Does the White House have a border plan?

If there has been a theme to the Biden administration’s border policies, it is a debilitating reluctance to grasp the nettle. Caught between Democratic factions with strong feelings on an inflammatory issue, Biden and his colleagues have sought to narrow questions, not widen them, defer to government agencies and the courts at every opportunity, make broad, self-excusing statements about complicated “root causes,” and avoid at all costs an overarching strategy to deliver a secure southern border and defend it on its merits.

This week has already been a busy one in border policy, with two legal skirmishes over Biden’s border measures and something approaching a plan to deal with an expected migrant surge announced by the Department of Homeland Security.

First, the court cases. A federal judge has ordered the administration’s plan to rescind Title 42, the pandemic-era measure that enabled agents to turn migrants away on public health grounds, be halted. This is a temporary order to allow time for a case disputing the end of Title 42 to be heard.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in an appeal of a lower court’s decision to block the administration’s scrapping of the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy. Supreme Court watchers see a court ready to side with the administration. The Free Beacon’s Kevin Daley reports that “a majority of justices during oral arguments suggested they would sign off on the Department of Homeland Security’s plan to terminate the program.”

It’s easy to overstate the potential significance of this decision on the ground. After all, even with the Biden administration’s legal obligation to keep the policy, it has not been used nearly as much as it was under the previous administration. As the Washington Post reported in February, the number of people returned to Mexico under the measure, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, are minuscule today compared to the Trump years. According to UN figures, under this administration an average of seven migrants a day are sent back to Mexico using the MPP. In the summer of 2019, the figure was more than 300.

But, taken together, these cases concern the main means by which the executive has sought to keep the southern border under control in recent years. When they go — and it seems more like a case of when, not if — the Biden administration will have dismantled an important part of the framework being used to enforce border security. Without them, the question of what Biden proposes to do instead only grows more urgent.

That is where the DHS’s plan for the border, outlined in a memo by Alejandro Mayorkas this week, is supposed to come in. In anticipation of a post-Title 42 rush to the border, Mayorkas plans to boost resources, including drafting 600 agents from other parts of government, to help border authorities. He boasts of increased capacity to detain migrants (18,000 up from 13,000 at the start of 2021). Elsewhere, Mayorkas promises greater efficiency in processing cases and plans for an expedited removal process.

The Mayorkas plan certainly gives the Biden White House something to point to when its critics, including many Democrats, argue that the administration is scrapping Title 42 and ending Remain in Mexico without a plan for what happens next. But one can’t help but feel there’s a mismatch between the DHS’s administrative tinkering and a fundamentally broken border system ill-equipped to handle a record-breaking migrant surge this summer.

So far, Biden has done little more than mediate a battle between his party’s left and right on immigration. But if he wants to avoid wipeout in November, the time when he must grasp the thorny questions posed by the border and show some leadership on immigration will have to come sooner rather than later.

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Kamala catches Covid

The vice president has tested positive for Covid. She is reportedly asymptomatic and isolating. Biden has not been deemed a close contact. Which would have been a worse look for Kamala Harris: being the person who gave the seventy-nine-year-old president Covid, or being so sidelined a veep as not to have spent any time with her boss in recent days?

Harris’s positive test is fodder for those worried about Biden’s plan to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner this weekend. “Just like many Americans, he makes risk assessments,” said Jen Psaki of the president’s plan to show at the 2,600-person nerd prom. Meanwhile, all-round good-time guy Anthony Fauci has decided he will not be going to the event because of worries about catching the bug.

Biden’s big debt decision

Is Biden about to forgive billions of dollars of student loan debt? After a meeting with the president as part of the congressional Hispanic caucus, California congressman Tony Cárdenas told the Washington Post that Biden was “incredibly positive” about the idea of student loan forgiveness. The move would be a major win for the left. Last week, Elizabeth Warren identified the move as a priority for progressive Democrats ahead of the midterms. As well as being a significant blow in the fight between the left and right of the party, the regressive measure, which transfers resources away from working-class taxpayers into the pockets of college graduates, would also be a revealing clue as to whom the Democratic Party represents these days.

What you should be reading today

Charles Lipson: Can DeSantis get past the Donald?
Daniel DePetris: Is NATO about to get even bigger?
Jesse Singal: Why we need robust free speech laws
Kevin D. Williamson, National Review: What to think about Elon Musk
Josh Barro, Very Serious: Democrats are falling for the Fox News fallacy
Emily Birnbaum and Betsy Woodruff Swan, Politico: Twitter’s top lawyer reassures staff, cries during meeting about Musk takeover

Poll watch

President Biden Job Approval
Approve: 41.0 percent
Disapprove: 53.9 percent
Net approval: -12.9 (RCP Average)

Ohio Republican Senate Primary
J.D. Vance: 23 percent
Josh Mandel: 18 percent
Mike Gibbons: 13 percent
Matt Dolan: 11 percent
Undecided: 25 percent (Fox News)

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