President Biden conceded there are "glitches" in his signature climate law that harm America's European allies, but refused to apologize for his administration's support for U.S. manufacturers.
"The United States makes no apology and I make no apology since I wrote the legislation we're talking about," Biden said Thursday during a White House news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron. "There are tweaks that we can make that fundamentally make it easier for European countries to participate and/or be on their own."
The president welcomed Macron for a diplomatic spectacle that featured a 21-gun salute during a morning ceremony and a glittering evening gala for more than 300 people on the South Lawn of the White House. Macron is the first foreign leader to make an official state visit to the U.S. since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosened COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in August.
But before Biden and Macron sat down for Maine lobster and an American wine-and-cheese pairing, the two presidents tried to sort through the biggest challenges facing Washington's oldest alliance, including ensuring continued European support for the war in Ukraine, managing competition between U.S. and China on trade and security, containing Iran's nuclear ambitions and addressing the brewing trade tensions over Biden's Inflation Reduction Act.
The law includes $369 billion in clean energy subsidies and encourages Americans to buy electric vehicles made in North America, a provision that has rankled European leaders who say it will hurt their economies, which are already reeling from the pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The subsidies include a tax credit worth up to $7,500 per vehicle for electric vehicles that are assembled in North America or include key components that are sourced domestically. Consumers who purchase used electric vehicles that were produced domestically can receive a maximum of $4,000 in tax credits.
White House officials argue the climate law is designed to help the U.S. meet its climate goals and benefits the global green energy industry. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday acknowledged European concerns with the legislation but said it "sets the groundwork" for global investment opportunities in clean energy technology and initiatives that benefit everyone.
Since his arrival in Washington on Tuesday, Macron has made clear he doesn't share that view. The French president sharply criticized Biden's "Buy American" policies at a congressional luncheon and speech at the French Embassy on Wednesday, arguing the climate measure and a bill to boost domestic production of semiconductors would "fragment the West."
Macron struck a more conciliatory tone during Thursday's news conference, telling reporters he understood the U.S. couldn't pass legislation to deal with Europe's problems. Both leaders, he said, had agreed to align their approach to clean energy to ensure the climate bill doesn't damage European economies.
Biden has staked his presidential legacy on reviving American leadership abroad. But he remains constrained by domestic challenges at home, including record-high inflation and supply chain disruptions exacerbated by the pandemic and war with Ukraine. Because of those pressures, Biden is reluctant to back away from what Macron and other European officials view as protectionist policies.
The "Buy American" provisions the French hate are "wildly popular" with a wide swath of key American swing voters, including blue-collar workers, older Americans and independent men, said Celinda Lake, a veteran Democratic pollster who remains close to the White House. She told The Times that voters are broadly supportive of lawmakers who promote "Buy American" policies, including Democratic Sen.-elect John Fetterman, who successfully flipped Pennsylvania's open Senate seat blue in November.
The dispute over climate legislation echoes French anger last year over the Biden administration's agreement to sell nuclear submarines to Australia. The deal essentially scuttled France's earlier plans to sell conventional diesel-powered subs to Australia.
France said at the time that it was blindsided by the deal. The United Kingdom joined the U.S. in the planned sales. The Macron government went so far as to briefly recall its ambassador from Washington, a gesture virtually unheard of between allies.
Although tensions and a degree of mistrust linger, the two governments eventually calmed the waters, with Biden acknowledging that his administration's handling of the transaction was "clumsy."
In the months since the dust-up, Biden and Macron have formed a close friendship. After German Chancellor Angela Merkel's retirement, Macron has emerged as one of Europe's most prominent figures and Biden's strongest foreign alliance. But he's also expressed a desire for more independence from the U.S. as Europe deals with rising energy prices and the economic fallout from Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The U.S. and France "really have converging objectives, but their approach to reaching these objectives might be different," said Mathieu Droin, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who focuses on transatlantic European security and defense. "If we are together in a systematic competition with China and others, we need to make sure that our agendas are complementary to one another and do not come at the expense of the other."
Aside from trade frictions, Biden and Macron reaffirmed their transatlantic bond over maintaining support for Ukraine more than nine months after Russia's invasion. The French president met with lawmakers Wednesday to support Biden's request for more than $37 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine. Republicans, who are set to take control of the House of Representatives, have entertained the idea of halting U.S. funding for the war.
Though Biden and Macron have presented a united front on helping Ukraine battle Russian forces, at times they've differed on how to bring the war to an end. Macron faced blowback for his willingness to engage Putin on negotiations but has vowed no peace could come without Ukraine's input.
Biden said he had no immediate plans to speak to Putin but would be prepared to do so if the Russian president was interested in negotiating an end to the war. So far, the president said, he's seen no signs of the war abating.
Macron's four-day visit also included a stop at the NASA headquarters in Washington with Vice President Kamala Harris, where the two highlighted a partnership on space. The U.S. joined France's Space Climate Observatory while Paris signed on to the U.S.-led Artemis Accords, a set of guidelines for cooperation in space.
Macron and his wife, Brigitte, also visited Arlington Cemetery and dined with Biden and First Lady Jill Biden at an Italian restaurant along the Potomac River in Georgetown. Before Thursday night's dinner, the French president also attended a State Department lunch hosted by Harris.
Macron gifted Biden a vinyl and CD of the original soundtrack to the 1966 French film "A Man and a Woman." The Bidens saw the movie on their first date, according to the Elysee Palace. Jill Biden, who, like Macron's wife, is a teacher, received copies of Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" and Albert Camus' "The Plague, The Fall, Exile and the Kingdom, and Selected Essays." The Bidens, meanwhile, gave the Macrons a mirror featuring fallen wood from the White House grounds and designed by an American furniture maker.
The trip marks the second time Macron has been bestowed the honor of an official White House visit. When former President Trump welcomed Macron in April 2018, the French president tried to leverage his fleeting "bromance" with Trump to salvage the multinational 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Though Macron was unsuccessful, the high-profile invitations from two U.S. presidents show the importance of the alliance, Droin said.
Before his Oval Office meeting with Biden, Macron emphasized that close Franco-American coordination will be necessary to resolve the economic turmoil wrought by the war in Ukraine. He was confident he would get it.
"This friendship always prevailed - with quite good results, by the way," he said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.