It's predictable that Republicans would hammer President Joe Biden for the migrant crisis on the southern border, but they're not alone. The Washington Post writes that the Biden administration was forewarned of the surge, yet it's still ill-prepared and lacking the capacity to deal with it. Officials have been plagued by muddled messaging, sometimes making appeals that seem directed more at liberal activists than the migrants they need to dissuade from coming to the country. Eager to roll back Trump policies widely derided as inhumane, Biden did not have adequate preparations in place.
"When you create a system that incentivizes people to come across, and they are released, that immediately sends a message to Central America that if you come across you can stay," said Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, whose South Texas district is near the border. "It incentivizes droves of people to come, and the only way to slow it down is by changing policy at our doorstep. If they don’t change the policy, the flow of continued migration traffic isn’t going to stop or slow down."
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a son of migrant farmworkers, said he started calling a White House contact in late January to sound an alarm — "We need to get a handle on this before it gets out of hand" — and his warnings went unheeded. Cuellar said Biden and other officials were sending "a terrible message" with their initial pitch to migrants — "don't come now" — that suggests they can still come later.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, making the rounds of talk shows on Sunday, defended the administration’s response, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. "We are expelling families. We are expelling single adults, and we've made a decision that we will not expel young, vulnerable children," he said. The latter is in accord with "our values and our principles as a nation." Mayorkas blamed the Trump administration's dismantling of a "safe and orderly" system for the logjam that has resulted in thousands of children being housed in detention centers until they can be placed with an adult relative.
Another Texas Democrat, Rep. Veronica Escobar, defended the decisions regarding unaccompanied children. "Were they unprepared?" she said. "Well, yeah, because there was no transition. The transition was an insurrection," Escobar said, referring to the deadly Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot. Susan Rice, Biden's domestic policy adviser, told the Post: "We made the choice that we don’t want to be an administration that — if we can help it — has to turn back kids. We’re basically having to build the plane as we’re flying."
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who accompanied Mayorkas on a bipartisan trip to the border Friday, tweeted that he was shaken by what he saw — hundreds of kids "packed into big open rooms." Murphy said it was not a replication of Trump-era "kids in so-called cages," but "they are not facilities that anyone would want your child in for more than 10 minutes." Murphy and a Republican on the trip, West Virginia's Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, urged Mayorkas to allow news media access to the detention facilities.
On his return Sunday from a Camp David weekend, Biden was asked by reporters what more could be done to tell migrants to stop trekking to the U.S. border. He responded: "A lot more, we are in the process of doing it now, including making sure we reestablish what existed before, which is: They can stay in place and make their case from their home countries." Biden said he planned to visit the border with Mexico "at some point."
Anti-Asian violence spurs hate crimes push
Several prominent Asian American lawmakers on Sunday called for the passage of federal anti-Asian hate crime legislation, endorsed by Biden, following last week’s fatal shootings at a string of Atlanta-area spas that left eight people dead, including six Asian American women, reports Newsday's Figueroa.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), one of two Asian Americans currently serving in the Senate, is a co-sponsor of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. "Many of these crimes go underreported as hate crimes and are just classified as a mugging, or harassment or vandalism when really they were targeted at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in particular," Duckworth said on CBS’ "Face the Nation."
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, told ABC’s "This Week" there should be no question that last Tuesday’s attack was racially motivated.
"I know the legal bar is high because they have to find somebody who heard him say that there was an anti-Asian slur expressed at the time. But I would say, look, these were places where people spoke another language. They may not have heard him. They may be dead. But in my mind and in the minds of many, this is an anti-Asian hate crime," Chu said.
Reps. Michelle Steel and Young Kim, both of California, the first Korean American Republican women to serve in Congress, told CNN’s "State of the Union" that it was imperative to speak out against the rise in the hate crimes. "Asian Americans are Americans," Kim said.
Janison: Confronting Trump's hate contagion
When Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris changed their itinerary for last Friday's visit to Atlanta to meet with leaders of the Asian American community, it was an effort to reverse the trend of White House rhetoric from former President Donald Trump's administration, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
By police and news accounts, the gunman identified as Robert Aaron Long had issues related to sex, religion and addiction. But whatever his toxic mix of motives, six of the eight people he is charged with slaying were women of Asian descent. And nationwide, attacks on Asian Americans had already been spiking for some time.
This is of special note at the White House because the previous president's finger-pointing may well have had a destructive impact. Last February, the World Health Organization urged people to avoid terms such as the "Wuhan virus" or the "Chinese virus," fearing a backlash against Asians. Trump couldn't be bothered to consider that.
On March 16, 2020 — one year before the Atlanta-area shootings — Trump first tweeted the phrase "Chinese virus." Researchers tracked that single posting to an avalanche of tweets using such phrases as hashtags, according to a study from the University of California at San Francisco.
No quick fix for Russia, China acrimony
U.S. relations with Russia and China, its two biggest geopolitical rivals, are facing severe tests as Biden tries to reassert America’s place in the world and distinguish himself from his predecessor, writes The Associated Press.
The New York Times described the current situation as perhaps the worst relationship Washington has had with Russia since the fall of the Berlin Wall and with China since it opened diplomatic relations with the U.S. in the 1970s. While the nuclear menace of the Cold War hasn't returned, the current competition is over technology, cyberconflict and global influence.
Public dust-ups erupted last week as Biden characterized Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "killer" and his top diplomatic and national security officials excoriated China for a litany of issues.
Although Biden’s strong comments about Putin reflected a shift from Trump, the harsh criticism directed at China by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan in many ways mirrored the previous administration’s hard line toward Beijing.
The contrasting styles suggested that Biden is intent on reversing years of perceived U.S. weakness toward Russia while rejecting Trump’s 2020 campaign allegations that he’s not tough enough on China.
Latest vaccination counts
At least 81 million American adults — 32% of the total — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 17% have been fully vaccinated, according to Andy Slavitt, a White House senior adviser for coronavirus response.
Among seniors, 38 million — or 69% — have received at least one dose and 42% are fully vaccinated, Slavitt tweeted Sunday.
Moncef Slaoui, a former pharma executive who headed Operation Warp Speed for Trump, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that Biden and his team have unfairly faulted the previous administration's planning for the vaccination program. "I do think that we had plans, and in fact 90% of what's happening now is the plan that we had," Slaoui said.
But Slaoui said the Biden administration has accelerated inoculations with the use of "large vaccination sites in sports arenas" and "the participation of FEMA," which were "not parts" of the earlier plan.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Scott Eidler. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made a surprise stop in Afghanistan on Sunday as top U.S. generals warn that that country could fall into chaos if U.S. troops withdraw before peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government yield results. Biden is still weighing a decision whether to pull U.S. troops out by May 1 as called for in an agreement between the Taliban and the Trump administration. Austin said the Biden administration wants to see "a responsible end" to America’s longest war.
- Permanently banned from Twitter since the Capitol insurrection, Trump is making plans to launch his own social media platform in "about two or three months," his senior adviser Jason Miller told Fox News on Sunday.
- In Trump's absence, Wisconsin's Sen. Ron Johnson has become the Republican Party’s foremost amplifier of conspiracy theories and disinformation, writes The New York Times. Johnson insists Trump supporters didn't commit violence at the Capitol, argues that the discredited drug hydroxychloroquine was a better answer to the coronavirus than vaccines and that the name of ice-covered Greenland argues against global warming. He also promoted Russian-generated misinformation about Biden and Ukraine.
- Intercepted communications from Iran's Revolutionary Guard contained threats against Fort McNair, an Army post in the U.S. capital, and against the Army’s vice chief of staff, senior U.S. intelligence officials told The Associated Press. Iran's elite Quds force wants to avenge the 2020 U.S. killing of its leader Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the intel officials said.
- Several White House staffers were asked to resign, were suspended or are working remotely after revealing past marijuana use during their background checks, sources familiar with the situation told CNN. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that five are "no longer employed" and "there were additional factors at play in many instances for the small number of individuals who were terminated." Marijuana use is legal in the District of Columbia but still illegal on the federal level.
- A statement from Biden on Sunday called Turkey’s abandonment of an international agreement aimed at preventing violence against women "deeply disappointing." Ankara's move was a blow to the country’s women’s rights movement, which says domestic violence is on the rise there. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government said the agreement "was hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality."