Biden’s America First hangover

Joe Biden during his address to Congress on April 28. | Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesIn key areas like immigration and Covid-19 relief, Biden isn’t breaking with Trump’s nationalism. In fact, he’s continuing it. President Joe Biden’s address to the nation this Wednesday night wasn’t just a victory lap for the accomplishments of his first 100 days: It was a declaration that the Biden administration’s highest ambition would be reviving America and its democracy from the sorry state his predecessor had left it in. There have been real accomplishments, like the transformative American Rescue Plan. But in key policy areas, even ones where Trump’s approach deeply damaged America’s democratic image, the Biden administration has seemingly been content with continuing its predecessor’s policies. On immigration and the global Covid-19 response in particular, Biden has seemed unable or unwilling to move past Donald Trump’s worldview, giving “America First” a home in a Democratic White House. In mid-April, the Biden administration announced it would maintain the Trump administration’s 15,000-person cap on refugee admittance — a break with its campaign promise, not to mention a continuation of one of Trump’s most noxious policies. According to the New York Times, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in the Oval Office on March 3, “pleading with President Biden” to raise the refugee cap. Here’s how the president responded: Mr. Biden, already under intense political pressure because of the surge of migrant children at the border with Mexico, was unmoved. The attitude of the president during the meeting, according to one person to whom the conversation was later described, was, essentially: Why are you bothering me with this? After an intense backlash from congressional Democrats and liberal pundits, the administration reversed itself, saying it would announce a plan to raise the cap by an unspecified number by May 15. The story on global vaccine distribution is similar. For weeks after it became clear that the United States would have enough vaccines to meet domestic demand, the Biden administration refused to export its excess to poorer countries. That includes stockpiles of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which has still not been approved for use in the United States. This policy changed in late April, after a direct phone call between Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi underscored the country’s desperate straits. But insider reporting, this time from Politico, once again suggests the White House initially overrode the relevant agencies and directly blocked vaccine exports: Senior officials in the White House and National Security Council had repeatedly rebuffed requests from leaders of health agencies, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to send doses abroad. The officials backing the exports cited weekly internal projections that showed the U.S. would have tens of millions of doses to spare. Their opponents urged Biden to wait until the U.S. had authorized more shot makers and was further along in its own vaccination campaign. And there are other areas where Biden has sounded an America First tune. His administration plans to maintain Trump’s tariffs on China indefinitely, according to US Trade Representative Katherine Tai. It has continued the Trump policy of using Title 42, a health code, to kick asylum seekers out of the country. It has refused to share vaccine manufacturing technology with foreign companies and countries, and took weeks to lift a ban on exporting vaccine raw materials that India desperately needed. To be sure, there have been notable departures from Trump’s isolationist impulses — particularly when it comes to US membership in international organizations and agreements. But it’s fair to say that the Biden administration is going farther down an America First track than many Democrats would like. Biden’s surprisingly weak record on helping foreigners The administration’s defense on some of these issues is, more or less, Trump made them do it. During a briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki blamed the refugee screwups on “the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited” that made it difficult to actually bring people into the country. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Tai said that “yanking off tariffs” would be impossible without causing economic disruption; there needed to be time for changes to be “communicated in a way so that the actors in the economy can make adjustments.” These are debatable claims. The New York Times’s account suggests Biden’s disinterest, even independent of administrative capacity, was a major barrier to raising the refugee cap. But nonetheless, there is some truth to them. The Trump administration created bureaucratic and policy obstacles blocking Biden from overturning its policies, including on big-ticket foreign policy issues like the Iran nuclear deal and normaliz

May 2, 2021 - VOX
Joe Biden during his address to Congress on April 28. | Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesIn key areas like immigration and Covid-19 relief, Biden isn’t breaking with Trump’s nationalism. In fact, he’s continuing it. President Joe Biden’s address to the nation this Wednesday night wasn’t just a victory lap for the accomplishments of his first 100 days: It was a declaration that the Biden administration’s highest ambition would be reviving America and its democracy from the..