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Midterms went better than expected for Biden. Now he's traveling to Asia


President Biden's party just endured an election, losing some ground, but gaining more support than some expected. Now he spends the weekend abroad. And he will meet the leader of a very, very different political system, China's Xi Jinping, who just installed himself for a third term. Xi eliminated the only check there was on a Chinese leader, the custom that he would eventually step aside. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is traveling with the U.S. president. Hey there, Franco.


INSKEEP: OK. So we've just had a demonstration of our system. The people have spoken. How do those results affect the president's standing abroad?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, basically, the results mean he'll have a more receptive audience. Biden's going to meet with a bunch of leaders at the U.N. climate summit in Egypt and in Cambodia and, finally, in Bali with the G-20. Foreign leaders, you know, as you know, pay close attention to U.S. domestic politics. And the fact that Democrats did better than expected means that Biden won't have as many questions about whether he has the backing of the American people, especially on foreign policy matters. I spoke with Zack Cooper about this. He's a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

ZACK COOPER: I think it will give Biden a feeling that he has maybe a little bit of wind at his back. Republicans look to have a margin in the House of Representatives. But it was less of a loss than, I think, many had expected for the Democrats.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, Steve, Cooper says big losses in the midterms would have raised concerns about Biden's staying power and, frankly, whether the isolationist policies of former President Donald Trump were coming back.

INSKEEP: So having had that result, what does Biden want to accomplish?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, there are a lot of tensions over trade and national security, particularly with Xi Jinping. So when they meet, they're going to have a lot to talk about. Biden says he won't make any concessions to appease Xi when he meets him on the sidelines of the G-20. But he does want to set some limits. Here's what - how he put it yesterday.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And I told him, I'm looking for competition, not conflict. And so what I want to do with him when we talk is lay out what the - what kind of - each of our red lines are, understand what he believes to be in the critical national interests of China, what I know to be the critical interests of the United States and determine whether or not they conflict with one another.

ORDOÑEZ: And this includes Taiwan. Biden has said his policy hasn't changed on Taiwan, which China claims as its territory. But Biden has made a lot of statements about whether the U.S. would defend Taiwan. And he says he's having that conversation with Xi when he sees him.

INSKEEP: As Biden meets a number of world leaders, I would assume that Ukraine is going to come up.

ORDOÑEZ: Ukraine will definitely come up and so will Vladimir Putin, even if he's not there. And he might not be there. Biden is going to be talking a lot about the impacts of Russia's war around the world. I spoke with Melinda Haring. She's the deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center. She says Putin is the elephant in the room.

MELINDA HARING: We know that the issues that the G-20 faces, the big themes of this meeting, are energy security and food security. And those issues both, of course, touch on the war in Ukraine. So even if Vladimir Putin is not there, his spirit is sort of hovering over the G-20.

ORDOÑEZ: Now, Haring says none of the leaders really want Putin there. No one wants to take a picture with them. But at the same time, it's difficult to address big issues like food security and energy security if the most consequential player is not there.

INSKEEP: NPR's Franco Ordoñez will be covering this meeting of the world's 20 largest economies. Or maybe we should say 19. Franco, thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.