Two Issues of the Day

Things are looking up. The U.S. is among the world leaders in the rate of vaccination. Democrats in Washington passed a big Covid relief bill that won’t just address the effects of the virus, it will also reduce poverty and improve access to healthcare for millions of people. The Senate’s current no-effort filibuster may be on its way out. And, following our coldest February in more than thirty years, spring is just around the corner.

Maybe this is why I haven’t posted anything in four days. There isn’t enough to complain about (complaining almost always feels more urgent than celebrating).

Still, two developments seem worth mentioning. One is that some in the reality-based news media have suggested that President Biden should give more credit to his predecessor for our progress on vaccinations. This is baloney. Biden gave credit to the other guy months ago, back when the first vaccinations were given. As part of the first Covid relief bill and the subsequent “Operation Warp Speed”, Congress and the previous administration gave billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies in order to speed up the creation and manufacture of vaccines (although not to Pfizer, the company that produced the first one — the only cash they and their corporate partner got was from the German government).

So the former president gets credit for not standing in the way of a massive burst of government spending, even though he downplayed the seriousness of the virus for months — even after acknowledging in private how serious it was — and even though most of the credit goes to the scientists and others who quickly developed and tested the vaccines. 

As for the distribution of the vaccines, the 45th president doesn’t deserve any credit at all. That aspect of Operation Warp Speed was a bust. This is from Vox:

Vaccines don’t do much good if there’s no plan to get them into arms, and this is where [the previous president] really fell short. As was the case when the U.S. struggled to ramp up coronavirus testing infrastructure in the early days of the pandemic, the [prior] administration’s plan for vaccine distribution did little more than pass the buck to under-resourced states. . . . 

It’s true that [by mid-January], about 1 million vaccines were being administered each day. But Biden has nearly tripled that rate in less than two months. . . [He] has overseen the federal government purchasing hundreds of millions of vaccine doses, making possible the aggressive timeline he outlined on Thursday. And his administration has overseen the development and implementation of vaccine distribution plans that do more than just rely on the states.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo puts it succinctly (the whole article is worth reading):

On the distribution front, their record was close to catastrophic. As  [explained] here, they literally had no plan to do anything. The “plan” was not to have a plan. . . . 

The federal government would manage the relatively easy task of airlifting supplies in bulk to states at designated airports and then let the states figure out how to get them into people’s arms.

[Giving the shots] was an incredibly hard task and the best solution was to put it off on someone else, so the White House didn’t get the blame. It’s really that simple. 

The other thing I thought worth mentioning is what’s going on at our border with Mexico. The New Yorker has a fairly long article about the situation called “Biden Has Few Good Options for the Unaccompanied Children at the Border”. Greg Sargent of The Washington Post has a shorter summary:

When the administration reopened a warehouse-like facility for migrant children in Texas this week, it caused a huge controversy on all sides. . . . [Right-wingers] scoffed that Biden is being forced to resume [the unindicted co-conspirator’s] policies . . . All this is nonsense. . .

The reopening of the Texas facility does not constitute holding children at the border. It is using a warehouse-like facility to deal with overflow at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the waystation before kids hopefully get moved to a better life.

This isn’t “kids in cages” redux. That scandal arose when [the government] separated families to hold parents (rather than releasing them), creating a new class of unaccompanied children that didn’t exist before.

In this case, the overflow at ORR is being caused in part by the rise in migrant children arriving at the border alone, not after being separated from parents, [and] some of the increase is due to Biden allowing migrants to have due process after being trapped in Mexico due to [the last administration’s] policies. . . .  For now, there is no alternative to holding migrant children, because releasing them would put them in more danger. The question then becomes how to do this. . . .

“We can’t just release them,” says Wendy Young, the president of Kids in Need of Defense, . . . because they’re “incredibly vulnerable” in a “strange country.” Instead, Young said, “you have to provide them with appropriate care.” Indeed, Young noted, holding and processing children is necessary for their own long-term good, because it enables us to determine whether they’re eligible for asylum or other protections, and to place them on the correct legal path to get there.

Migration was suppressed last year during the pandemic, and arrivals are now rising due to many factors in Central America, Young said. “There continues to be a tremendous amount of violence, corruption and deprivation. Children leave because they’re forced out of their home countries.”

Thus, much of the spike is caused by “push” factors, just as previous spikes were. Biden is trying to address those factors with new policies sending aid to the region.

. . . This part of the debate has gotten badly confused. The problem is not the existence of the facility. . . The real issue is the conditions under which children are held, and for how long. And this points to the way we can genuinely hold the Biden administration accountable.

In the short term, we need to scrutinize whether the administration makes good on its promise to make the conditions under which ORR holds children, including at such warehouse facilities, genuinely more humane. Also crucial is whether the administration undertakes reforms to speed up the process of moving kids from ORR to guardians. [According to the New Yorker article, Biden is trying to expedite the process by having the government help pay the travel expenses involved in placing children. Previously, families were responsible for those costs themselves.]

. . . Comparing all this to “kids in cages” confuses the debate in a way that obscures what the Biden administration is genuinely trying to accomplish — and thus makes it harder to actually hold the administration accountable on it.

My considered opinion, given the evidence, is that the Biden administration is trying to repair the damage from the past four years in a number of ways. Dealing with the pandemic and the border are just two of them.