The hidden cost of Biden’s border complacency

Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. That phrase, a truism of negotiations which became a cliché in Britain politics during the UK-EU wrangling over Brexit, should be borne in mind by Democrats confident that Build Back Better is a done deal.

Yes, Biden’s flagship legislation will almost certainly pass, but many details remain unresolved. And the tight legislative arithmetic means there is plenty of scope for last-minute trouble. Politically inconvenient turbulence lies ahead for Democrats.

Perhaps the most flammable issue still under discussion is immigration. As the Washington Post noted on Friday, a group of Democrats in the House have said they will not vote for the Build Back Better agenda unless it includes immigration provisions. They are pushing for measures that offer a pathway for citizenship, something that the Senate parliamentarian has already ruled out as not permissible in a reconciliation package, and are now reported to be searching for an alternative option.

The Hill negotiation focus on immigration comes as the Biden administration makes a fresh push to scrap the Trump-era “remain in Mexico” border policy that forced applicants to apply for asylum from outside the US.

In a memo outlining the move, Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas acknowledged that the remain in Mexico approach did have an impact on border crossing numbers.“I recognize that MPP likely contributed to reduced migratory flows,” he writes. “But it did so by imposing substantial and unjustifiable human costs on the individuals who were exposed to harm while waiting in Mexico.”

Coinciding with this fresh push is the news that the Biden administration is negotiating settlements with families separated under Trump’s “zero tolerance” crackdown that could reach $450,000 per person.

It should be possible to push for a resolution to fix the problems with America’s immigration system, expand legal migration, end the limbo for the dreamers and even offer a pathway to citizenship for longstanding residents who came to the US illegally, all while taking a hardline approach to illegal border crossings. Indeed, I’d argue that proper border security is a necessary precondition to a functioning liberal immigration system.

In theory, the Biden administration recognizes the merits of such triangulation on immigration. In reality, its priorities are perfectly clear. In his memo, Mayorkas argues that the administration  is pursuing “a series of policies that disincentivize irregular migration while incentivizing safe, orderly, and humane pathways. These policies — including the ongoing efforts to reform our asylum system and address the root causes of migration in the region — seek to tackle longstanding problems that have plagued our immigration system for decades and achieve systemic change.”

With the unconvincing emphasis on “root causes”, the scant evidence of policies that actually do disincentivize “irregular” migration and the call for “systemic change”, the mood music is perfectly clear. Lip service is paid to the need the border security side of the ledger but very little is actually done about it. And all of this in the context of record levels of illegal crossings into the United States: 1.7 million people attempted to enter the US illegally in the last 12 months, the highest figure on record.

Complacency in the face of this problem isn’t just bad politics, but bad policy. And it is a surefire way to keep out of reach exactly the kind of long-term resolution to the immigration issue that Democrats say they want.

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Could the GOP go green?

As G20 leaders assemble in Glasgow, I’d like to co-sign Andrew Sullivan’s plan for how to turn the GOP green. He proposes framing things with the following triad: “nuclear power, economic nationalism, and owning the libs.”

Sullivan wants to “give Republicans cultural permission to save the world. Which means, in part, not saying we are going to ‘save the world,’ and keeping Al Gore and Prince Charles out of it.”

As well as the substantive reasons for the Republican party to take climate change more seriously, there’s a cynical argument for doing so as well. As the left continues down an apocalyptic, Malthusian, pseudo-religious path on the environment, there is wide open space — and plenty of votes — for a party that takes a more sensible approach.

Hopping on the case for nuclear power should be a no-brainer, especially because, as Michael Shellenberger notes, that side of the argument is winning. Energy is only going to loom larger in our politics, and if the right is smart, it should present a green pro-growth, pro-innovation alternative to the crunchy, self-immiserating brand of environmentalism that dominates on the left. To put it in other terms, if one side of the aisle wants to become the party of Greta Thunberg, the clever thing for the other side to do is become the party of Elon Musk.

The NatCons’ globalized notebooks

The second National Conservatism Conference, a cerebral right-wing get-together, kicked off in Orlando yesterday. Speakers include thinkers Peter Thiel and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 2024 hopefuls Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, and conservative writers Christopher Rufo, Douglas Murray and Oren Cass. The group is a broad church, but there’s a shared emphasis on the importance of taking the China threat more seriously and the damage done to US communities by globalization and the offshoring of manufacturing. Conference attendees will have been surprised, then, to discover that their free NatCon branded notebooks were made in — where else? — China.

BBB? Meh

Build Back Better, we have been told, will be a major win for Biden. Its passage, as well as that of its twin infrastructure bill, is an electoral necessity for Democrats heading into next year’s midterms.

The slight problem with those theories is that the bills’ measures aren’t very popular. For all the hype, a new ABC News/Ipsos poll finds a country decidedly cool on the two pieces of flagship legislation. Just 25 percent of Americans think the bills will help people if they become law, while 32 percent say they will hurt people. And the country is split — 34 percent each way — over whether the bills will help or hinder the US economy. If the White House thinks that a legislative win will help turn things around, they may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

What you should be reading today

Grace Curley: The supply chain crisis that stole Christmas

Rupert Darwall: America isn’t leading the fight against climate change

Jacob Heilbrunn: Tucker Carlson goes full truther

Conor Friedersdorf, the Atlantic: Why Never Trumpers should bet on DeSantis

John Authers, Bloomberg: How science fiction and mid-century angst shaped Elon Musk

Bill Scher, RealClearPolitics: Taking the infrastructure bill hostage didn’t work

Poll watch

President Biden Job Approval
Approve: 42.6 percent
Disapprove: 51.9 percent
Net approval: -9.3 (RCP Average)

Virginia Governor’s Race
Terry McAuliffe (D): 45 percent
Glenn Youngkin (R): 47 percent (Fox 5 DC/Insider advantage)

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