The two men, the American president and the British king, waited decades for their dream jobs, projecting a sense of normalcy and unity when they finally reached their thrones. Both prefer to get rid of the executive palaces for their respective retirements. And they share a passion for tackling threats to the environment.
The men, President Biden, 80, and King Carlos III, 74, are also united by their challenges. Both face a public that is increasingly distrustful of their institutions. And both battle skepticism about whether they are the right people to lead the increasingly diverse groups they chair.
“As older men at the pinnacle of their careers, they need to redefine what it means to be an older person,” said Arianne Chernock, a professor of history at Boston University and a scholar of modern Britain, adding: “They need to find new ways to connect with a younger multicultural generation.”
That common ground served as the backdrop for the meeting between the president and the king on Monday at Windsor Castle near London, where the two discussed investment in clean energy and efforts to combat climate change in developing countries. These are issues that Charles has been warning about since the 1970s and that Biden has made a central focus of his presidency.
Charles assembled leaders in Glasgow in 2021 to address climate change, warning them “time is up”. Mr. Biden hailed the tax, energy and health bill he signed into law last year as “the biggest climate breakthrough ever.”
Sally Bedell Smith, who has written numerous biographies on the British royal family, said such points of mutual interest could be useful. “Biden, I suppose, would have a lot of respect for what Charles has done and said” on the issue, she said.
Both are also using the issue to connect more broadly with the public and, in Biden’s case, to galvanize voters.
Mr. Biden has struggled for most of his presidency with low approval numbers. a recent Reuters poll It showed that he had a 41 percent approval rating, a marginal increase from the lowest level of his presidency, but an indicator that voters remain unconvinced, particularly about his economic record.
Charles’ approval ratings have improved since he became king. He was viewed favorably by 55 percent of those polled in a recent poll by market research firm YouGov. But that makes him the fourth most popular member of the royal family, behind his son and heir apparent, Prince William; his sister, Princess Anne; and his daughter-in-law, Catherine, Princess of Wales.
Biden and Charles have spent decades under the relentless gaze of the public eye, finding respite in the familiar.
Biden flees the White House most weekends to go to one of his homes, in the seaside town of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It is said that the king is not particularly fond of Buckingham Palace. He and Queen Camilla live in the cozier Clarence House when in London, spending weekends at Highgrove, their country retreat in Gloucestershire.
They have a shared connection in the fight. Mr. Biden, who has dealt with stuttering since childhood, has said that he was movie inspired “The King’s Speech,” which described the efforts of Charles’s grandfather, King George VI, to overcome similar speech problems.
Charles and the president have also faced increased scrutiny over their complex relationships with their minor children. Biden’s opponents have seized on Hunter Biden’s plea deal on two minor tax offenses to attack the president. The king’s relationship with Prince Harry has been in the spotlight since Harry and his wife Meghan stepped down from royal duties in 2020.
“They need to do that job of being a parent in an often dazzling and public light,” said Ms. Chernock, a history teacher.
The president and the king are prone to break with their prepared messages. Biden recently called Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, a “dictator,” even as his Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken traveled to the country to try to ease strained relations with Beijing.
While royals are expected to stay away from politics, the king’s political views have occasionally landed him in trouble. After Charles attended Hong Kong’s handover in 1997, a London newspaper published excerpts from a diary in which the king had written about Chinese soldiers goose-stepping and described the Chinese officials at the ceremony as “dreadful.” wax figures”.
But the two men are also different in important ways.
The president is talkative and outgoing, while the king is more contemplative and reserved. In his youth, Charles was clumsy and shy, seemingly unsuited for a life in public. After decades of royal tours and reception lines, he’s become adept at the art of small talk, even if he’s not Biden’s natural type.
Charles’s intellectual pursuits can sometimes seem unconventional. A voracious and self-taught reader, Charles has dabbled in subjects such as architecture, organic agriculture, and conservation. He once proudly revealed that his Aston Martin sports car was powered by a biofuel made from surplus white wine and cheese waste.
By contrast, Mr. Biden owns a 1967 gas-powered Corvette and often tries to relate to the working class by reminiscing about his days commuting to Washington on Amtrak.
The king is expected to abide by the traditions of the British monarchy that Biden has refused to follow on multiple occasions. Biden twice refused to bow to the king’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, following her mother’s advice. “Don’t bow down to her,” he told her, according to her memoir “Promises to Keep.” (There is no requirements that one should bow to the monarch, although many people follow the tradition as a courtesy).
During Mr Biden’s four visits to the UK since he became president, there has often been an undercurrent of tension.
In March, Biden made a brief stop in Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement before traveling to the Republic of Ireland for a much more leisurely tour of his ancestral roots. (As London newspapers complained, Biden also has English roots.)
Mr. Biden did not attend Charles’s coronation in May, sending his wife, Jill, and their granddaughter Finnegan. When he called the king to send his apologies and congratulations, Charles invited the president to visit Britain, setting the stage for Monday’s meeting that US officials are calling a “mini state visit.”
Even the logistics of this trip have not been without static. The White House initially questioned the need for a stop at 10 Downing Street with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, according to an official familiar with the planning, as the two men were due to meet at the NATO summit in Lithuania a day later. . For Sunak, however, a handshake with the president in front of his residence is politically valuable, and the White House ultimately accepted it. After a meeting of approximately 45 minutes at 10 Downing on Monday, Mr. Biden
The White House also conceded to the king’s request to host Biden at Windsor Castle, west London, rather than at the more conveniently located Buckingham Palace. The palace is undergoing a multi-year renovation, and the official told The New York Times that the king did not want Biden to see a construction site.
When asked about Biden’s failure to run for the coronation, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, rejected any idea that there was tension between the United States and Britain. (Historians note that Dwight D. Eisenhower did not attend Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953.)
“It is important that the president goes out and meets not only the king, but also the prime minister,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said. “That’s what you’re going to see: continue a partnership with the UK.”
Those who have watched the relationship between the White House and the royal family said the common ground shared by Charles and Mr. Biden would likely ensure a cordial meeting.
“They have both been to this rodeo many times,” said Ms. Bedell Smith.