Biden’s Trying to Blame a Mexican American for the Border Crisis on HIs Watch
The president took a Latino whose name he couldn’t pronounce, stuck him in a job that doesn’t match his experience, handed him a huge mess, and is ready to throw him under the bus.
In the United States, Mexicans always get the shit jobs. We’re hired to clean up messes made by white people. Then, when things go wrong, we get thrown under the bus. And—as evidenced by the sad but illuminating tale of an embattled Mexican American Cabinet secretary who does not appear to be long for his job—this unfair reality extends to politics.
It was probably a bad omen that, in December, President-elect Joe Biden not only flubbed the name of his nominee, but he also misidentified the name of the Cabinet department the individual was nominated to lead:
"For Secretary of Health and Education Services, I nominate Xavier Bacheria," Biden said clumsily while reading from a teleprompter. Seconds later, Biden correctly pronounced the name of Xavier Becerra as his choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Too late. The impression was that Biden didn’t even know this guy, that he was simply “checking a box” to put another Latino in his cabinet.
Biden should have been at least vaguely familiar with Becerra. While the Stanford-educated lawyer was at the time of his nomination serving as California Attorney General, he served 12 terms in the House of Representatives, from 1993 to 2017. Becerra rose to become chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
While Becerra was eventually confirmed, DHHS was a terrible fit. Here was a lawyer and former politician whose experience with health care seemed limited to his annual physical. What could go wrong?
I’ve followed Becerra’s career since the mid-1990s, including an unsuccessful bid for mayor of Los Angeles in 2001. He’s smart, and he knows politics. He is a moderate who has been better at not frightening white people than exciting his own people. And he is highly competent—in the right job.
Leading DHHS was not the right job. And that was before the White House turned the gig into a suicide mission by deputizing Becerra as a de facto border czar. (Yes, Biden said Vice President Kamala Harris would be his point person on the border, but Harris refused to even visit the border and insisted she would instead focus on the “root causes” of the migration back in the originating countries.)
Becerra got dragged into the immigration debate in a backhanded way. Once it was determined that Border Patrol agents were lousy at childcare, DHHS was the logical next choice for a kinder and gentler government agency.
This part of the story is priceless. Here, you have Becerra, who might have been a fine choice for White House Counsel or U.S. Attorney General but who has no particular health care experience to speak of, put in to lead DHHS. Now it turns out that lack of experience doesn’t matter. Because now the health care job supposedly requires expertise in dealing with migration and the border—which, by the way, Becerra doesn’t have either.
With tens of thousands of Central American migrants rushing to the U.S.-Mexico border in the hopes of applying for asylum, managing this chaotic situation qualifies as one of those jobs that many Americans won’t do.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas couldn’t take the lead in caring for refugees because his department is made up of cops, not social workers.
Last week, Mayorkas told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the number of minors in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection continues to fall. In March, Mayorkas said, there were nearly 6,000 minors in Border Patrol custody. Today, he said, there are less than 500.
But, according to recent media reports, there are more than 20,000 minors in the “custody” of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Becerra is expected to sort out this mess while knowing his boss may be experiencing buyer’s remorse and as the Beltway press corps has run story after story with unnamed senior administration spilling about how upset Biden is with Becerra.
Initially, the stories left the impression that Becerra was overwhelmed and the White House was worried about his competence.
Now, the narrative is slightly more sinister—with unnamed sources implying that the Mexican American is dragging his feet in processing would-be refugees from Central America. Supposedly, there are more liberal voices in the White House pushing for a more welcoming stance. But, the sources claim, Becerra is pushing back and suggesting the United States take in a smaller number of refugees. Being tagged a "nativist" wouldn’t do Becerra any favors with the Democratic left.
And like so much of what’s going wrong at the border, at the root of that smear is another mess made by Biden.
On the campaign trail, Biden promised to raise the annual refugee cap from where former President Trump left it—15,000—to at least 125,000. Once he was sworn in, Biden flip-flopped and declared Trump’s figure to be good enough. The leftwing of the Democratic Party—led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York—raised a ruckus. So Biden split the difference and set the figure at 62,000 while acknowledging that we wouldn’t hit that cap this year.
This was all Biden. He’s the Pretzel President, who campaigned as a moderate only to find himself under intense pressure to govern from the left.
But now, we’re told—in stories that rely on anonymous sources—that Becerra is to blame for the whole debacle with the refugee cap.
Last week, Politico reported that Becerra argued for maintaining the Trump limit “for fear of stretching the already-thin resources of his department’s refugee office.” Supposedly, the DHHS secretary’s more cautious approach has “contributed to his shaky standing with some quarters of a fast-paced White House” that wants refugees processed quicker. And, the story concludes, the reason that Biden initially favored the Trump figure in place—even though it meant overriding recommendations from top officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken—was because the president was siding with Becerra.
Oh yes, because the two are so close. Such good amigos. What total bullshit.
None of this sits well with Arnold Torres. The Sacramento-based policy analyst and political consultant for Hispanic issues has known Becerra since he served in the California State Assembly in the early 1990s. As a Mexican American who is always pushing lawmakers to do more, Torres has not always been a fan of Becerra’s brand of moderation.
Yet, Torres said, Becerra was stating the obvious: DHHS got stuck holding the bag, and its infrastructure can’t handle a gigantic influx of refugees.
“Here you bring him in because he’s practical,” Torres said. “When you’re a lawyer who files lawsuits, you have to calculate the outcome. And now that he’s being honest and saying things that are common sense, you hammer him.”
I asked: “You think it was unfair that the White House held that practicality against him?”
“Of course it was unfair!” Torres snapped back as if responding to the stupidest question he had ever heard.
“But it was also a realignment of reality,” he went on. “Biden could have simply said: ‘I’m going to lift the refugee cap that this idiot, racist pig against immigrants put in place.’ That’s easy to say when you’re running for office. It’s another thing to confront the tough question of what you need to have in place to deal with the influx of refugees. That’s the question that Xavier raised: ‘How can you bring in more people when the infrastructure isn’t there to serve them?’”
The administration has responded not by supporting the infrastructure, but by attacking the messenger. Torres doesn’t think this will end well for Becerra.
“I don’t think Xavier will last a full term,” he said. “The 2022 midterms will tell the tale. I think Xavier’s biggest opposition will come from his own community.”
Speaking of the midterms: You can bet the White House is trying to figure out whether it does Biden more good to be rid of Becerra well before the elections, or to keep him around so he can deflect immigration heat away from the Oval Office.
Great. Yet another dirty job for the Mexican.
For Torres, the whole story ends where it began—with race and ethnicity. After all, there is an argument to be made that one of the chief reasons that Biden handed Becerra the ticking time bomb of the border crisis is because of his last name, the same last name that, ironically, Biden couldn’t pronounce.
“Xavier is a Mexican,” Torres said. “He is viewed as a Latino. He was advertised as a Latino. He got attention as a Latino. He got handed the border because he is Latino.”
And, for much the same reason, Becerra is about to be handed the blame.