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Vice President Harris to travel to Germany for a series of meetings with U.S. allies


Vice President Kamala Harris travels to Germany tonight for a series of high-stakes meetings with U.S. allies in coming days.


The vice president is there to deliver a message that many people might have a hard time believing. She wants NATO allies and others to know that the United States is a reliable partner when it comes to conflicts like the one in Ukraine.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid is going to be traveling with the vice president, and she joins us now. Good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So the vice president is going to Europe to this annual conference - the Munich Security Conference - right after former President Donald Trump raised fears about the long-term U.S. commitment to NATO. Is the reaction to what Trump said going to be a huge part of what she deals with on this trip?

KHALID: I mean, European allies are worried about the stability of that transatlantic alliance following comments by the former president, Donald Trump, who is also, of course, the Republican front-runner in 2024. Trump said that Russia should, quote, "do whatever the hell they want" to countries who don't contribute enough money to NATO. It sounded like he was encouraging Russia to attack an ally. And yesterday, we heard President Biden denounce the comments.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: For God's sake, it's dumb. It's shameful. It's dangerous. It's un-American.

FADEL: And this, Leila, is the backdrop in which Harris is going to be going to Munich. And I would say, you know, people are going to be hanging on her words. I spoke to Wolfgang Ischinger about this. He's a retired German ambassador who, for years, led the Munich Security Conference. And he told me Europeans are watching the political situation in the U.S. very closely.

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER: Recent statements by candidate and former President Donald Trump about NATO and how he would deal with NATO allies has really been rattling us here on the European side.

FADEL: So how does the vice president reassure them?

KHALID: Well, you know, she can defend the administration's track record. But to step back, the White House is in a tough place right now. They want more aid money for Ukraine. But Republican leaders in the House are blocking that, and it is not clear when and even if Congress will agree to more funding. This White House promised that the Trump era was over - you know, that America was back. So I will say there is a lot at stake, both for the Biden administration's reputation and the United States' credibility as a world leader. Here's former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

LEON PANETTA: The primary responsibility of the vice president is to make clear that, despite these challenges, America's word is still strong and that it can be depended upon.

KHALID: But the reality is, it is going to be difficult for Harris to stand up and say, have faith in the U.S. when even a Democratic president, we are seeing, cannot guarantee additional money for Ukraine because of partisan fights in Congress. The former German ambassador, Ischinger, flatly told me that Europeans are increasingly thinking about a plan B - how to defend themselves if there is indeed a future in which they cannot depend on the U.S.

FADEL: I mean, this is a tough job that Harris is going to have to carry out. Will she be able to reassure allies who are thinking about plan B?

KHALID: Well, this will be Harris's third time at this important meeting of world leaders in Munich. She has certainly traveled abroad on some major trips, but it's really fallen more on other members of Biden's inner circle, like Secretary of State Antony Blinken, to lead on diplomatic efforts. You know, that being said, Biden himself will not be in Munich, and so it does fall onto Harris to send the right message and the right tone to reassure allies at a critical time. And because of the politics at home as we head into an election amidst growing questions about Biden's age, Harris really does have no room for error.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid - thank you, Asma.

KHALID: Always good to talk to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.