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Biden recaps his G-20 meetings in press conference

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden will arrive in Scotland tomorrow for the U.N. Climate Summit without his own climate agenda approved by Congress. But today he said he thinks it could be voted on this week. The president held a press conference in Rome after wrapping up a meeting with leaders of the world's 20 largest economies before heading to the climate conference.

NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow is traveling with the president and was at that press conference, and he is with us now from Rome. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Michel - good to be here.

MARTIN: So how much did Biden have to say about what's going on back in Washington, D.C., which is having an impact on this overseas trip?

DETROW: Yeah, it is still not clear if the votes are lined up, which has been the case for months. But Biden sounded pretty confident that there will be a vote next week on both these bills - that infrastructure measure that's sat in the House for months, and also this broader bill he has been negotiating on everything from climate to universal pre-K.

You know, the climate portion of that is really the big focus this trip. Biden rightly said the $500 billion in his plan on climate would be the biggest investment ever. But in order to get West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin on board, the regulatory part of that climate plan was cut out. That would have forced big power plants to shift fast to clean energy.

MARTIN: So there in Rome, the president's been meeting with the G-20, the 20 largest global economies, as we said. And what they did and said about climate commitments really had been anticipated ahead of the U.N. climate summit. It's getting a mixed reaction. What did Biden have to say about that?

DETROW: Yeah, he said, among other things, it was disappointing that Russia and China did not show up to this conference, aren't coming in person to the next one. With climate commitments, that's especially a problem because China is such a big emitter, so it's hard to get meaningful commitments here without China on board.

Biden also really got to how hard all of this is politically. The world runs on fossil fuels right now. Changing that is going to be tough and disruptive and will change people's lives. That's why on one hand, he wants to totally transition cars to electric vehicles. On the other, he says he knows people need steady gasoline supply right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: They have to get to their work. They have to get in an automobile, turn on the key, get their kids to school. The school buses have to run. That's the reason why. You know that. That's the reason. The idea that we can - that there's an alternative to walk away from being able to get in your automobile is just not realistic. It's not going to happen.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, I want to ask you about one other thing. He was asked about his meeting with the pope on this trip. Biden is, of course, the second Catholic president. And there's been a lot of focus on the conservative bishops in the United States pushing back on him receiving communion over his support for abortion rights. What did he say about that?

DETROW: This was really one of the most revealing answers I've seen him give on his personal faith. There's been so much focus on this split and Biden's support for abortion rights. But it's nuanced situation. You know, there's a lot of areas where Biden's positions mirror church teachings. And those very same bishops put out a statement this week supporting his climate efforts. So on that question of some bishops saying he shouldn't receive communion, Biden pointed to a famous early statement from Pope Francis, when the pope was asked in the early days of his papacy what he thought about gay priests, and Francis responded, who am I to judge?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: When I won, he called me to tell me how much he appreciated the fact that I would focus on the poor and focus on the needs of people who are in trouble and - so I just - again, I don't want it to talk more about it because so much of it is personal, but I'm a - he is everything I learned about Catholicism in the time I was a kid going from grade school through high school.

DETROW: Biden and the pope met for an hour and a half Friday. Biden talked about previous times he's spoken to the pope, how much personal council the pope gave him when his son Beau died. And it's really clear Biden is deeply touched by this relationship he has with Pope Francis.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Scott Detrow traveling with the president in Rome. Scott, thank you.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.