Vigorous preparation returns as Biden calls other leaders

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Trump aides realized early on that the president had little patience for briefing material or talking points. At first, they offered him a six-page pre-brief with attachments ahead of calls, but that proved to be too long. So they did a one-page version. Trump later was given note cards that typically contained just three talking points.

“Sweating the details on every single word in a memo didn’t matter, because communicating the right message on behalf of the United States didn’t matter to the president,” said Frances Brown, who served as a senior adviser on the National Security Council in the Trump and Obama administrations. “For an NSC staffer, it invited a bit of an existential crisis.”

Last week, Biden dialed up China’s Xi Jinping for a two-hour conversation in which he raised concerns about human rights abuses and unfair trade practices. Earlier, in a call with Putin, Biden condemned the jailing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and pressed Putin on his nation’s involvement in a vast cyberespionage campaign in the U.S.

Ahead of both calls, senior Biden administration officials previewed for reporters what the president planned to say, a step meant to help head off potential efforts by Beijing and Moscow to control public messaging about the conversations.

Biden’s first leader call as president went to Canada’s Justin Trudeau, the prime minister whom Trump once disparaged as “very dishonest and weak.”

For Biden, the chat with Trudeau was part tough conversation and part easy banter. Biden explained his decision to halt construction on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a Canada-to-U.S. project that Trudeau supports. Biden also reminisced about his late first wife’s family ties to Toronto and his own 2016 visit to Ottawa when Trudeau honored him with a state dinner.

The two leaders discussed the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and two Canadians imprisoned in China in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a top Huawei executive, according to Canadian officials.

One senior Canadian official familiar with the call said Biden appeared well prepared for the half-hour conversation and noted that it went longer than any call the prime minister had with Trump.