The Democrats’ border whisperer – POLITICO

With help from Myah Ward

SCOOPLET — House Democrats vow to include paid family and medical leave for every worker in President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package. House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal made the pledge today in a letter to Democratic members of the committee, acquired by Nightly’s Myah Ward. Neal also said child care “needs to be a guarantee.”

‘THIS IS ON US NOW’ — Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Rep. Veronica Escobar, an El Paso Democrat elected in 2018, hosted nearly one-fifth of the House of Representatives — welcoming lawmakers pretty much every other weekend — for visits to the border between her city and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

But that was 2019. Last year put an end to the trips. They started again in late March. Today, Escobar greets her second congressional delegation of 2021. The group, led by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), also includes Reps. Norma Torres (D-Calif.), Lou Correa (D-Calif.) and Jason Crow (D-Colo.). They are scheduled to visit shelters for minors who cross the border without their parents and then to meet with U.S. Border Patrol officials on Tuesday.

Undocumented immigrants walk along the U.S.-Mexico border wall after they ran across the shallow Rio Grande into El Paso in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Undocumented immigrants walk along the U.S.-Mexico border wall after they ran across the shallow Rio Grande into El Paso in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. | Getty Images

As a member of Congress representing the biggest U.S. city on the border, Escobar is a key figure in Biden’s effort to end the decades-long impasse on immigration. Nightly’s Renuka Rayasam sat down with Escobar this morning over coffee and Gussie’s conchas at her El Paso home to talk about what’s happening at the border now and whether immigration reform is possible. This conversation has been edited.

What is the reaction from your colleagues when they come down to El Paso to visit the border?

The border has been this mysterious place that has been mythologized by a lot of politicians over time, Democrats and Republicans alike. When colleagues come and tour the facilities they obviously are coming during times of great challenge. Many of my colleagues are shocked by the conditions or shocked by the number of individuals arriving.

Here’s what we’re seeing now. We’re seeing a significant number of children. A lot of older teenagers. I’ve spoken with groups of them at the influx facility, and I’ve spoken with some of them in the processing centers. A majority of the kids coming, arriving at our front door, are coming to be with close family members. As of a couple weeks ago 85 percent of them were meeting a close family member, and about 45 percent of them were coming to be with a parent.

Did you read The New York Times story about a Honduran girl who was apprehended in Juárez, just a few miles from here, and had to call her mom in Maryland to tell her she didn’t make it?

No. I’ve actually been trying to take a little bit of a break. Because it’s a lot to carry. It’s year after year. Although I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining at all, it’s emotionally taxing. You want to do everything you can to help and you feel so frustrated that it’s so hard to build consensus.

The Biden administration is essentially doing the best they can. What they’ve inherited is lots of pent up demand from people who were pushed out into Mexico and waited for up to two years. They’re dealing with Mexico saying, “We’ve about had it.”

What do you want your colleagues to understand about the border when they tour facilities and meet with border officials?

Number one, migration doesn’t stop. Number two, deterrence doesn’t work. And number three, the status quo hasn’t addressed anything. I’m going to start pushing an idea of reenvisioning how we address our big challenges at the border. There’s two prongs: addressing root causes, which is something that I wrote about in a New York Times op-ed and something that a lot of members have been talking about for a long time.

The other facet of this is addressing how we deal with folks at the border. We treat every human being arriving at our front door, who doesn’t have, quote unquote, papers as though they are a national security threat. How do we take a look at what immigrants do for our economy, even Central American immigrants with very limited education, with nothing but the clothes on their back?

Those are the kinds of conversations that I’m hoping to have with members of Congress who I believe are serious about their work. There are colleagues of mine on the Republican side, who are truly in it just for the political theater. I’m not gonna engage with people like that. Part of my strategy is trying to reach across the aisle. Victoria Spartz from Indiana came to El Paso. I tried to share with her and with colleagues who will listen, the facts to break through the political rhetoric.

Those facts are this: We’ve been dealing with this for a long time. And it’s now happening on our watch. We’re new to Congress. But this is on us now.

Welcome to POLITICO Nightly. I’m off the rest of this week, but feel free to still reach out with news, tips and ideas for us at [email protected], or on Twitter at @renurayasam.

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Greater diversity among health care professionals can improve patient care, leading to better health outcomes. That’s why UnitedHealth Group is investing in a 21st century health workforce that ensures all communities have access to high-quality care. Learn more.

CHARGED DEBATE — Biden’s ambitious electric vehicle plan has run into a huge hurdle with U.S. trade law, forcing him to choose between swing-state jobs and American intellectual property rules that have come under intense scrutiny during the Covid-19 pandemic, Gavin Bade writes.

The White House has laid out electric vehicle goals in its latest infrastructure plan, aiming to convert all federally owned vehicles to electric, deploy hundreds of thousands of charging stations and provide generous customer rebates to get new models rolling out of dealerships.

Meeting those goals will require an increase in advanced batteries, and that’s where one problem lies. Even without new government programs, automakers plan to offer more than 200 electric or hybrid car models in the U.S. market by 2024. That’s on top of demand from electric utilities, which increasingly use similar lithium-ion batteries to stabilize the power grid.

One of the factories slated to help meet that demand is a $2.6 billion plant in Commerce, Ga., being built by South Korean battery maker SK Innovation. If the plant is completed, the firm says, it will employ 2,600 workers and provide batteries for a suite of Volkswagen vehicles, as well as the electric version of the Ford F-150, the single most popular vehicle in the country.

But construction of the landmark facility is being threatened by an international trade dispute. The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled in February that SK Innovation stole trade secrets from rival South Korean company LG Chem, and ordered that the U.S. block SK from importing components to build batteries. Although the independent agency gave a two-year grace period for Volkswagen and a four-year cushion for Ford, SK says the ruling will likely force it to abandon the factory.

That’s where the White House comes in. Federal law allows the president and the U.S. trade representative to overrule an ITC decision within 60 days — April 11 in the battery case.

“If the president does not disapprove of the ITC decision, I think it’s very hard to envision SK staying in the U.S.,” said Carol Browner, who served as EPA administrator during the Clinton administration and White House climate chief under former President Barack Obama and is now working with SK to pressure Biden.

— Senate Dems release international tax framework as lawmakers start to tweak Biden’s plan: The framework released by Finance Chair Ron Wyden (Ore.) and fellow tax writers Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Mark Warner (Va.) generally agrees with what the administration proposed last week when it called for a host of tax hikes on corporations.

— Arkansas governor vetoes ban on youth transgender care: Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he worried the legislation would set a new standard for government interference with medical care, and he said he was particularly bothered that the bill did not make exceptions for patients already receiving treatment who would be forced to stop.

— Yellen makes case for a global minimum tax on multinational corporations: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urged a global minimum tax rate on corporations in a push to assert U.S. leadership in ongoing international tax negotiations. The goal is to prevent companies from relocating wherever they find lower taxes.

— Texas governor rejects first-pitch invite over MLB’s All-Star decision: In a letter to Neil Leibman, president of business operations and chief operating officer for the Texas Rangers, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott wrote that he had been “looking forward” to the experience this afternoon — “until Major League Baseball adopted what has turned out to be a false narrative about the election law reforms in Georgia, and, based on that false narrative, moved the MLB All-Star game from Atlanta.”

— Justice Thomas grumbles over Trump’s social media ban: As the Supreme Court issued an order today declaring moot a lawsuit over Trump’s blocking of some Twitter users from commenting on his feed, Justice Clarence Thomas weighed in with a 12-page lament about the power of social media companies like Twitter.

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“You could foresee how an independent entity might say, ‘Well, we can’t be dealing with you unless we know you’re vaccinated.’ But it’s not going to be mandated from the federal government.”

— Dr. Anthony Fauci, on vaccine passports. Listen to Jeremy Siegel’s interview with Fauci on the latest POLITICO Dispatch.

PUTTING THE FRENCH IN FRENCH LAUNDRY — French prosecutors launched an investigation into claims that luxury dining clubs are flouting Covid-19 restrictions. It follows the airing Friday evening of an undercover report by network M6, which showed unmasked guests enjoying champagne meals in what appears to be an upmarket restaurant in Paris.

One person, introduced as an organizer of the parties and identified in various media as celebrity Pierre-Jean Chalençon, says in the footage “I’ve dined this week in two or three restaurants that are so-called clandestine restaurants, with a certain number of ministers.” Chalençon’s statement was just “humor” and it’s to be taken with a “sense of the absurd,” his lawyer later told Agence France-Presse.

However, the Paris prosecutor’s office launched a criminal investigation Sunday, looking to identify breaches of health regulations and track potential organizers and attendees. France this weekend imposed fresh nationwide coronavirus restrictions. Interior minister Gérald Darmanin tweeted: “I asked Paris police to verify the accuracy of the reported facts in order to — if they are verified — charge the organizers and the participants of these clandestine dinners.”


The number of justices on the Supreme Court who ruled today in favor of Google in a long-running copyright dispute against Oracle that has huge implications for Silicon Valley. The court found that Google did not violate the law when it used more than 11,000 lines of Oracle’s software code in developing its Android mobile operating system.

INTENTIONAL PASS — If Major League Baseball were truly worried about protecting the ability to vote in Georgia — and making sure Georgia’s disenfranchised voters weren’t silenced — there was a much, much better way to act: Bring the full force of baseball’s celebrity power to bear on Georgia itself.

At the purely symbolic level, it’s understandable why MLB made its decision, and why liberals around the country were high-fiving each other about it, Jeff Greenfield writes. But politics isn’t just about parading your virtue. It’s about real outcomes — getting real people to really vote — and by that standard, what the league did was to ignore a heaven-sent opportunity to actually do something concrete.

Consider this alternative: The All-Star Game stays in Atlanta. But the event — a three-day affair — is built around a multi-front campaign to address the restrictions imposed by the new law. None of it would need to be framed as partisan. It would be purely pro-voting, pro-democracy — an equal-opportunity push to be sure the good old-fashioned American election process worked.

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