Democrats being in a near-constant state of disarray is nothing new, but thanks to a report in The New York Times on the Biden administration's discussions about the border crisis and what to do about Title 42 and "Remain in Mexico," we have a better look at how much chaos illegal immigration and overwhelmed border agents have caused within the West Wing.
"President Biden was livid," The Times reports of an initial round of infighting that developed just two months into his administration as illegal immigrant children filled border facilities to overflowing and the damning reality of Biden's disastrous border policy came into focus:
Facing his bickering staff in the Oval Office that day in late March 2021, Mr. Biden grew so angry at their attempts to duck responsibility that he erupted.
Who do I need to fire, he demanded, to fix this?
Mr. Biden came into office promising to dismantle what he described as the inhumane immigration policies of President Donald J. Trump. But the episode, recounted by several people who attended or were briefed on the meeting, helps explain why that effort remains incomplete: For much of Mr. Biden’s presidency so far, the White House has been divided by furious debates over how — and whether — to proceed in the face of a surge of migrants crossing the southwest border.
Senior aides have been battling one another over how quickly to roll back the most restrictive policies and what kind of system would best replace them.
The Times' account was "based on interviews with 20 current and former officials, lawmakers and activists, most of whom requested anonymity to discuss private deliberations." No kidding.
Biden's public talk of a united Democrat front when it comes to his "build back better" — relaunched as "building a better America" — agenda couldn't be further from the reality within the West Wing.
The disarray within the White House over how to address the border crisis apparently runs deep. Staffers who were early members of the Biden administration have, according to The Times, already left. Among those were apparently the more "enforcement-minded" aides leaving Biden with little chance of hearing any voices that support strict immigration rules and penalties for illegal migrants.
Last summer, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain assembled the West Wing crew and "issued a warning" and "told them that they needed to make sure the administration was not pandering to people who wanted an immediate end to Trump-era border restrictions," according to The Times. "If they did not find a way to deter soaring illegal crossings at the southwest border, he said, accusations about border chaos would grow worse, anger moderate voters and potentially sink the party during the 2022 midterms."
The lack of agreement over which of President Trump's policies, if any, should be carried over by the Biden administration divided senior White House staff as concerns over due process were brushed aside in the name of expediency to preserve the appearance of quickly removing illegal immigrants that were ineligible to stay in the United States legally, The Times outlines.
"Now, Mr. Biden finds himself the target of attacks from all sides: Immigration activists accuse him of failing to prioritize the human rights of millions of immigrants," The Times explains. "Conservatives have pointed to surges of migrants at the border as evidence that the president is weak and ineffective. And even some moderate Democrats now fear that lifting Trump-era border restrictions could hurt them politically." The short answer is yes, lifting Title 42 and thereby swinging open the gates to an already-overwhelmed U.S.-Mexico border will hurt Biden's party.
As The Times' notes in highlighting the obvious, "Officials from the Department of Homeland Security expect record numbers of migrants to cross the border this summer, just months ahead of the midterm elections that will determine control of Congress and help shape the arc of Mr. Biden’s presidency for the next two years."
Notably, The Times' report characterizes the situation along the U.S.-Mexico border "a constant headache for Mr. Biden — one that ballooned into a series of crises even as he tried to stay focused on the pandemic, the economy, Afghanistan and the Russian invasion of Ukraine." Their honest evaluation is a rare admission that even among the most stalwart defenders of President Biden, the reality is too bad to be ignored. That's a realization that has, at least behind the scenes, happened at the White House as well.
The situation, obviously, is a mess. But it's a mess Biden created by rolling back many Trump-era immigration policies and halting work on the border wall. Even The Times' report admits that "Remain in Mexico" was a policy that was "effective" at keeping immigrants from illegally crossing into the U.S. while seeking asylum. Yet Biden's campaign rhetoric and the leftward lurch of Democrats means he has little wiggle room to preserve any of the previously working policies. The long-running disagreement within the White House over how to move forward on immigration and the border crisis is setting up to be a major issue over the summer and leading up to the midterms.