Heather Cox Richardson
The news today illustrates a dramatic difference between governing and garnering votes.
President Joe Biden was at the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel in Baltimore, Maryland, today to celebrate the bipartisan infrastructure law, passed in November 2021, that is investing about $1.2 trillion in fixing our highways, bridges, internet access, and so on. In Maryland it will devote about $4 billion to fixing and expanding the 150-year-old Baltimore and Potomac railroad tunnel, which has become a bottleneck for the 9 million commuters who pass through it as they travel the vital link between Philadelphia and Washington.
The law is formally known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and Biden noted that fixing the tunnel is expected to create 20,000 jobs over the next ten years. He also announced that it, along with all the Amtrak developments on the Northeast Corridor, would be built by union labor.
Tomorrow, Biden will speak at the West Side Rail Yard in New York City to talk about how funding for the Hudson Tunnel Project from the bipartisan infrastructure law will improve reliability for the 200,000 passengers a day who travel through it on Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.
The passage of the measure in late 2021 took months of careful negotiations even as former president Trump—whose own inability to pass an infrastructure measure became a running joke—tried to scuttle the talks. Biden’s victory lap is not undeserved.
The administration today also called attention to the effects of its new border enforcement measures providing migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela a legal path to obtain a two-year visa so long as they have a U.S. sponsor and a thorough background check. The new system will admit up to 30,000 migrants a month.
New data shows that the number of migrants from those four countries has dropped 97% since the program went into effect. Overall, migrant encounters at the border have dropped by half, although migration from Ecuador and Peru, which are growing unstable, has increased. The administration has asked Congress repeatedly to fix our outdated immigration system, but Republicans derailed the effort in the previous Congress when they objected to a path to citizenship for so-called dreamers: people brought to this country as children. Now almost twenty states led by Republicans say the administration’s new program violates the law, and they are suing to stop it.
In charge of the House, Republicans plan to hold hearings on what they call Biden’s border crisis. Today the White House called out “some elected officials” for “trying to block the Administration’s effective measures because they would rather keep immigration an issue to campaign on than one to solve. If those elected officials succeed,” the press office said, “their actions will lead to more illegal immigration."
Actually governing is a lot harder than talking about it. On December 30, House majority leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) promised that the House Republicans would “hit the ground running to do what we promised on the border, crime, energy, inflation, Life, taxpayer protection & more.” He outlined eleven bills the party would bring to the floor in the first two weeks of the new Congress. Half have indeed been voted on by now—the fifth week of Congress—but they were only for show. They will never pass the Senate, and no one is trying to negotiate to pass them. The other half aren’t on the calendar.
Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin noted today that the Republicans have turned to investigations, abortion, threatening the national debt, and trying to defund the Internal Revenue Service rather than dealing with the issues they insisted were vital in 2022: crime and inflation. She also noted that at the very time the Republicans were hyping those issues, both crime rates and inflation were actually falling.
More demonstrations for the extremist base appear to be coming. As Amy B. Wang noted today in the Washington Post, the Republican National Committee is urging lawmakers to “go on offense in the 2024 election cycle” on antiabortion measures, although since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, voters have made it clear they want abortion rights protected.
Nonetheless, as party leaders have done repeatedly when voters reject their increasingly extremist stands, the RNC suggests that the party did poorly in 2022 not because their stand was too strong but because it was too weak. Candidates were not clear enough about their opposition to abortion. The RNC wants them to demonstrate their conviction by passing strict laws that outlaw abortion at six weeks, before many people know they’re pregnant.
House speaker Kevin McCarthy has, however, backed off on Republican suggestions that they will not agree to raise the debt ceiling without cuts to Social Security and Medicare. On Face the Nation yesterday, he said the party was committed to “strengthening” the programs. In fact, the only proposal on the table right now to strengthen the programs is from the far-right House Republican Study Committee, which calls for strengthening Social Security and Medicare by, among other things, raising the age at which people become eligible for them.
I’d love to hear McCarthy explain how that plan is not a cut in the programs.
Finally, today, former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has applied for a six-month U.S. tourist visa. Bolsonaro entered the United States when he was still president, two days before his successor took office and a little more than a week before his supporters attacked the government and tried to reinstate him. That timing means he came to the U.S. on an A-1 visa restricted to heads of state, which had to be replaced as soon as he was no longer president.
Bolsonaro’s lawyer told Reuters reporter Daphne Psaledakis that Bolsonaro wants "to take some time off, clear his head, and enjoy being a tourist in the United States for a few months before deciding what his next step will be.” In fact, the right-wing leader has made it clear he is afraid of the many investigations underway in Brazil for fraud and now for inciting the attack on the government that might end up putting him behind bars.
The infrastructure plan helped repair and open the West Seattle Freeway which was a major artery between to major parts of the city. A lot of money also went to our ferry service which had been hit hard by Covid. However, the biggest problem, to me, is, "The new system will admit up to 30,000 migrants a month." I'm sure corporations had a big hand in lobbying politicians into continuing this country's population growth. The impact of the average U.S. citizen has been shown to be that of an average of 10 non-U.S. citizens. The country's that these people will be coming from may increase their impact even more than ten fold. I have said before the immigration system is not about people, it is about the system that everyone (including immigrants) live under. When it crashes (which it is doing) everyone will suffer. The constant fights from the extremist republicans are demonstrating the failing of our system.
They've done a lot without any publicity. Heaven forbid they should get credit!