I mentioned this in the last thread but it deserves its own post, if only to highlight Biden’s … “evolution” on the usefulness of travel bans.
Restricting travel from India at the moment is a no-brainer given the scale of the crisis and the possibility (although it’s only a possibility) that what’s driving their “apocalyptic” outbreak is a new variant that might be more capable of breaking through vaccinated people’s immunity. Just read this if you haven’t already and you’ll see that, if there’s any debate to be had over this move, it’s why the White House didn’t do it weeks ago instead of waiting until now.
Better late than never?
The administration will issue a 212(f) order restricting entry into the US for foreign nationals who have been in India within the previous 14 days, a source familiar with the move said. Airlines have been told of the decision, a source said.
The new policy will take effect at 12:01 am ET Tuesday.
The policy won’t apply to American citizens, lawful permanent residents or other people with exemptions. As with all international travelers, individuals who fit that criteria traveling from India must still test negative prior to leaving the country, quarantine if they have not been vaccinated and test negative again upon reentering the US from India.
The piece you’ll want to read as a gloss on that is this analysis by WaPo fact-checker Glenn Kessler from January, in which he assessed the claim that Biden had called Trump’s ban on travel from China “xenophobic” when it was handed down on January 31 of last year. It’s true that Biden never described the ban specifically as “xenophobic” but in context it’s abundantly clear that his references to Trump’s xenophobia around that time were an allusion to the ban. On the day the ban was issued, he told an audience in Iowa, “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysterical xenophobia and fear mongering to lead the way instead of science.” Here he was the day after the ban was issued:
We are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus. We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering. He is the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health emergency.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) February 1, 2020
As strange as it may seem a year later, now that Democrats have transformed into the party of hyper-precautions on COVID, before the virus arrived here many liberals were skeptical of banning travel. They viewed it as not just xenophobic but ineffective. “[Trump’s] move was immediately attacked in the language of cosmopolitan sophistication, which assumes that because travel bans and quarantines are associated with things liberals consider bad — nationalism, hardened borders, migration restrictions — they necessarily must not work as well,” wrote Ross Douthat of the original liberal position not long after the China ban was issued. Soon after, experts like Fauci shifted from cautious optimism that the U.S. might escape China’s outbreak unscathed to alarm that the virus was here and spreading, and liberals shifted with them.
But, as I say, they weren’t there on February 1, 2020, when Biden tweeted vaguely but clearly enough about “xenophobia.” Five days before that and shortly before Trump ordered the China travel ban, Biden wrote this in an op-ed:
The possibility of a pandemic is a challenge Donald Trump is unqualified to handle as president. I remember how Trump sought to stoke fear and stigma during the 2014 Ebola epidemic. He called President Barack Obama a “dope” and “incompetent” and railed against the evidence-based response our administration put in place — which quelled the crisis and saved hundreds of thousands of lives — in favor of reactionary travel bans that would only have made things worse.
He was anti-ban, as was the left, viewing Trump’s interest in the idea as a function of his anti-China nationalism and his general hostility to foreigners.
On February 5, five days after the ban, future Biden chief of staff and former Obama “Ebola czar” Ron Klain testified before Congress about COVID and discussed Trump’s China move:
“We don’t have a travel ban,” Klain tells a House Foreign Affairs panel. “We have a travel Band-Aid right now. First, before it was imposed, 300,000 people came here from China in the previous month. So, the horse is out of the barn. Second, what we have restricted is not travel to or from China, but passports to and from China. There’s no restriction on Americans going back and forth. There are warnings. People should abide by those warnings. But today, 30 planes will land in Los Angeles that either originated in Beijing or came here on one-stops, 30 in San Francisco, 25 in New York City. Okay? So, unless we think that the color of the passport someone carries is a meaningful public health restriction, we have not placed a meaningful public health restriction.”
That’s a perfect description of his own boss’s new policy on India. Cases there began climbing in mid-February, at first very gradually. By mid-March, the daily count began to rise more aggressively; in the span of two weeks, India went from 27,000 cases per day to 61,000. A week later, on April 7, they reached 100,000. Meanwhile, travelers from India have been arriving in the U.S. every day since. It’s true now just as it was when Klain said it last year: The horse is already out of the barn. And Biden’s policy is the same sort of “Band-Aid” that Trump’s was in that it too continues to allow Americans to travel back and forth from India, potentially bringing back variants with them. It’s only foreigners who are banned, not U.S. citizens.
Biden’s ban doesn’t even take effect immediately. He’s going to let Indians travel here for three more days until they’re locked out.
Not until March 25 of last year, Kessler notes, did Biden’s campaign finally state support for travel bans. That was after New York City had already melted down with cases and deaths and Biden had no choice but to signal in a stark way that he was taking the threat to the United States seriously. Thirteen months later, he’s now implementing Trump’s own travel ban policy — flaws and all, as it’ll end up taking effect a full month after it was clear that a major outbreak in India was under way. You would think that Klain, at least, might have remembered the lesson he drew from Trump’s slowfootedness and NYC’s belated lockdown, which is that restrictions need to be imposed early if they’re going to make a difference. Instead here we are with another travel ban taking effect after it’s obviously too late to prevent cases from being seeded in America. Hopefully the vaccines will bail us out this time.