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Biden administration keeps tripping up on migrants, refugees

White House press secretary Jen Psaki at a

White House press secretary Jen Psaki at a daily briefing Monday. Credit: Getty Images / Alex Wong

Stuck in the muddle

A sure sign that the Biden administration knows its management of the migrant crisis and refugee policy has gone awry is the outbreak of internal finger-pointing, which was supposed to be the hallmark of the previous administration. More on that shortly.

First, is there a crisis? The Biden message has been that the surge of migrants at the border, especially unaccompanied minors, doesn't add up to a crisis. But the president over the weekend said, "The crisis that ended up on the border with young people" has made it harder to deal with the refugee issue.

In damage-control mode on Monday, a White House official told CNN that Biden was referring to conditions in Central America, not at the border. "Children coming to our border — seeking refuge from violence, economic hardships and other dire circumstances — is not a crisis," the official said.

Also on Monday, press secretary Jen Psaki tried to explain Biden's retreat on raising the cap on worldwide refugee admissions from former President Donald Trump's limit of 15,000 to 62,500 this fiscal year and 125,000 in the next one. The State Department earlier this year gave Congress the higher figures, but Psaki now asserts those were intended to be "aspirational goals."

Refugee advocates aren't buying the excuse that the border problem complicated the refugee plans. Migrant and refugee cases are handled through separate legal processes.

Meanwhile, Politico reports that White House officials are blaming Health and Human Service Secretary Xavier Becerra, sworn in less than a month ago, for sluggish efforts to house migrant children, suggesting he has been reluctant to take ownership of the problem. "He did not fully appreciate the issue when he first came in," said one senior administration official. "It’s been a steep learning curve for him."

Mark Weber, an HHS spokesman, conceded that there have been tensions within the administration over the effort generally, but he rebutted the criticism as unfair. "Suggesting he [Becerra] doesn’t have a grasp on the issue … that is not apparent from the inside," Weber said. What is apparent is that Biden's management of border issues is a growing drag on his standing with voters, who give him overall approval ratings hovering around 55% but disapprove of how he's handling migrants by nearly 2 to 1.

'Alien' banished

The Biden administration ordered U.S. immigration enforcement agencies to stop using terms such as "alien," "illegal alien" and "assimilation" when referring to immigrants in the United States — a muting of terms widely used under the Trump administration, The Washington Post reported.

The revised glossary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection is in line with Biden’s efforts to make the immigration system more "humane."

Among the changes: "Alien" will become "noncitizen or migrant," "illegal" will become "undocumented" and "assimilation" will change to "integration."

Troy Miller, CBP’s top official, said in a memo: "We enforce our nation’s laws while also maintaining the dignity of every individual with whom we interact. The words we use matter and will serve to further confer that dignity to those in our custody."

Officials acknowledge that officials may need to use the disfavored terms in "legal or operational documents," such as when filling out required forms. In the past, officials and some federal judges have defended using "alien" because it is the official definition of noncitizen in federal laws.

Janison: Big Business getting owned?

Anyone who sees corporate America as a monolith that always gets its way with the federal government might wish to consider recent news out of Washington, where rival elected officials are trying to prod Big Business in different ways, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida sounded as if he was vaguely threatening companies that oppose Georgia's voting restrictions when he predicted "massive backlash" after next year's midterm elections. "You will rue the day when it hits you. That day is November 8, 2022. That is the day Republicans will take back the Senate and the House. It will be a day of reckoning," Scott said in Monday's Fox Business op-ed, written as a letter to "Woke Corporate America."

Florida's GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis delivered a menacing message. "If you’re gonna stick your beak into issues that don’t directly concern you, then I think elected officials are then gonna stick their beak into issues that may not concern them," DeSantis said on a Fox News show Sunday.

Biden seems to be buttonholing business leaders to tamp down what might otherwise be loud resistance to his bid to fund a massive renovation of the nation's public facilities by boosting the corporate tax rate to 28%. Aware of Republican-business alienations, his administration has kept banks and business lobbying groups in the loop. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said she detected some relief that Biden didn't aim for a higher rate — the pre-Trump 35%.

Ruling: Capitol cop Sicknick died of stroke

Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was injured in a battle with rioters during the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, suffered strokes afterward and died of natural causes, the Washington, D.C., medical examiner’s office ruled Monday.

The finding that lessens the chances that prosecutors will be able to bring homicide charges in Sicknick’s death. Two men have been charged with using bear spray on Sicknick during the clashes between Trump supporters and police.

Investigators initially believed the officer was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher, based on statements collected earlier. They later thought that ingesting a chemical substance — possibly bear spray — that may have contributed to the 42-year-old officer's death. He collapsed at police headquarters after the confrontation and died the next day.

Capitol Police said the department accepted the medical examiner’s findings but that the ruling didn’t change the fact that Sicknick had died in the line of duty, "courageously defending Congress and the Capitol."

Donald Jr.'s girlfriend gets new gig

Kimberly Guilfoyle, who got a senior post with the Trump campaign in 2020 after becoming Donald Trump Jr.'s girlfriend, has signed on as national chair for the attempted political comeback of a scandal-plagued former Missouri governor.

Eric Greitens, who resigned from the statehouse in 2018, is seeking the GOP nomination for Senate as an "America First" Trumper. Facing potential impeachment, Greitens stepped down under pressure from fellow Republicans three years ago. A woman who said she had an extramarital affair with Greitens had accused him of taking a nude photograph of her without her consent and assaulting her. Greitens admitted to the affair but denied the other allegations and prosecutors dropped criminal charges.

Some Republicans worry that if Greitens wins the primary, his baggage could cost them a safe seat, now held by retiring Sen. Roy Blunt.

Guilfoyle, a former San Francisco prosecutor and Fox News personality, served as national finance chair of Trump’s reelection bid. The New Yorker reported last fall she was forced out of Fox following allegations of sexual harassment by a young woman assistant. The complainant received a multimillion-dollar settlement after she accused Guilfoyle of parading around nude after summoning her to work at the commentator's apartment and of showing the assistant photos of the genitalia of her sexual partners.

Structuring infrastructure

Biden held his second bipartisan infrastructure meeting on Monday as Republican lawmakers pushed to shrink the president’s more than $2 trillion plan.

"I am prepared to compromise, prepared to see what we can do, what we get together on," Biden told reporters before Monday’s meeting.

GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said, "I think there’s a great deal of interest on the part of Republicans to improve our infrastructure, and the challenge is going to be how it’s paid for." He said of Biden: "He was in listening mode and gracious to solicit our respective points of view."

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Bart Jones and Robert Brodsky. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • The Biden administration is considering requiring tobacco companies to reduce the nicotine levels in all cigarettes sold in the U.S. to levels at which they are no longer addictive, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing to people familiar with the matter.
  • The far-right OAN network on Monday fired the producer who told The New York Times that the channel broadcast untrue reports, including the false election-fraud claims promoted by Trump. "I’ve given up my journalistic integrity already, and to be fired, that would make me feel good," the producer, Marty Golingan, had told a Times reporter. "I would wear it like a badge of honor."
  • Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke at a ceremony in Oklahoma City marking the 26th anniversary of a right-wing terrorist bombing of a federal building that killed 168 people. Garland, who led the Justice Department investigation of the case in 1995, said violent domestic extremism remains a threat.
  • Trump's call for a boycott of Coca-Cola isn't a real thing for him or his companies. Though he called for the action earlier this month in reprisal for the beverage giant's stand against Georgia's restrictive new voting laws, CNN found Coke products are still being served at Trump golf and hotel properties in Washington, Florida, Las Vegas and New York. Trump was also photographed in his Mar-a-Lago office with what appeared to be a Coke-brand bottle on his desk.
  • Former Attorney General William Barr and Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett have landed book deals, Politico reports. Barrett is getting a $2 million advance; the value of Barr's deal is not known.

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