Biden is allowing asylum seekers caught by Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” program to cross the border

“Some 28,000 asylum seekers — primarily Cubans, Hondurans, and Guatemalans — have active cases in former President Donald Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which became known as the “Remain in Mexico” program. It is one of many interlocking Trump-era policies that, together, have made obtaining asylum and other humanitarian protections in the US next to impossible.

On Friday, the Homeland Security Department announced that it had allowed 25 of those asylum seekers to cross the US-Mexico border at the San Ysidro port of entry, which connects the city of Tijuana with San Diego, California. International organizations, including the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), had registered the asylum seekers in advance and given them an appointment to show up at the border during which they verified their eligibility to enter the country on a US Customs and Border Protection mobile app and tested negative for Covid-19.

“Today, we took the first step to start safely, efficiently, and humanely processing eligible individuals at the border,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement on Friday. “It is important to underscore that this process will take time, that we are ensuring public health and safety, and that individuals should register virtually to determine if they are eligible for processing under this program.””

Biden can fight climate change, guarantee housing, and halve poverty — without the GOP

“That gives Biden two years to move — two years with a 50-50 Senate when he’ll be constrained by what moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are willing to vote for.

Still, Biden and his allies in Congress can accomplish an awful lot through a process called budget reconciliation. The Senate filibuster means that a bill typically requires 60 votes to move forward. With only 50 Democratic senators (plus tie-breaker Vice President-elect Kamala Harris), that’s a nearly insurmountable barrier. But the budget reconciliation process exempts certain legislation that primarily affects taxes and spending from the filibuster, meaning the 50 Senate Democrats can pass it on their own.”

“Not everything can pass through budget reconciliation. It likely rules out measures like a minimum wage increase, or DC and Puerto Rico statehood, or updates to the Voting Rights Act, or gerrymandering reform.

Still, it’s plausible that Biden and his allies in Congress can use budget reconciliation to accomplish large swaths of his agenda, including paid parental and sick leave, universal pre-K, a $3,000 child allowance, universal housing vouchers, a massive investment in clean energy, expanded health care coverage, and more.”

“what Biden can do — consensus items that most congressional Democrats agree on and have been campaigning on for years or decades — could nonetheless transform American life dramatically. An America where pre-K is universal and child care is affordable for all, with trillions in clean energy investment, free community college, paid maternity leave, a child allowance for parents, and a housing program that nearly eliminates homelessness, is a very different America. And it is in reach for the Biden administration.”

“The filibuster, a Senate practice developed in the mid-19th century, gives senators the power to delay legislation by either speaking indefinitely or (most often) merely threatening to speak indefinitely. Initially, there was no way to end a filibuster as long as the senator in question was committed to delaying; in the 20th century, though, the Senate developed the “cloture” rule, which allows a supermajority of senators, currently 60, to end a filibuster. Under the Obama and Trump presidencies, filibusters became so frequent that there is an understanding that all legislation supported by one party but not the other will need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and pass the Senate.

But there is a catch: In the 1970s, the Senate crafted a process called “budget reconciliation” that allows certain legislation to avoid a filibuster. It’s a major advantage that has unsurprisingly been used for lots of major legislation over the years: the 2017 Trump tax cuts and 2001/2003 Bush tax cuts, the 1996 welfare reform act, and the 2010 bill in which Obama and allies nationalized the student loan industry.

It also means that the 50 Democratic senators plus Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be able to pass some types of legislation, so long as all Democrats are in agreement.

However, reconciliation comes with profound limitations. It can usually only be used once per budget resolution, which in theory works out to one reconciliation bill a year. (Since Congress hasn’t yet passed a budget resolution for fiscal year 2021, Democrats could do two bills this year, one for 2021 and one for 2022; the details are a bit complicated, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ David Reich and Richard Kogan explain.)

Then there are the limits on what a bill passed under reconciliation can do, imposed by the “Byrd Rule,” which offers a way for senators to raise an objection against “extraneous” provisions in bills being considered under reconciliation. If the Senate presiding officer (who has historically always acted on the advice of the nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian) agrees, the provision is struck.

The basics of the Byrd Rule are that reconciliation bills cannot change Social Security, or have merely “incidental” effects on spending/revenue, or increase deficits after 10 years. There are a couple of other limitations as well, but those are the major ones. In other words, reconciliation can be used for spending and taxing, but usually not for pure regulation or legal changes. If the main effect is not budgetary, it’s not reconcilable.”

Biden’s Coronavirus Relief Package Has Almost Nothing to Do With the Coronavirus

“even if you think substantial additional funding is strictly necessary for rapid reopening, there’s a problem: The vast majority of the relief plan’s money for schools wouldn’t be spent in the current fiscal year, or even next year. Previous coronavirus relief and congressional spending bills have already included more than $100 billion in funding for schools. But according to the Congressional Budget Office, “most of those funds remain to be spent.”

As a result, just $6 billion would be spent in the 2021 fiscal year, which runs through September. Another $32 billion would be spent in 2022, and the rest by 2028.”

“Biden and his communications team raise the issue of food insecurity—then insist that checks should go to a two-earner family with stable jobs making $120,000 a year in a city with a roughly $40,000 annual median income for couples.
This is despite the fact that the average couple with comparable six-figure earnings has experienced no unusual job loss and has piled up record levels of personal savings.”

“Biden’s plan calls for $350 billion to backstop state budgets, which were projected to be down as much as 8 percent overall this year. Yet according to The Wall Street Journal, total revenues were down just 1.6 percent for the 2020 fiscal year, and 18 states ended the year with above-projection revenue. As Reason’s Christian Britschgi noted last week, Biden’s plan would disburse money to every state—including California, which is set for a $15 billion surplus. Previous coronavirus relief bills, meanwhile, have already doled out $300 billion to bolster state budgets. The billions in extra funding Biden’s plan would deliver to soaring state budgets would, in all likelihood, not be spent this coming year.”

EU trade chief warns Biden over ‘Buy American’ push

“U.S. President Joe Biden has already started tightening U.S. rules that force federal authorities to buy from American suppliers. This could run foul of Washington’s commitments at the World Trade Organization (WTO), under which it wins access to other countries’ public procurement markets in exchange for keeping its own market open.

While signaling the EU was worried about Washington’s steps, Dombrovskis stopped just short of saying Biden was breaking WTO rules.

“As regards Buy American, this is something which will require some more in-depth assessment, what are the exact implications, what are the implications for EU companies, what does it mean for U.S. commitments in the WTO framework,” Dombrovskis said.”

Why Biden can’t ignore Iraq and Afghanistan, even if he might want to

“When President Joe Biden gave his first foreign policy address two weeks ago, he didn’t once mention the words “Iraq” or “Afghanistan.” But events in those two countries over the past 24 hours have offered a stark reminder to the administration that it can’t forever ignore America’s forever wars.

In Iraq, rockets seemingly launched by an Iranian-backed militia on Monday killed a non-American civilian contractor at a military base in Erbil. Nine others were injured, including four US contractors and one service member, according to Col. Wayne Marotto, the spokesperson for the US-led coalition against ISIS.

And in Afghanistan, the Taliban has closed in on major cities just a few months before the scheduled departure of US forces on May 1. The insurgent group released an open letter to Americans on Tuesday, basically asking the Biden administration to trust the Taliban to lead the nation and respect human rights after the troops leave — a dubious claim at best.

Even as Biden would prefer to spend most of his time addressing the coronavirus, China, and climate change, it’s clear that, like every president since George W. Bush, he’ll continually have his attention diverted toward Afghanistan and Iraq.

It’s not that he and his team have neglected those countries. Defense chiefs from NATO nations are meeting over the next two days in large part to discuss plans for Afghanistan and Iraq. The administration is also reviewing its policies in the two countries, weighing what to keep from the past four years and what to change.

But recent events have added an extra sense of urgency, with US troops under threat in an increasingly unstable Iraq, and a tough decision looming for the president in Afghanistan: leave the country to almost certain ruin, or stay and face another deadly fighting season against the Taliban?

In normal times, those would be tough issues for any administration to handle. In this era, they’re extra difficult.”

The Conservative Idea That Would Let Biden Seize Control of Washington

“The outgoing administration will continue to hold power within administrative agencies long after noon on January 20, 2021. Even worse: In many cases, these office-holders are, at least in theory, not subject to at-will removal by the president because federal law provides that they can be removed only for “good cause.” For example, members of the Federal Reserve Board, including newly appointed member Waller, enjoy this statutory protection from removal—with the right to seek judicial review of the legal sufficiency of the president’s reasons if he attempts to remove them from office. By confirming a slew of last-minute Trump appointments to key posts within the administrative bureaucracy, Trump’s imprint on the federal government could remain long after he and Melania have decamped from the White House.”

“Biden could adopt a theory advanced by conservative judges and legal academics, and long championed by The Federalist Society: The unitary executive theory. Under this theory, President Biden would be constitutionally empowered to remove executive-branch personnel who are opposed to his administration’s policies and programs whether or not they hold a fixed term of office or enjoy statutory good-cause protection against removal.
The Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization that has played an integral role in Trump’s judicial selection process, has long advocated the unitary executive theory. Under this theory, the president must be able to exercise direct forms of control over any and all officers holding policymaking posts within the federal executive branch—including, for example, a sitting member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

Trump-appointed federal judges, such as Brett Kavanaugh and Neomi Rao, have written in both academic articles and judicial opinions about the central importance of the unitary executive theory to the proper enforcement of the separation of powers. Both have argued, strenuously, that the federal courts must interpret “good cause” removal protections very narrowly so that the president has the ability to fire subordinates within the executive branch in whom he lacks confidence.

Under this theory, it’s unthinkable that an entity charged with enforcing federal laws, such as the FCC, could be rendered largely unaccountable to the president.”

“Many of these nominees hold odd, even bizarre, policy positions that are clearly opposed to the Biden administration’s policies. Judy Shelton, for example, a Trump nominee to the Federal Reserve Board, has publicly advocated a return to the gold standard. If the Federal Reserve Board were to embrace her position, it would hobble the agency’s ability to use monetary policy to help limit the effect of shocks to the national and global financial systems. Shelton’s nomination currently remains pending before the Senate; despite failing to secure a majority vote last month (with two GOP senators absent due to Covid-19), Senator McConnell has preserved his ability to call up her nomination again before President-elect Biden is inaugurated.

If Republicans retain control of the Senate after the Georgia special elections, Biden should offer McConnell a choice: Either swiftly confirm a Biden appointee to the fifth seat on the FCC, or President Biden will remove Simington from the commission. Biden should adopt exactly the same negotiating tactic with respect to other federal independent agencies where the presence of lame-duck Trump holdovers, coupled with the Senate’s refusal to timely confirm the president’s nominees, would leave Biden without the ability to perform his constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

Indeed, it may well be that the Biden administration’s only practical option to counter these unprecedented midnight appointments will be to fire these appointees after he takes office. And, when the newly unemployed federal officers seek judicial review of Biden’s action, the administration should quote the Federalist Society judges back to themselves in the legal briefs. In fact, were Biden to signal that he will remove illegitimate lame-duck appointees after taking office, it might persuade McConnell to cease and desist trying to saddle the Biden administration with a federal bureaucracy committed to seeing his administration fail.”

“Trying to booby-trap administrative agencies for an incoming administration is inconsistent with a meaningful commitment to the peaceful transfer of power.

To be sure, taking this step would constitute a further escalation of the confirmation wars and represent yet another step toward creating an imperial presidency. Firing a GOP member of the FCC would, like the Senate’s behavior, break an existing convention and also escalate of the battle between the Senate and the president, in periods of divided government, over control of independent regulatory agencies.

On the other hand, though, it was the Senate—not Biden—that started this fight.

Moreover, for independent regulatory bodies that feature multimember heads and partisan balance requirements for the membership, Biden simply has no effective workaround other than dismissing GOP members if the Senate will not consider his nominees with the same alacrity that they have considered Trump’s lame-duck picks. The Federal Vacancies Reform Act does not, for instance, permit a president to name “acting” voting members to independent agencies. Thus, for administrative bodies like the FCC, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which have partisan balance requirements and feature a multimember head, the only way for the president to establish control over the agency, if the Senate will not speedily consider and confirm his nominees, would be to remove opposition party members from it.

Further expanding the president’s unilateral authority is unfortunate collateral damage—but if a choice must be made between having an agency operating free and clear of meaningful presidential supervision and further accelerating the devolution of the separation of powers toward an imperial presidency, unaccountable government power in the hands of a rogue agency presents the greater of the two evils.

McConnell’s effort to do to federal agencies what he has systematically done to the federal courts can work only if Biden lets it work.”

Biden to begin admitting migrants forced by Trump to wait in Mexico

“The Biden administration will soon begin allowing migrants into the U.S. who, because of a Trump-era policy, have been forced to remain in Mexico while their asylum cases are processed.

As part of the new administration’s efforts to overhaul the immigration system, the Department of Homeland Security, starting next Friday, will begin the first phase of a program to gradually let in migrants with active cases under the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.”

“There are about 25,000 migrants with active cases under MPP, but the new program will first focus on those who have been waiting in the program the longest and vulnerable populations”

“Migrants being processed through the program will be tested for Covid-19 before entering the U.S. And once here, they will be enrolled in an “alternative to detention program” to track them and their cases will be routed to the appropriate court tied to where they settle in the country”

“Biden has long vowed to end the program, which has resulted in tens of thousands of asylum seekers being forced to stay in Mexico, often under poor living conditions and facing danger. On Biden’s first day in office, DHS announced that it would not enroll anyone else in the program.”

Biden will reverse Trump’s decision to label Yemen’s Houthis as terrorists

“The Biden administration plans to remove Yemen’s Houthi rebels from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list as soon as Friday, reversing a last-minute move by the Trump administration and reinforcing President Joe Biden’s new approach to the conflict in Yemen.

In mid-January, just days before Biden would be sworn into office, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced President Trump’s intent to designate the Iran-backed Houthi movement in Yemen as a “foreign terrorist organization.”

The Houthis, formally known as Ansar Allah, are an armed rebel group of Zaydi Shia (a minority sect within Shia Islam) who have been fighting a civil war against Yemen’s Saudi-backed government since 2014. That civil war morphed into an international one in March 2015, when Saudi Arabia and several of its allies in the Gulf decided to intervene militarily in the civil war, waging war against the Houthis. Meanwhile, Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional foe, has backed the Houthis.

Critics said the move was an attempt by Pompeo to both hurt Iran by punishing one of its proxies and box in the incoming Biden administration as he headed out the door, but Pompeo seems to truly believe the decision was the right one.”

“President Joe Biden said the US would seek an elusive diplomatic settlement to the conflict, which would require the Houthis to strike a deal with Saudi Arabia, regional players, and possibly the US.

The Biden administration then moved quickly to revoke the FTO label: It’d be bad politics for the US to negotiate with a terrorist group.

But there’s another reason to do so, too: It could help Yemen’s most vulnerable. The war has killed about 233,000 people, mostly from indirect causes such as lack of food, water, and health services, while another roughly 24 million Yemenis require assistance to stay alive and fend off diseases like cholera.

Trump’s labeling of the Houthi rebels as terrorists made providing that assistance harder. Simply put, for aid groups to deliver assistance, they would have to negotiate with Houthi members who control a lot of Yemen’s territory. But US law essentially says no aid organization can do deals with terrorists, even if it’s to provide life-saving support to those in need

There’s a workaround if the US provides waivers to certain aid teams, but the Trump administration rushed its decision before working on and implementing an effective plan.”

““This decision has nothing to do with our view of the Houthis and their reprehensible conduct, including attacks against civilians and the kidnapping of American citizens,” a State Department official told me on the condition of anonymity.

“Our action is due entirely to the humanitarian consequences of this last-minute designation from the prior administration, which the United Nations and humanitarian organizations have since made clear would accelerate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” the official said, adding that the US remains committed to protecting Saudi Arabia from further Houthi attacks.

Activist and humanitarian groups praised the administration’s decision.”

Instead of Lifting Trump’s Tariffs, Biden Is Imposing More of Them

“President Joe Biden’s first major trade policy move will be disappointing for anyone who hoped his inauguration would put an end to the presidential practice of unilaterally imposing expensive, unnecessary tariffs for vacuous national security reasons.

Biden’s decision last week to reimpose 10 percent tariffs on aluminum imports from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) contains all the major hallmarks of former President Donald Trump’s misguided trade policies. Biden even sounded downright Trumpian as he announced the renewed tariffs—which Trump had lifted during his final days in office. “The available evidence indicates that imports from the UAE may still displace domestic production, and thereby threaten to impair our national security,” says Biden’s executive order announcing the policy.

The idea that aluminum imports are a threat to national security was a bunch of nonsense when Trump did it, and it’s still bunk when Biden says it. It was, and is, nothing more than a cheap excuse for a trade barrier that ultimately inflates costs for businesses that buy and consume aluminum. Since 97 percent of American jobs in the aluminum industry are downstream of production, these tariffs create far more losers than winners.”