So says White House spokesman Karine Jean-Pierre, filling in for Jen Psaki. Did she run this talking point by Biden before she shared it with the press corps?
Normally we don’t have to ask whether the president and his own deputies are on the same page but in this case it’s an open question whether Biden is aware of his administration’s policy on this issue.
Read Ed’s post from this morning about Sleepy Joe calling it “garbage” yesterday when he was asked about the DOJ settling with migrants whose families were separated by Trump’s administration for $450,000 per head, only to have the ACLU turn around and confirm that those negotiations are happening.
Is the president not being kept abreast of what his Justice Department is doing? On a politically explosive issue, no less? Seems like it:
Yesterday, Biden said settlement payouts with taxpayer dollars to illegal immigrants were “not gonna happen.”
— Chad Gilmartin (@ChadGilmartinCA) November 4, 2021
If a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package can be said to cost nothing because it’s paid for, I suppose multimillion-dollar settlements with migrant families can be said to save taxpayer dollars.
Maybe the dollar amount that was quoted to Biden was the part he deemed “garbage,” not the claim that negotiations were happening. I.e. families are going to get something, just not $450,000:
Karine said that Biden’s reaction yesterday was to the “dollar figure that was mentioned” (the $450K)
— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) November 4, 2021
Imagine the pickle the DOJ is in now. If it’s true, as the Wall Street Journal has claimed, that they’re in talks to pay $450,000 then Biden’s comment has put them in a position of either defying him or blowing up the talks for political reasons. If they go ahead with $450K settlements the press will have a field day demanding to know why Biden called his own administration’s policy “garbage.” If they pull back from the $450K figure so as not to make Biden look like a chump, they’re letting politics dictate their legal policy — precisely the thing Biden promised he’d put a stop to once he became president.
It wouldn’t be the first time lately that he’d meddled in Justice Department decisions either.
Why didn’t he give the same answer yesterday that Jean-Pierre gave today, that he’s comfortable with whatever his DOJ decides and that he won’t pressure them politically? It must be that he hadn’t been briefed on the policy (yet) and his instinct as a politician who’s been in Washington for 50 years is that it’d be *terrible* retail politics for his party to have to defend something like this over the next year. I have family members who follow politics casually who’d heard about the $450,000 number and brought it up to me this weekend unbidden when I saw them, wanting to know how the feds could justify lottery-type figures like that for people who don’t have a right to be in the U.S. (Probably don’t have a right, I should say. At least some of the separated families were claiming asylum, and people with valid asylum claims do have a right to be here.)
Biden could try to answer that by saying that the fact that a foreign national might not have a right to be in the United States doesn’t give the U.S. government the power to do anything it wants to him while he’s in custody. It couldn’t shoot him on sight or torture him; arguably it couldn’t lawfully separate his family either. But arguing that family separation is wrong, which Biden has done many times, is different from having to argue that families that were separated deserve seven-figure payouts at a moment when millions of Americans are laid off and struggling financially. The settlements will be seen as proof that the Democrats care more about doing right by foreigners than they do by their own citizens.
I assume Biden sensed that when he responded reflexively that the idea was “garbage.” It must have been hilarious when his briefers told him later: No, really, sir.
Doesn’t much matter electorally, though, right? Tuesday’s results show that Democrats are going to be bludgeoned next fall no matter what. He might as well just own the policy the next time he’s asked about it.