WaPo on refugee debacle: Biden's really in charge ... and it shows

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

For the second time this week, the Washington Post delivers a tick-tock on Joe Biden’s policymaking that paints him as … well, Trumpian. First, the paper’s reporting team tried to make the argument that Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal decision “restored the foreign policymaking process” involving key advisers. They simultaneously reported that Biden ignored all his advisers despite the “process” and made the policy with his gut, having decided in 2009 that the US should get out of Afghanistan.


How did that restored policymaking process work on the refugee-cap decision? About the same way, the Post reports this morning — “the wheels fell off“:

President Biden overruled his top foreign policy and national security aides, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when he kept in place the Trump administration’s record low cap on the number of refugees admitted to the United States, according to three people familiar with the matter, a decision that was reversed after a public outcry.

Biden harbored concerns about what the sharp increase in migrants at the southern border meant for the government’s capacity to handle an influx of refugees from elsewhere, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private deliberations. In the end, the president’s own misgivings fueled the decision more than anything else, the people said.

The president was particularly frustrated by the government’s struggle to deal with unaccompanied minors at the border and became increasingly concerned about the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s response to the crisis, the people said. The unit, housed at the Department of Health and Human Services, has responsibility for both unaccompanied minors at the border and the separate group of foreigners seeking refugee status due to persecution, war or oppression at home.

Blinken, who has spoken often of his own family’s history as refugees, appealed personally to Biden in early March after his department had submitted its declaration in support of dramatically raising the refugee cap from the historically low level set by President Donald Trump.

But Biden wavered for two months on what to do before ultimately rebuffing Blinken and other top national security officials.


At least we can reach two firm conclusions from this episode. The first: Joe Biden is definitely in charge at the White House. The second? It shows.

And actually, we can reach a third conclusion based on this story, which is that Biden’s team in the White House knows it, too. This is the kind of leak that happened early and often in Donald Trump’s White House, at least until John Kelly managed to slow the leaks when he took over as chief of staff. There seemed to be no end of insiders willing to dish on the dysfunction and fumbles within the West Wing for the first six months of Trump’s term, and then continuing at a slower pace afterward.

How bad are the fumbles? The Post also relates this amateurish stumble before the actual policy announcement and then retreat:

Biden’s delay coincided with the growing crisis at the border, as the administration struggled to respond to the increase minors seeking asylum. But, Psaki vowed the two issues were unrelated.

“No, no, it’s not related to that,” she said at an April 1 press briefing. “No.”

Then, on Saturday, when Biden was asked about the refugee cap, he said the two issues were directly connected.

And that was after two months of supposed work on this policy!

The Post adds that “Biden’s concerns help explain last week’s mess,” but they actually don’t. The quick reversal instead demonstrates the lack of deep thought and forward planning by Biden in his decision-making, which appears every bit as mercurial as the way the media painted Trump’s decision-making. Biden dithered for months, made a snap decision based on emotion, and then caved almost immediately after entirely predictable outrage from progressives over the decision. It’s Trump by way of Hamlet, with a bit of King Lear tossed into the mix.


But at least Biden’s in charge, contrary to conservatives’ needling. That’s both the good news and the bad news.

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David Strom 5:20 PM | February 22, 2024