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A little too late for Biden to deal with his border problem

It wasn’t hard to foresee Joe Biden’s attempt to recast himself ahead of the November election as a reluctant but nevertheless ruthlessly effective border hawk. The president has been advertising his intention to pull off something like this throughout the year.

As early as January, the president’s image-makers tried to retail the notion that Joe Biden was a victim of the migrant crisis over which he had presided and about which he did as little as possible. According to NBC News, Biden was all but “out of options” for dealing with the surge at the border — save, you know, wielding his leverage to compel Mexico to police its side of the Rio Grande, which Biden subsequently did.

By early February, following the collapse of a bipartisan Senate deal aimed at enhancing border security, Biden administration officials advertised the president’s intention to finally pursue “executive action to deter illegal migration.” With all the alacrity the Biden White House had previously displayed on issues related to the border, the administration only got around to describing the shape those orders would take in the first week of March. “The Biden administration is considering taking action without Congress to make it harder for migrants to pass initial screening for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border and quickly deport recently arrived migrants who don’t meet the criteria,” NBC News revealed.

But nothing happened. As Axios reported, the president’s allies insisted the delay was prudential — an effort to prepare “for legal challenges, political backlash, and enforcement shortages” that might arise from such an order. But of that litany, it was the potential for a “political backlash” that likely stayed the president’s hand. Biden’s border enforcement authority — the same authority that all presidents have used to secure the Southern border — is also the font from which Donald Trump’s ability to (eventually) ban entry into the United States from a variety of predominantly Muslim countries sprang. In your mind’s eye, you can already see the angry marchers armed with hand-written placards denouncing Joe Biden in ways to which this White House is inordinately sensitive.

Despite the obviousness of the crisis, despite the victories of Democrats in special elections who ran as immigration hardliners, and despite the polling indicating that voters are poised to reward politicians who are intolerant of illegal immigration, Biden remained committed to lethargy. As in so many other parts of his presidency, he and his advisers allowed their fear of progressive criticism to overwhelm their better judgment. And so, the crisis went unresolved.

Today, however, when it is very likely too late for anything Joe Biden does to have a salutary political effect on the prospects for his reelection campaign, the president is finally resolved to act.

Via Fox News:

President Biden is issuing a presidential proclamation that will temporarily suspend the entry of non-citizens across the southern border once the number of average border encounters exceeds 2,500 a day over seven days, officials said. That will stay in effect until 14 days after there has been a seven-day average of less than 1,500 encounters along the border. Officials said it would make it easier for immigration officers to quickly remove individuals who do not have a legal basis to remain in the U.S.

This order will be complemented by a joint rule that restricts the eligibility of border crossers to seek asylum. If this formula sounds suspiciously like the one Senator James Lankford hammered out with his Democratic counterparts this winter, it should. The president’s executive actions mirror legislation he insisted he needed to be sufficiently empowered to stanch the migrant influx on America’s southern border.

The cynicism on display may be hard to stomach, but the president’s political team believes the gamble could pay off. “Biden is determined to neutralize what could be his biggest political vulnerability against former President Trump: immigration,” Axios reported on Tuesday. “Biden’s willing to risk a defeat in the courts and anger from his party’s progressive base for taking the dramatic action — even without the $14 billion the White House argued for months was necessary for a lasting solution.”

That’s hardly a “risk.” It’s likely the president’s fondest hope that a display of theatrical gestures in the general direction of the border crisis repairs some of the damage to his brand among moderate and independent voters while eventually culminating in a court injunction that would mollify progressives. The president’s political operation hasn’t suddenly grown a spine. It has only recognized that “counting on the border action to happen by itself,” as Biden laughably told reporters in March, was more a hope than a plan.

But whatever political dividends Biden expects from his belated action on the border are likely to be limited by virtue of his own dithering. Progressives are as unhappy with the administration’s efforts to enforce U.S. immigration law as the White House feared they’d be, but Biden isn’t going to capitalize on their anger. Republicans aren’t going to withdraw their indictment of the president’s mishandling of the crisis. The vast center of the electorate isn’t going to abandon the impression of Biden as an immigration dove — an impression the president spent the last three and a half years cultivating.

Just like every other foreign crisis this president has overseen, Biden’s addiction to half-measures has made his circumstances — and ours — worse. One Rose Garden ceremony isn’t going to undo the damage to the Biden brand.

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