Where Are Biden's Pen and Phone?

Column: President Biden flexes executive power for liberal priorities—not border control

President Biden Signs Executive Orders On Health Care Access
(Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
February 2, 2024

President Biden wants additional authority to tackle the border crisis. He says that he's ready to shut down the border once Congress acts. That he's otherwise out of options. The New York Times reports that the president is frustrated. He feels stymied. "I've done all I can do," he said this week.

Hasn't he done enough? As a result of Biden's policies, migrant crossings have reached historic levels. Border Patrol agents took into custody or processed more than 300,000 people last December—the most on record. His encouragement of asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants affects not only border states such as Texas, but also blue states such as Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York. Immigration is rising to the top of voters' priorities. All voters, not just Republicans. And these voters blame President Biden—rightly—for the mess we are in.

Cheeky, then, for Biden to turn around and say that he's immobilized by congressional inaction. Cynical, too: If Congress fails to pass a supplemental bill that includes aid for Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific, as well as immigration law reforms, Biden will try to shift responsibility for the border crisis onto the GOP. He might even succeed.

Yet Biden's claim of powerlessness is a crock. He's asking for a legislative solution to an executive-branch problem. He could clamp down right now if he wanted. Indeed, he could demonstrate seriousness on the issue of border control by reversing the executive orders that promoted the migration in the first place.

Biden could match his recent hawkish rhetoric with deeds. He could take dramatic action, even if the courts ultimately reversed his decisions. But, like Bartleby, he prefers not to. He'd rather fight with Texas governor Greg Abbott (R.) over fencing.

Where are Biden's pen and phone? Did Major hide them somewhere on the White House lawn? For years, liberal presidents have informed a recalcitrant public that they hold unitary power to impose the latest progressive scheme—to establish equity, legalize Dreamers, reduce climate change, or any of a dozen other left-wing goals.

Yet suddenly, when the southern border is overwhelmed, when cities are filled with homeless migrants, when drugs and gangs and individuals on the terror watchlist are entering the United States, the president is helpless. A wreck. He needs Congress to bail him out.

Odd. Biden didn't say he required congressional approval when, on his first day in office, he reversed his predecessor's order to exclude illegal immigrants from the Census Bureau's calculations for congressional reapportionment; insulated Dreamers from legal challenges; ended restrictions on entry into the United States for citizens of nations deemed a national security risk; paused deportations; stopped construction of the border wall; and extended the ability of Liberian immigrants to remain in the United States.

Nor did Biden say he required congressional approval when he ended his predecessor's Remain in Mexico policy; first tried to halt Title 42 authority to remove illegal migrants deemed a public health risk; and expanded presidential parole to admit more than 1 million migrants to the United States.

Biden didn't go to Congress when he extended the pandemic eviction moratorium. Or when he announced a blatantly unconstitutional workplace vaccine mandate. Or when he revived an egregiously expansive interpretation of the Clean Water Rule. Or when he erased $400 billion in student loans.

True, the courts tossed out the eviction moratorium, vaccine mandate, EPA overreach, and the initial student loan forgiveness plan. If Biden assumes that the courts also would intervene on the border, then he should say so. The point is that Biden's self-imposed limitations on executive authority have appeared only when the issue is illegal migration.

Why? Because of the Democratic Party coalition. Biden isn't worried about losing black and Hispanic voters concerned about illegal migration and border security. He's worried about losing the college-educated liberal professionals who exercise undue influence in his administration and who have been radicalized into believing that unchecked migration is a human right. His dependence on these college liberals constrains his actions and weakens the country. And it is long past time for him to change course by enforcing current immigration law and taking executive action to strengthen the border.

Such a correction is unlikely. Chances are that Biden will continue to pursue an immigration deal that won't pass the House of Representatives, and that he will continue to lament his lack of executive authority. Only to rediscover his pen and phone as soon as progressives cook up another wacky idea that voters dislike and the courts reject.