The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Biden Faces a Wall of Blinking Red Lights

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Russia in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 15, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

On the menu today: While some other Washington-focused publications warn about a trio of potential foreign crises, there’s a buffet table of foreign- and domestic-policy ticking time bombs facing the Biden administration. And everything seems fine as America slowly emerges from the pandemic, as long as you don’t look too closely.

More Than Three Blinking Red Lights

Over at Axios yesterday, Mike Allen warned that there are three blinking red lights facing the Biden administration: “Russia is menacing Ukraine’s borders, China is sending increasingly ominous signals over Taiwan and Iran is accelerating its uranium enrichment to unprecedented levels.

All of that is true and worthy of attention, but I feel that describing them as “Biden’s three blinking red lights” undersells the other worsening policy problems facing the administration. (I would insert a “there are four lights!” joke here, except there are more than four.)

The Border

Since the last time I wrote about the border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have “witnessed a smuggler drop a two-year-old child from atop the 18-foot-high border wall into the arms of the child’s father” (luckily, the child was not harmed and all involved were arrested); arrested three illegal aliens with prior convictions for sexual crimes against children; arrested an illegal alien convicted of sexual assault in Illinois in 2015; arrested a man convicted of murder in 2002; and over at the Houston seaport, seized 171,460 counterfeit N95 masks shipped over from China.

We won’t know the total number of unaccompanied minors, family units, and single adults encountered on the southwest border this month until a week or two into May, and whether it equals or surpasses March’s 172,331. But it’s going to be high.

Back on March 24, Biden “appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to lead efforts to stem migration across the U.S.-Mexico border.” Since that announcement, Harris has had a phone call with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico and hosted one conference call with experts.

The vice president is getting closer to visiting a border: “Vice President Kamala Harris is planning to visit New Hampshire in person later this week, with one or more stops in the Laconia-Plymouth area likely, several sources confirmed to WMUR on Sunday.” No, Madam Vice President, we meant the other border.

Inflation

This is really a job for the Capital Matters gang, and I won’t pretend to be an economist. But on a podcast with Brady Leonard last week, he described what I suspect a lot of families are experiencing — the regular grocery bill is going up, and the amount of food purchased is remaining about the same. In the past year, when I noticed it, I figured it reflected additional costs driven by pandemic-related disruptions to supply chains. But price increases aren’t fading as the pandemic’s influence on our lives shrinks:

The monthly consumer price index, released Tuesday morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, showed a 0.6 percent increase in March, the largest one-month increase in nearly a decade. Over the past year, prices have increased by 2.6 percent overall.

Gas skyrocketed by 9.1 percent last month. Since February, prices of fruits and vegetables have risen by nearly 2 percent, and the index for meats, poultry, fish and eggs has risen by 0.4 percent, according to the government figures.

The spike comes on the back of prices that had already risen during last year’s pandemic stockpiling and supply chain disruptions and never went down. Consumers are noticing their inflating receipts.

As Jerry Bowyer put it at Capital Matters, “Inflation risks are clearly to the upside, which is exactly what one would expect given massive expansion in circulating domestic-money supply.” What’s the point of sending out all of these stimulus checks to middle-class and poorer Americans if it’s just going to create inflation that leaves them right back where they started?

Policing

In the short-term, the Biden administration has to worry about the national reaction to the verdict in the Derek Chauvin case; cities from coast to coast are more or less expecting and preparing for riots after the verdict, no matter what it is. In the long term, as Rich laid out, rioting is now almost a reflexive response to any police shooting, justified or unjustified. Biden just sort of survived the riots and violence that followed the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020. He certainly didn’t play a pivotal unifying role. Biden blamed Trump for exacerbating racial tensions a lot, and asked, “Do you really feel safer under Donald Trump?” Well, Trump’s not here anymore, and Biden isn’t exactly the world’s most deft speaker on issues relating to race — think back to “You ain’t black!” and “Are you a junkie?”

Alexei Navalny

In theory, it is good for the U.S. government to warn the Russian government that if Putin critic Alexei Navalny dies in prison, there will be severe repercussions. The problem is, if that scenario occurs — which doesn’t seem all that farfetched — the Biden administration will have to back up its threat, or experience a rerun of Barack Obama’s toothless “red line” rhetoric. Joe Biden promised to take a tough line on Saudi Arabian prince Mohammed bin Salman, too, and then completely wimped out after assessing the risk to the U.S.-Saudi relations.

Garry Kasparov, about as tough a critic of the Trump administration’s Russia policy as you can find, is befuddled that Biden is watering down his tougher talk by inviting Vladimir Putin to a summit meeting:

Then comes the final sentence, like the twist in a horror movie. “President Biden . . . proposed a summit meeting in a third country in the coming months.” A summit? With a killer? In one stroke, Mr. Biden gave Mr. Putin exactly what he craves, equal status with the president of the United States. Even if it never comes to pass, the invitation sends the message that Mr. Putin is irreplaceable, still worthy of the support of the oligarchs and elites whose fortunes he guarantees. President Trump was rightly lambasted for granting Mr. Putin the 2018 Helsinki summit, which did nothing for U.S. interests and a great deal for Mr. Putin’s. This would be no better. Calling it diplomacy ignores that diplomacy is supposed to have a point.

Some of us doubted how seriously Democrats meant their tough-on-Russia talk back during the Trump days, and the Biden administration appears determined to vindicate the skeptics.

Hunter Biden

So . . . nothing new regarding that federal investigation into Hunter Biden, huh?

Investigators have been examining multiple financial issues, including whether Hunter Biden and his associates violated tax and money laundering laws in business dealings in foreign countries, principally China, according to two people briefed on the probe.

Some of those transactions involved people who the FBI believe sparked counterintelligence concerns, a common issue when dealing with Chinese business, according to another source.

And as the Biden administration is likely to push for gun control in the weeks and months ahead, people will fairly ask how on earth Hunter Biden could have possibly lawfully answered “no” to the firearms transaction-record question, “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?” (Recall the recent Associated Press headline: “Hunter Biden details lifelong addiction struggle in memoir.”) The president is going to call for more restrictive gun laws, and tougher penalties for breaking firearms laws, when his own son broke an existing gun law.

Notice what’s largely missing from the above list? The COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is indeed winding down, whether or not America’s public-health talking heads, elected officials, and media want to acknowledge it. A country where all adults are eligible to be vaccinated, where half of all Americans have had one dose, and where the remaining unvaccinated are mostly younger and healthier, is a country that has the worst of the pandemic in its rear-view mirror. That’s a major accomplishment, and no doubt the Biden administration will be eager to take a victory lap. (Of course, taking a victory lap requires acknowledging victory, meaning at some point the Biden administration’s “We did it!” instincts will clash with the “There’s still a risk” instincts of a lot of its allies.)

But there is one other blinking red light for Biden on the pandemic, and it’s coming up in the next two weeks . . .

Masks

Just 100 days to mask, not forever. One hundred days,” Biden said in December, repeating the request to Americans, and the encouragement to governors and mayors to keep state and local mask requirements in place.

Biden’s 100th day in office is next Friday, April 30. Do you think he’ll say, “Okay, the 100 days are over. It’s okay to take your masks off now”? Or do you think he’ll backtrack and say Americans need to wear their masks for another period of time? Until Memorial Day? Until Independence Day? Until Labor Day?

Finally, over at the Washington Post, James Hohmann offers another example of things that were obvious throughout 2019 and 2020, but are only socially acceptable to say publicly now that Biden is in office: “Biden wasn’t really ready ‘on Day 1’ . . . The Oval Office magnifies every president’s weaknesses, and Biden has long suffered from indecisiveness. He dragged out his deliberations for months on whether to run for president a third time — in 2015 and again in 2019. He repeatedly missed self-imposed deadlines on picking a running mate last summer.”

ADDENDUM: Felix Salmon: “When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the job facing governments was to save lives and save jobs. Very few states did well on both measures, while New York, almost uniquely, did particularly badly on both.” And yet, the state had the most-celebrated, most-touted, most-hyped, and most wildly overpraised governor throughout almost all of 2020, unless you were reading conservative media or certain New York-focused publications.

Heck of a job, national news media! Heck of a job!

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