The meeting between President Joe Biden and King Abdullah II of Jordan in Washington on Monday comes at a critical time in the war between Israel and Hamas – and at a possible inflection point for Biden’s presidency.
In the wake of special counsel Robert Hur’s report, which contained politically embarrassing passages about the president’s memory, Biden is facing perhaps the most scrutiny of his presidency over his mental acuity. The 81-year-old president’s age is his biggest political problem, and the special counsel’s report has struck a nerve, as evidenced by Biden’s amped-up news conference just hours after it published.
But that domestic political pressure has not obscured the foreign crises that have occupied much of the president’s term in office, and it was during that news conference that Biden leveled his latest ramped-up criticism at Israel, calling its response to the October 7 terror attack “over the top.” The president is now aiming to show off his command of the issues at hand when King Abdullah, a key regional ally who has been critical of Israel’s campaign in Gaza, comes to the West Wing.
The president and king will meet Monday at the White House, where they are expected to discuss “the ongoing situation in Gaza and efforts to produce an enduring end to the crisis,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a preview of the meeting.
“The two leaders will discuss U.S. [efforts] to support the Palestinian people including through enhanced humanitarian assistance into Gaza and a vision for a durable peace to include a two-state solution with Israel’s security guaranteed,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
The president’s supporters have frequently pointed to the Israel-Hamas war as evidence of Biden’s mental faculties being in good shape. Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday pushed back against concerns about the president’s age as she recounted in detail the experience serving alongside Biden in the aftermath of Hamas’ October 7 attack, noting that she was in “almost every meeting” with him and his national security team in the days that followed. Biden sat for interviews with Hur on October 8 and 9.
“The president was in front of and on top of it all, asking questions and requiring that America’s military and intelligence community and diplomatic community would figure out and know – how many people are dead, how many Americans, how many hostages, is the situation stable?” Harris said.
And Democratic Rep. Daniel Goldman of New York, who spoke by phone with Biden a day ahead of his October 8 interview with Hur, said the president was “sharper than anyone I’ve spoken to” about the situation in the Middle East.
In his meeting with King Abdullah, Biden will have some high-pressure issues to work through as the Jordanians have called on the White House to put more pressure on Israel over its campaign against Hamas in Gaza, which has taken an immense humanitarian toll.
Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority canceled a planned meeting with Biden less than 24 hours before a planned four-way summit in the Jordanian capital, Amman, in October when he traveled to Israel. The cancellation followed a massive blast in Gaza’s Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital that reportedly killed hundreds of Palestinians.
The Jordanian and Egyptian governments have called for a ceasefire in Gaza, while Biden has resisted making a similar call.
And the meeting comes just weeks after three American soldiers were killed during an attack at a base in Jordan last month, prompting the US to launch dozens of retaliatory strikes that targeted Iran-backed militias.
But the top order of business will be discussing how to achieve a cessation to fighting that also involves the release of hostages still held by Hamas since the October 7 terror attack on Israel. There are 136 hostages being held in Gaza, including 132 who were captured during Hamas’ October 7 attack. Twenty-nine of the hostages are dead, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office.
Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed a deal to secure the release of hostages in Gaza at length on Sunday, according to a senior administration official, who cautioned that while a framework is in place, gaps remain.
Over the last several months, the US has attempted to put more pressure on the Israeli government to support a “humanitarian pause” in its war against Hamas. But those efforts have yielded little success.
Last week, Netanyahu called Hamas’ recent proposals for a ceasefire and hostage deal in Gaza “delusional.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken previously said negotiations toward an agreement would continue despite the Israeli prime minister’s comments, which Blinken said were referencing the “absolute non-starters” in the proposal.
The full Hamas response proposes three phases, each lasting 45 days, including the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, a massive humanitarian effort, and freedom of movement for people throughout Gaza, according to a copy obtained by CNN.
CNN’s MJ Lee, Priscilla Alvarez, Betsy Klein and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.
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