President Biden denounced socialism during a Thursday press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, taking a swipe at the ideology that an increasing number of fellow Democrats embrace.
“Communism is a failed system, a universally failed system. And I don’t see socialism as a very useful substitute, but that’s another story,” Biden said in the White House East Room.
Biden denounced the left-wing ideologies in response to a question about Cuba, where the largest anti-government protests in decades erupted Sunday. He separately slammed “phony populism.”
With extremely narrow margins in Congress, Biden’s legislative agenda has relied on a delicate balance between centrist Democrats and self-identified socialists.
Biden also said at the press conference that the US government is considering ways to restore internet access in Cuba to get around a government blackout.
“We’re considering whether we have the technological ability to reinstate that access,” he said.
Although socialism is increasingly popular among Democrats, the term is politically toxic in much of the country and former President Donald Trump last year boosted Latino support for Republicans by claiming that Democratic policies would turn the US into a larger version of Cuba and Venezuela.
Biden also said while hosting Merkel that the US government is preparing to lift the COVID-19 travel ban on European countries that make up the Schengen Zone.
Many of the zone’s countries have allowed US tourists to visit following a drop in infection rates associated with widespread vaccination.
“It’s in process now and I’ll be able to answer that question to you within the next several days,” Biden said. “I’m waiting to hear from our folks in our COVID team as to when that should be done.”
Shortly after taking office, Biden scrapped former Trump’s plan to lift the Europe travel ban in late January.
Merkel, who was raised in communist-ruled East Germany, did not offer her own views on communism or socialism.
The visit was cordial and made few headlines. Speaking to reporters earlier Thursday in the Oval Office, Biden called it “a great pleasure” to welcome the chancellor back to the White House.
“She’s a great friend,” Biden said. “I consider her a personal friend as well as a great friend to the United States.”
Senior administration officials told reporters ahead of the visit that the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany — which the US commander-in-chief recently lifted sanctions on — was one of a number of topics that the two leaders planned to cover.
Merkel and Biden also were expected to discuss climate change, COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Russian cyber attacks, Ukraine’s conflict with Russia-backed separatists and “shared security challenges, including Afghanistan, Libya, and the Sahel.”
With regard to the pipeline, the administration official said that while Biden would raise his concerns, the White House was not anticipating any sort of formal announcement out of the meeting.
At the press conference, Biden said, “by the time I became president, it was 90 percent completed and imposing sanctions did not seem to make any sense. It made more sense to work with the chancellor on finding out how she perceived [the threat of a scenario in which] Russia tried to essentially blackmail Ukraine in some way.”
Also on the agenda was China, which German officials have been vocal about ahead of the US summit.
“That can be said with relative certainty. This also played an important role at the G-7 summit, where the chancellor and the American president last met,” Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters Wednesday.
Germany and China have strong trade ties, and Merkel has insisted on the need to cooperate with Beijing on issues of global concern like climate change or addressing the coronavirus pandemic — despite the latter emanating from the Asian country and China being the top global polluter by far.
Under Merkel, the Germans have been critical of Beijing’s human rights record.
Merkel, who has governed Germany for 15 years and will step down in September, began her working visit to DC having breakfast Thursday with Vice President Kamala Harris at her official residence.
Merkel and Biden are hosting a 25-person dinner at the White House on Thursday night, with failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the top Republicans in Congress on the guest list.