April 21, 2021

"Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was in the Oval Office, pleading with President Biden... to end Trump-era restrictions on immigration..."

"... and to allow tens of thousands of desperate refugees fleeing war, poverty and natural disasters into the United States... The attitude of the president during the meeting, according to one person to whom the conversation was later described, was, essentially: Why are you bothering me with this? What had been an easy promise on the campaign trail — to reverse what Democrats called President Donald J. Trump’s “racist” limits on accepting refugees — has become a test of what is truly important to the new occupant of the White House... Now, a decision to raise the refugee limit to 62,500 — as Mr. Biden had promised only weeks earlier to members of Congress — would invite from Republicans new attacks of hypocrisy and open borders even as the president was calling for bipartisanship. It was terrible timing, he told officials.... Biden’s staff came up with a compromise.... The backlash was immediate.... Within hours, the president backtracked...."

Writes Maggie Haberman in the NYT. 

Isn't that awfully mean? One person interprets the President's attitude, and it gets published in the NYT:  

Why are you bothering me with this?

As if the man — touted for his empathy — has no empathy. What really happened? Obviously, Biden understands the human experience of the refugees. He doesn't need Blinken acting out the suffering to him at great length. I'm imagining Biden wanting to solve the problems pragmatically, taking all the considerations into account, not just caving in to gushing empathy for the desperate people at the border. 

Now, the NYT is portraying Biden as weak and wavering this way and that as he's criticized for anything he does, over a problem for which there is no satisfying solution.

IN THE EMAIL: Lloyd writes:

Finally, White House staff start leaking against the Pres, just like happened twenty times a day under Trump. Welcome to the real world Joe, or whoever your ventriloquist is.

AND: Let me say, I presume the "one person" who interpreted Biden's "attitude" to the NYT was Blinken himself. That strikes me as unpleasantly disloyal. And vain. BUT: Ignorance is Bliss writes to say the language in the NYT is "one person to whom the conversation was later described": "While that does not absolutely rule out someone who was in the room at the time, it does strongly imply that the source did not have first-hand knowledge of the exchange. So, likely not Blinken, and even worse to base a mean quote on hearsay."

ALSO IN THE EMAIL: Balfegor writes:

The Washington Post article on the refugee cap debacle actually paints Biden in a pretty positive light, I think, despite their headline about the wheels supposedly coming off:

He had a specific and to my mind quite reasonable concern about the capacity of the agency responsible for handling both the children abandoned at the border and refugee resettlement:

"The president was particularly frustrated by the government’s struggle to deal with unaccompanied minors at the border and became increasingly concerned about the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s response to the crisis, the people said. The unit, housed at the Department of Health and Human Services, has responsibility for both unaccompanied minors at the border and the separate group of foreigners seeking refugee status due to persecution, war or oppression at home."

That's a new crisis (if somewhat self-created) and one that didn't exist when he was making campaign promises, so it's entirely appropriate for him to take those changed circumstances into account when setting policy.

But it also sounds like Biden is facing the same problem Trump did, viz. that the civil service, including his own appointees, don't want to obey the democratically elected president and are trying to box him in, including through articles like the New York Times. His State Department proposed 62,500 in a report to Congress before he had a chance to weigh in. His press secretary, Psaki, even lied about whether there was a connection between the minors abandoned at the border and the low refugee cap, only to have Biden promptly reveal the truth when his handlers let him address the public directly. Yes, he got rolled in the end, but the fact that in the face of what must have been a concerted effort by the unelected officials and party activists around him feeding him data and recommendations, he was willing to buck their consensus speaks well of him.