Daily Dispatch 12/16/2019: 'Tis the season for politics and posturing

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Daily Dispatch

December 16, 2019


The next few days are going to be crazy in Washington, D.C. On Wednesday the House is expected to vote on two articles of impeachment against President Trump. Most likely, Trump will become the third president in U.S. history to be impeached, and like the other two, in a highly partisan vote. It is hard to imagine getting much else done in Congress this week, but impeachment is getting treated like just another vote...

Indeed, this week the House is also expected to vote on the US-Mexico-Canada-Agreement, the re-negotiated NAFTA deal that Trump promised as a candidate. The Democrats were successful in pressing for the inclusion of new provisions that, in theory, would protect labor rights, and thus now seem poised to offer Trump a major political victory the same week they impeach him. The Senate, meanwhile, isn’t rushing the vote on USMCA, and has pushed it back to early next year. 

Amidst all of this, Congress has until Friday to vote on appropriation bills for FY2020, already two months overdue. Doing this at the same time as impeachment means the political calculus of the Dems = not taking more chances. The Dem leadership wants all the spending bills done. That way if Trump decides to veto the package the consequence is a full government shutdown. That said, there is not a single omnibus spending bill - but separate bills, so Trump could still exercise discretion (I never thought I would actually type that phrase) to navigate a partial shutdown.

In any event, in this milieu, word is that a DHS compromise bill was negotiated  - and that it is not very good: e.g., no cuts in funding for the Wall or detention and no restrictions on transfer authority. We can take some solace in the fact that it appears there is no increase in funding either - but without the limits on transfer authority, as we’ve seen, Trump can still spend what he wants. 

Once the final text of the DHS bill is released (probably today) we will update our readers more thoroughly, with suggested actions for those willing to make a call or visit a member of Congress. The chances of getting a better bill, this week, are likely nil. 

Woe to immigrants seeking justice during election season. 

Speaking of the wall….

The Washington Post officially opines today that people are rightly skeptical of the administration’s intentions when it comes to building the wall, given that it doesn’t address the reality of unauthorized immigration (most people overstay visas), won’t impact drug flows (almost all goes through legal ports of entry), and won’t work for anybody else (apparently the material in use for the wall that is being built can be cut through with a cordless power tool). 

Nevertheless, the administration is pressing to complete 500 miles of new wall over the next year (thus far Trump has only succeeded in replacing an old barrier, which already covers about one-third of the border). So, the wall will be a part of the budget battle yet again.

From :

BEFORE PRESIDENT TRUMP took office, fencing and other barriers stood along 654 miles of the 1,900-mile border with Mexico. The administration has replaced or upgraded a tenth of that existing network — without building much in the way of new walls. Now Mr. Trump is determined to deliver on his signature 2016 campaign promise in time for the 2020 elections. But even as construction begins on parts of the wall, it is unlikely to fundamentally alter illegal border crossings of people or drugs.

Mr. Trump has scaled back his initial promise to build a wall along the entire length of the frontier, saying that 1,000 miles of new barriers should suffice. He is pressing to complete nearly half of that by the end of next year, having deputized his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to ride herd on the project.

This, of course, won’t happen. The Post editorial, though filled with interesting tidbits, does not actually address the question editors placed in the title, “Trump’s border wall wouldn’t stop most illegal immigration or drugs. So what is it for?” Since the Post didn't answer this question, I'll give it a shot:

The wall is for political theater. People cheer when Trump talks about it at rallies, so he keeps talking about it. Democrats don’t want to be associated with it, so Trump keeps making them talk about it. The facts, such as they are, about border crossings, drug flows and building materials, ultimately don’t matter in this debate. Not for Trump, at least. 

Border walls are not a uniquely U.S. obsession. , globally there are more border barriers today than when the Berlin wall came down 30 years ago. An observer of the debate in India over building a barrier with Bangladesh noted, “You know, a wall is the best way to do nothing while looking like you’re doing something.” 

Doing nothing (effective) while looking like you are doing something is the mantra of this administration. Why should the wall be any different?

Speaking of Elections...

Joe Biden finally released his immigration plan last week. I’m not sure how to read the timing of this. He is about 6 months past the time when every other candidate with a plan, released theirs. But immigration may yet again be in the headlines in the coming weeks if the budget showdown becomes a partisan shitshow again. So, Biden is ready with talking points.

Biden’s plan can be read in . As with every other plan out there, it starts with a discussion of how horrible Trump is (as though immigration policy was tolerable in January of 2017 - Biden might want us to believe this, for obvious reasons, but we know better). That said, Trump is horrible, and most of Biden’s plan is really about a reset to the “status quo ante Trump.” 

Snark aside, this is actually important, because simply resetting asylum law, undoing new visa restrictions and so on, will be a huge battle in and of itself post-Trump. Biden’s plan also includes a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and moves to normalize the status of those people already in the country who are unauthorized. These elements are in every Democrat's plan.

The one new bit in Biden’s plan is a new visa category that will allow states and localities to decide who gets to come into the country. The idea of having a state-informed visa process more responsive to local needs and job markets is not a terrible idea - and as an idea that is viewed favorably by some Republicans, has a future.  Specifically, his plan...,

Creates a new visa category to allow cities and counties to petition for higher levels of immigrants to support their growth. The disparity in economic growth between U.S. cities, and between rural communities and urban areas, is one of the great imbalances of today’s economy. Some cities and many rural communities struggle with shrinking populations, an erosion of economic opportunity, and local businesses that face unique challenges. Others simply struggle to attract a productive workforce and innovative entrepreneurs. As president, Biden will support a program to allow any county or municipal executive of a large or midsize county or city to petition for additional immigrant visas to support the region’s economic development strategy, provided employers in those regions certify there are available jobs, and that there are no workers to fill them. Holders of these visas would be required to work and reside in the city or county that petitioned for them, and would be subject to the same certification protections as other employment-based immigrants.

Biden is also proposing eliminating country caps and increasing the green card annual limit above the current 140,000. Interestingly, he would also grant visas automatically (not counted against the limit) to any PhD graduate from a U.S. university STEM program.