By Susan Milligan
It’s a question Biden and his press secretary get asked from time to time, and the answer is always a very predictable “yes.” Even if the 79-year-old Biden were privately planning to step aside after one term, it would be political malpractice to say so now, since such a declaration would make him an early lame duck with greatly diminished political capital.
But Biden tends not to discuss the matter in any detail, instead waving off the question with a quick affirmative and a prompt for the next question.
That changed Thursday when Biden, asked about European worries that the work Biden had done with allies on the Russia-Ukraine crisis might simply be undone in a couple of years, mused tellingly about what was at stake. And he did so in terms that were similar to those he has used to explain why he decided to run in 2020 after declaring he’d never run for office again.
“I’ve been dealing with foreign policy for longer than anybody who’s been involved in the process right now,” Biden said at a press conference in Brussels, responding to a question from a reporter from the German news magazine Der Spiegel. Biden added, “I don’t think you’ll find any European leader who thinks that I am not up to the task.”
Biden – who had spent the day meeting with NATO and G-7 allies and crafting a plan for tighter sanctions on Russia and more humanitarian help for Ukraine and countries welcoming refugees – then began talking about the turning point for him ahead of the 2020 campaign.
He hadn’t planned on running a third time, Biden said, repeating a story he has told many times. But then he saw the white supremacist rally and march in Charlottesvile – and the reaction of then-President Donald Trump – and he changed his mind.
“The gentleman you mentioned was asked what he thought. … A young woman was killed, and he said there are very good people on both sides,” Biden said, characteristically not naming the man who built his business on his eponymous brand.
“That’s when I decided I wasn’t going to be quiet any longer.”
Biden – whose low poll numbers threaten to make things even harder for Democrats facing the usual midterm challenges for the party in power – suggested he wasn’t worried about his popularity rating as it relates to his own political fate.
“When I ran this time, I made a determination: Nothing is worth – no election is worth my not doing exactly what I think is the right thing. No joke,” Biden said. “I’m too long in the tooth to fool with this any longer.”
That last offhand remark might indicate Biden, who would be 81 on Inauguration Day in 2025, was prepared to be a one-term president.
But then the American president began talking about threats to democracy, asking rhetorically how people there would feel if the German Bundestag or British Parliament were overrun by “people storming in” and police officers killed. It was a clear reference to the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt on the U.S. Capitol.
Biden went on to recall telling G-7 leaders last year that “America is back” – a comment he said prompted a head of state to ask him, “For how long?” That was an apparent reference to concerns that Trump, who slammed NATO and talked about withdrawing from the security alliance, would be back.
Trump has made tantalizing references to running in 2024 but has not formally announced a candidacy. That enables him to continue collecting donations to his super PAC without enduring the scrutiny and regulations placed on formal presidential candidates.
And while Biden may have suggested he could be drawn into a reelection bid by the lofty goal of preserving gains made in strengthening democracy and the European alliance, he wasn’t above a little trash talk on 2024 and his potential opponent.
“I don’t criticize anybody for asking that question,” Biden goodheartedly told the reporter in Brussels who asked about a potential second term. But in “the next election, I’d be very fortunate if I had that same man running against me.”