Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Biden immigration policy, reconciliation bill

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the Biden administration’s policy on immigration, and the fate of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Back to the top political issue of the day, immigration, with President Biden confronting a growing crisis at the border and a legislative loss on the issue here in Washington.

    Our Politics Monday team is here to unpack this and more.

    That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    And hello to both of you on this Monday. It's very good to see you.

    And, Tam, as Yamiche was reporting at the top of the program, this border crisis that President Biden is facing is just one of another — it seems like, every day, there's another challenge in front of him. At this point, given these pictures that we are seeing of Haitian refugees, on top of what we already know is going on, what does it mean for him?

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    This White House has been trying to thread a needle, and it is not an easy one to thread. And they keep discovering this again and again, as every new border crisis breaks out, or new variety of border crisis.

    In this case, they're leaning very heavily on a Trump era policy, this Title 42, that allows them to immediately expel people, even people who are seeking asylum and who are legally seeking asylum. They are leaning heavily on that law, or that rule, which is a pandemic COVID public health rule.

    They're leaning heavily on that, at the same time that they're trying to say, no, we are more humane than the Trump administration. But when you have images like the ones that have been coming out of the Del Rio area, and the — actually images of enforcement happening, it's not pretty.

    And they know it's not pretty, and it is a real challenge.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what is it — I mean, president — we're only eight months into this presidency. But this, Amy, follows the situation in Afghanistan.

    What are the options that are left for the president right now?

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    Right.

    So this is a president who ran as a candidate saying, if you elect me, we're going to get back to normal. We're going to bring competency back. We're going to bring consistency. I'm going to bring people in with me who are experienced. We can handle crisis. There's not going to be any of the drama.

    And that was working until, well, it wasn't, starting with the Delta variant and the reaction to that crisis, of course, Afghanistan, and now the border.

    And so the bigger challenge right now is, as I said, one of competence, right, that this is much less about immigration than it is about management, which is, how will an administration, when things go wrong, which they do — every administration deals with that — handle this?

    And Tam is right about threading the needle. This has always been a challenging topic for Democrats, because, on the one hand, they want to keep their advocates on the left happy. On the other, they know that this is an issue where Democrats are seen by even independent voters as being not strong on the border.

    And, certainly this president, from very early on, has gotten low marks on his handling of the border.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Seen as more lenient.

    And, Tam, you have with this Senate parliamentarian decision on the fact that immigration, the immigration language, which would help the dreamers, cannot, should not — cannot stay in that piece of legislation, it's a reminder of just how tough it is to get any kind of immigration reform done in this city.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    When Amy said that Biden ran on returning to some semblance of normal, I was thinking, normal? The norm in the American immigration system that hasn't had any major reforms and has been sort of cobbled together over the last many years with executive actions, and — I mean, the U.S. immigration system is broken.

    Everyone on all sides of the political spectrum agrees it's broken. They can't seem to find a way to fix it.

    In terms of the parliamentarian's ruling, advocates, at least, and the White House and their allies in Congress are hoping that this isn't the final word. Certainly, it is a blow and one that they are hoping they can get around to try to find some other way to include immigration in this big reconciliation bill.

    It's not clear what that path is. But they aren't giving up. The president hasn't thrown it overboard yet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, as you point out, I mean, it's just tough.

  • Amy Walter:

    It's just tough.

    And to go back to this needle-threading, which is, when things are going badly at the border, even success on something like DACA isn't going to make up for what people are seeing on the left and the right. I mean, on this program tonight, you heard criticism from both about how mishandled this has been.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    And so while the issue of DACA is in a poll very popular, it would get tremendous support among the American population…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There's sympathy, there's empathy for these people.

  • Amy Walter:

    There is.

    But that's not what people are focusing on right now. And this is where you get a credibility problem, right? Voters give you a little bit of time as president. They don't get the honeymoons they used to, but they get a little bit of a, all right, we will give you a little benefit of the doubt.

    That starts to go away if you're not living up to the expectations that they had for you or that you set. And, again, we talked about this earlier, but setting of, we're going to be competent, we're going to be 180 degree different from this last person who sat in this office.

    And while there's no tweeting, and there's no — there's no berating…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right. Right. Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    … the other pieces are not coming together.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And the clock is ticking. What have you done us lately?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, I mean, Tam, we are reminded, I mean, speaking of what the parliamentarian was dealing with this so-called reconciliation measure, reconciliation is supposed to be about people coming together. There's not a lot of coming together over this.

    But what is at stake here? If this doesn't come — somehow get over the finish line for President Biden, what's at stake?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

    And I don't think that we would be on solid ground declaring it doomed at this point. There are lots of people, lots of Democrats in Congress who have very different ideas about what must be in it or what must not be in it. It's going to be up to the president and the speaker and the majority leader to figure out how to balance those equities.

    And it seems like a mighty challenge. But this is the key to the Biden agenda. This is the Biden presidency. This — so much is resting on this piece of legislation and the smaller infrastructure-only, roads and bridges, broadband.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You get 20 seconds of wisdom.

  • Amy Walter:

    Twenty seconds?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    I completely agree with that.

    It's going to be very hard to come back from a loss, which is why I think you will see Democrats at the end of the day come together. The one big challenge, Republicans are defining it right now, while Democrats are fighting amongst themselves.

    So, Democrats, the quicker they get it done, the easier they get to — the more time they have to message it on their own.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we haven't even talked about the calendar and when they can get it done and so forth.

  • Amy Walter:

    Correct. Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will save that next Monday.

  • Amy Walter:

    So many times.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So many things.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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