helsinki.

Joe Biden: This week, we affirmed how Finland and United States, together with allies and partners, are working in lockstep to set us on a stronger, safer and more secure path, not just for Europe, not just for NATO, but for the world.

Lisa Desjardins: The President helped change the NATO map, welcoming Finland as a full member and convincing Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to allow Sweden to join as well.

But Biden left Ukraine and its president wanting, refusing to push for NATO membership for them now, but reaffirming a pledge that Ukraine will eventually be invited to join the alliance.

Joining me to discuss this and more, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Anchor at Washington Post Live and co-author of The Post's Early 202, Francesca Chambers, White House Correspondent for USA Today, Nia-Malika Henderson, Senior Political Analyst at CNN, and Scott Wong, Senior Congressional Reporter for NBC News.

Let's jump right into this whole what's going on with NATO. I want to ask you, Francesca, since you were kind enough, you might still be in the other time zone to join us tonight after just flying back, can you tell us, take us into the summit exactly and how important was this, both for NATO and for President Biden?

Francesca Chambers, White House Correspondent, USA Today: So, just as the NATO summit was beginning you saw President Zelenskyy of Ukraine send out this tweet. He was very frustrated because he had gotten word that what NATO allies were agreeing to was not membership for Ukraine or even an invitation to membership for Ukraine.

Now, we had known before this that they were not going to be invited to join NATO at the summit but he had said if they didn't get some strong signals on that front that he may not even come. So, he sends this tweet saying that he's on his way because he doesn't want this to be discussed with him not in the room. He gets there and he finds out from G7 members that they're coming up with this alternative long-term security guarantees that President Biden and the U.S. have really been spearheading.

But as you noted, that's not what he wanted. They hoped to get the NATO membership invitation that they can use in the future to help deter Russian aggression. Instead what they got were these individual security guarantees from the U.S. and other nations.

Lisa Desjardins: Sticking with you, the Biden administration is touting bringing in Sweden negotiating kind of a three-dimensional chess game there with Turkey and Greece and a lot of sort of long-held difficult dynamics, that was a win for them. But was that really them underpromising and overdelivering or was that really a surprise from the summit?

Francesca Chambers: So, last year there had already been an agreement for both Sweden and Finland to be able to join, Finland was able to move forward. And then you didn't see that for Sweden until the eve of the summit leading up to that. President Biden on his way to Europe had more than hour-long conversation with Erdogan. You also saw the NATO secretary-general having conversations on the eve of the summit, really trying to get this deal done and get it out of the way leading into it. You also saw other U.S. officials talking to their counterparts too. It really went down to the wire right before the NATO summit, though.

Lisa Desjardins: So much drama. Leigh Ann, what do you think was the legacy of this NATO summit for President Biden?

Leigh Ann Caldwell, Anchor, Washington Post Live:  So, I think for President Biden it was a really good summit for him. I think it was a good week for President Biden. I think even heading in, even though there was a lot of drama regarding Sweden, heading into it being on Capitol Hill, members and people were very skeptical that Sweden -- that he was going to be able to get it done with Turkey and Sweden. And he was, we think, able to do it. We'll see if the plane actually lands there.

But I think that what this does is that it re-solidifies President Biden as being able to manage this international crisis. And I think that it comes at a time where you look two years ago in the withdrawal of Afghanistan as one of the lowest points of President Biden's presidencies. And I think that this is on the other side when it comes to international affairs.

Nia-Malika Henderson, Senior Political Analyst, CNN: And I think if you look back a few months ago when the GOP took over the House, there was a sense of whether or not there would be a sort of declining support among the GOP and among just the general public, declining support for this Ukrainian war effort. And if you look at polls, there's broad support for this effort. It's something like 60 percent, even though there's billions and billions of dollars going into that. So, I think being strong at home also, I think, helps him his hand abroad, being able to go to the NATO members and really bolster this case that NATO has to stand strong with Ukraine.

So, listen, if you look back to why people wanted Biden to be president, one of the reasons was that he was strong on foreign policy. It's one of the reasons Obama wanted him to be his vice president.

Lisa Desjardins: It's how he got the gig.

Nia-Malika Henderson:  Exactly. It's how he got the vice presidential gig. And then I think the presidential gig as well. And so there, I think, if you're the White House, you're looking at a pretty successful summit. But, in fact, he didn't make any real mistakes, right? Because there have been times when he's been overseas where there are sort of gaffes or maybe what could be construed as senior moments. You didn't have that with this.

Lisa Desjardins: Is that the bar, though, no mistakes? That's how we are?

Scott, we talk to House Democrats all the time on the Hill. And behind the scenes, they're really not quite sure about Biden. Some of them are, some of them aren't. But what did this summit do for your Hill sources, Democrats, do you think?

Scott Wong, Senior Congressional Reporter, NBC News: As you know, Lisa, there has been grumbling among Senate and House Democrats about Biden's age, does he have the stamina to be president for another four years. He's 80 years old. And so I think what this week showed is that he can deliver.

I talked to a number of Democrats on the Hill, Veronica Escobar, who serves on armed service. She called it an overwhelming success. She said, look, there's something to the fact that this man is a seasoned leader. He was able to close a deal and help get, you know, Sweden and Finland part of NATO and really grow NATO. Dick Durbin said, look, NATO is bigger and stronger now and this is a bad week for Vladimir Putin.

Lisa Desjardins: Zelenskyy, he obviously -- this is an existential question for him. How much support can President Biden deliver for him, to use Scott's words? And there is divide on the Hill. You were one of the few reporters that was able to ask questions of President Zelenskyy there at the summit. How is he trying to convince skeptics here in America that we should continue to invest in supporting Ukraine?

Francesca Chambers: So, after that initial tweet, where, again, he was very, very frustrated and said that, you know, it was unprecedented for them not to issue this invitation. We heard him talking much softer tone once he got to the NATO summit, very, very grateful to the American people for all of their support. And he expressed that again when he talked to President Biden.

And when I had the exchange with him at that news conference, he defended the use of cluster munitions because those have been controversial because of their tendency to cause civilian casualties and said that Russia had been using them all along. They had been using them going back to 2014 when they invaded Crimea. And that, basically, they want fairness that he said, quote, we are defending ourselves here.

But it has created some controversy in the United States because the people who are coming out against it primarily are Democrats, progressives within President Biden's own party. You have many Republicans actually siding with President Biden. They have said all along that they think he's getting weapons to Ukraine too slowly. They would like to see him send more aggressive weaponry. This was one of the things that President Zelenskyy said he would be talking to President Biden about in the meeting is getting more of the long range weapons as well.

Lisa Desjardins: These are some strange dynamics here, yes, Leigh Ann.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: So, I was just going to jump in on and say, on the one hand, those Republicans who are on Biden's side on that issue, but then you see over the past couple of days they were debating the National Defense Authorization Act and you saw amendments where Republicans were trying to strip all sorts of support for Ukraine and we got the clearest sense yet how big that coalition is. There were 70 Republicans who voted to stop helping Ukraine. And, of course, it's not a majority, but that's still significant.

And so it's going to continue to be a challenge, especially since with the security agreement they promised to continue to help Ukraine, humanitarian, military aid and that has to go through Congress.

Lisa Desjardins: Nia, how did we get to this point where now we have many Republicans who do not want to support sort of what would usually be a cold war move against Russia, a former adversary, continued adversary, versus there's Democrats who do support more military, with some exceptions, with the cluster bomb exception. But how did this dynamic fall (ph).

Nia-Malika Henderson: Yes. I think the answer is Donald Trump. I mean, he sort of, I think, scrambled the decks in terms of Republican stance on Russia, on Putin, on foreign policy, on foreign intervention and war. I mean, his rhetoric about Putin often suggested that he wanted to be best friends with Putin. Even when this started, he seemed to sort of side with Putin in terms of the invasion of Ukraine.

And so you have people like Marjorie Taylor Greene and even at sometimes presidential candidates saying, well, this is just a territorial dispute. America needs to focus on its own border. We don't need to be sending money to Ukraine to protect their border. So, I think this sort of starts with Donald Trump's rhetoric in 2016 and his rhetoric in office about foreign engagement, about international alliances as well. He's very skeptical of NATO. And so this is what we have.

Lisa Desjardins: We're about to talk more about House Republicans, but, Scott, one more question on this front. What do you think are the prospects on the Hill for Ukraine support? Senators seem to think a supplemental will happen. The House thinks, no way.

Scott Wong: Yes. One of the more fascinating aspects of the Ukraine's angle is that Marjorie Taylor Greene was leading the charge, trying to block funding for Ukraine. Kevin McCarthy just named her as a member of the negotiating committee between the House and the Senate on this big defense policy bill, which is going to set policy on Ukraine. She's going to have a big voice in that room as they negotiate Ukraine funding in the future.

Lisa Desjardins: That will make it easier.

Francesca Chambers: And just what I was going to say one brief thing. Senator Thom Tillis, who was at the NATO summit, told me that he thinks there will need to be another supplemental bill on Ukraine if they're going to have the money to be able to fight in this counteroffensive. But I think it was really important to note, there was a bipartisan group of senators who was at the NATO summit, and one of the things that they pushed was to get more U.S. allies to pay up more money. They think that that will help to get more of these House Republicans on board.

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