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The Biden administration will raise the cap on refugee admissions to 125,000.

Daily Political Briefing

Sept. 20, 2021, 6:11 p.m. ET

Sept. 20, 2021, 6:11 p.m. ET


Credit…Alaa Al Sukhni/Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Biden intends to increase to 125,000 the number of refugees who can enter the United States in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, the State Department announced on Monday, making good on his campaign pledge to do so.

Mr. Biden’s decision is unlikely to affect two groups of people most recently in the news: tens of thousands of people from Kabul fleeing the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and more than 15,000 Haitians in a sprawling, makeshift camp under a bridge at the southern border. The people in those groups are not officially classified as refugees.

But the move indicates the president’s intention to open the country’s doors after four years in which the Trump administration sought to prevent refugees from settling here.

In May, Mr. Biden raised the refugee admissions cap for the current fiscal year from 15,000 — an historically low level set by former President Donald J. Trump — to 62,500. At the time, Mr. Biden also vowed to make good on his promise to increase the cap to 125,000 for the first full fiscal year of his presidency.

Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said in a statement on Monday that Mr. Biden has sent to Congress a report detailing his intention to do just that in an effort to “address needs generated by humanitarian crises around the globe.”

“A robust refugee admissions program is critical to U.S. foreign policy interests and national security objectives, and is a reflection of core American values,” Mr. Price said in the statement. By law, presidents must “consult” with Congress before making the decision about how many refugees to allow each year.

As a candidate, Mr. Biden criticized Mr. Trump for capping refugee admissions at 15,000, calling it un-American and a failure to live up to the country’s long standing obligation as a place of refuge for people around the world.

He promised to let in many more displaced people fleeing violence and disaster. But once in office, Mr. Biden initially declined to immediately raise Mr. Trump’s 15,000-person cap, generating fierce criticism from advocates who said he was endorsing his predecessor’s hard-line stance on refugees.

After intense backlash, the president increased the refugee cap for the current fiscal year from 15,000 to 62,500 and renewed his promise for a 125,000-person cap for the next full fiscal year, which begins next month.

Advocates for refugees cheered Monday’s move. But they noted that the Biden administration will not be able to actually resettle that many refugees during the next fiscal year without hiring more employees in the government agencies that do the work to process them.

During Mr. Trump’s presidency, the government agencies and nonprofit organizations which manage refugee resettlement were dramatically shrunk because of the low cap that the former president placed on the program. As a result, under Mr. Biden, only about 7,500 official refugees have been resettled in the United States even though the cap would allow 62,500.

“Understandably, four years of the Trump administration’s assault on the refugee program coupled with pandemic challenges have hamstrung federal rebuilding efforts,” said Krish Vignarajah, President of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which works with the government to resettle refugees. “But raising the cap without dedicating significant resources, personnel, and policies to streamline the process would be largely symbolic.”

Tens of thousands of Afghans who were flown out of Kabul last month have already arrived in the United States, and many will likely be resettled in communities across the country.

But most have been granted the ability to live and work in the United States temporarily under a humanitarian program that does not consider them to be official refugees. Some may eventually apply for asylum to stay in the United States permanently, and the Biden administration is asking Congress to pass a special law to put all of them on a special path to citizenship.

Many of the Haitians who have crossed the Rio Grande River over the last several days in Texas are also not officially considered refugees. The administration has said they have already begun to quickly process them as illegal border crossers and fly them back to Haiti.

Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times

Democratic congressional leaders announced on Monday that they will pair a stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded through December with an extension of the federal borrowing limit through the end of 2022, increasing pressure on Republicans to support legislation needed to avert a fiscal catastrophe.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, and a majority of his party have vowed to withhold their support for raising the debt ceiling under a Democratic-controlled government, arguing that it is the ruling party’s responsibility to finance the federal spending they have endorsed.

But the move is needed in part to pay for trillions of dollars in debt racked up under President Donald J. Trump, when Democrats joined Republicans in increasing the limit so that the government would not default on its obligations.

“Addressing the debt limit is about meeting obligations the government has already made, like the bipartisan emergency Covid relief legislation from December as well as vital payments to Social Security recipients and our veterans,” the top two Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, said in a joint statement announcing their plan. “Furthermore, as the administration warned last week, a reckless Republican-forced default could plunge the country into a recession.”

While text was not immediately available for the stopgap spending bill, Democrats said the legislation would include emergency funding to resettle refugees from Afghanistan and address the onslaught of natural disasters in recent months, ranging from the hurricane devastation in Louisiana to wildfires in the west.

“We look forward to passing this crucial legislation with bipartisan support through both chambers and sending to the president’s desk in the coming weeks,” Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer said in a joint statement.

But it was unclear whether enough Republicans would join Democrats in supporting the bill, even with the added pressure to support relief for their constituents. Democratic leaders have signaled for weeks that they were not willing to offer any concessions to Republicans in exchange for their votes on a debt ceiling increase.

Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, showed little willingness to compromise on Sunday, even with the potential promise of resources for his state. Some parts of Louisiana were still without power three weeks after the state was hit by Hurricane Ida.

“If you want to come back and meet where we can actually find common ground, where we can actually address needs as opposed to a Democratic wish list, well then we’ll help,” Mr. Cassidy said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “But not when you’re just trying to tank the economy by fueling inflation.”

A failure to pass the legislation could be financially catastrophic for the country, with just 10 days before the government is set to run out funding. Should lawmakers fail to approve a suspension of the debt limit in the coming weeks, the government could default on its debt for the first time in history. That, in turn, could trigger a financial crisis, or at the least, a crisis of confidence in the creditworthiness and governance of the United States.

Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

A majority of Americans disapproves of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow a ban on most abortions to take effect in Texas, with key aspects of the law — such as empowering private citizens to enforce it through lawsuits — proving overwhelmingly unpopular, according to a national poll released on Monday.

The Monmouth University Poll found that awareness was high about the Texas law, which prohibits most abortions after six weeks and is the most restrictive in the nation. The Supreme Court allowed the law to take effect on Sept. 1 in a one-paragraph decision on the case, though it said it would consider future challenges.

The law is notable because it allows private citizens to sue someone who helps a woman obtain an abortion, and an individual who wins an abortion lawsuit can collect $10,000. Seventy percent of Americans in the survey disapproved of having private citizens enforce the law, and 81 percent disapproved of citizens being eligible to collect a $10,000 payment, which critics have called a “bounty.” Overall, the poll found that 54 percent disagreed with the court’s ruling and 39 percent agreed.

Also on Monday, the court announced hearings for Dec. 1 on a separate case over a ban on abortions after 15 weeks in Mississippi, in which the state seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that grants a constitutional right to an abortion.

Some legal experts saw the Texas decision as a signal that the court’s 6-3 conservative majority, with three justices appointed by former President Donald J. Trump, was poised to overturn or substantially weaken Roe.

Six in 10 Americans in the new Monmouth poll wanted the court to leave the Roe decision as it is, with only one in three saying the precedent, dating to 1973, should be revisited.

A ruling in the Mississippi case is expected next year, in the heat of the midterm races for control of Congress. Striking a blow at Roe could outrage and engage Democratic voters, but it also has the potential to rally Republicans.

That much was apparent in the partisan divide over abortion that the new Monmouth survey reaffirmed. Most Democrats, 73 percent, opposed the court’s decision in the Texas case, which effectively banned abortions after a point at which some women are not even aware that they are pregnant. Most Republicans, 62 percent, supported the court.

Credit…Shawn Thew/EPA, via Shutterstock

The Senate’s top rules enforcer dealt a major setback on Sunday to Democrats’ plan to use their $3.5 trillion social policy bill to create a path to citizenship for an estimated 8 million undocumented immigrants, saying it violated the strict limits that apply to the measure.

Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, who serves as the chamber’s arbiter of its own rules, wrote on Sunday that the “policy changes of this proposal far outweigh the budgetary impact scored to it and it is not appropriate for inclusion in reconciliation,” according to a copy of her decision obtained by The New York Times.

Democrats had been seeking to use the far-reaching domestic policy package to grant legal status to undocumented people brought to the United States as children, known as Dreamers; immigrants who were granted Temporary Protected Status for humanitarian reasons; close to one million farmworkers; and millions more who are deemed “essential workers.”

Pro-immigration activists had pushed the plan as their best chance of this Congress to improve the lives of millions of immigrants, after attempts to reach a bipartisan deal with Republicans on a separate piece of legislation fell apart.

“We are deeply disappointed in this decision but the fight to provide lawful status for immigrants in budget reconciliation continues,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said in a statement, adding that Democrats would be meeting with the parliamentarian. “The American people understand that fixing our broken immigration system is a moral and economic imperative.”

Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, and Senator Alex Padilla, Democrat of California, also released a statement saying they had prepared “an alternative proposal for the parliamentarian’s consideration in the coming days.”

The parliamentarian is a little-known but crucial figure in the life of the Senate, which is largely governed by precedents and arcane rules that are subject to interpretation. The post becomes particularly important when it comes to the budget process known as reconciliation, which shields fiscal packages from a filibuster but also requires any item included to have a direct impact on federal spending or revenues.

Democrats are using reconciliation to overcome Republican opposition and pass their sweeping legislation to expand the social safety net, testing the bounds of the Senate’s rules and putting Ms. MacDonough in a tricky spot.

A nonpartisan career official who has worked in the parliamentarian’s office since 1999, Ms. MacDonough has heard detailed arguments from both sides in closed-door meetings on the immigration proposal.

Immigration activists were already urging Democrats, who control the Senate, to vote to disregard Ms. MacDonough’s decision and include the immigration overhaul in the package anyway.

Greisa Martinez Rosas, director of United We Dream Action, called the parliamentarian an “unelected adviser” and said Democrats in Congress “hold all the power to do the right thing.”

Ms. MacDonough’s decisions are merely advisory, but several Democratic senators have indicated they would be reluctant to overrule her, and it is not clear that a majority would support doing so to win adoption of the immigration plan. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Credit…Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Biden administration will lift travel restrictions starting in November for foreigners who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, reopening the country to thousands of people, including those who have been separated from family in the United States during the pandemic, and easing a major source of tension with Europe.

The halt to the 18-month ban on travel from 33 countries, including members of the European Union, China, Iran, South Africa, Brazil and India, will help rejuvenate a U.S. tourism industry that was left crippled by the pandemic. The industry suffered a $500 billion loss in travel expenditures in 2020, including a 79 percent decease in spending from international travel, according to the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group that promotes travel to and within the United States.

Foreign travelers will need to show proof of vaccination before boarding and a negative coronavirus test within three days of coming to the United States, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House pandemic coordinator, said on Monday. Unvaccinated Americans who want to travel home from overseas will have to clear stricter testing requirements. They will need to test negative for the coronavirus one day before traveling to the United States and show proof that they have bought a test to take after arriving in the United States, Mr. Zients said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will also soon issue an order directing airlines to collect phone numbers and email addresses of travelers for a new contact-tracing system. Authorities will then follow up with the travelers after arrival to ask whether they are experiencing symptoms of the virus.

“I am trying not to cry because it’s such a beautiful day,” said Giovanni Vincenti, 42, an Italian professor who lives in Baltimore. Mr. Vincenti’s daughter, who was born last May, has never met her grandparents because of the travel ban.

On Monday, Mr. Vincenti’s wife, who is a Polish researcher on vaccines, was already on her computer trying to book a flight for her mother. “We are going to cook something nice tonight,” Mr. Vincenti said, “but for Champagne we are going to wait for the grandparents.”

The changes announced on Monday apply only to air travel and do not affect restrictions along the land border, Mr. Zients said. He referred a question about which vaccines would qualify under the new rules to the C.D.C., which did not directly answer inquiries on the topic.

“International travel is critical to connecting families and friends, to fueling small and large businesses, to promoting the open exchange of ideas and culture,” Mr. Zients said. “That’s why, with science and public health as our guide, we have developed a new international air travel system that both enhances the safety of Americans here at home and enhances the safety of international air travel.”

But along with opening up travel for some, the new rules shut it down for others. Unvaccinated people will soon be broadly banned from visiting the United States even if they are coming from countries such as Japan that have not faced restrictions on travel to America during the pandemic.

The Trump administration began enforcing the bans against foreign travelers in January 2020 in the hopes of preventing the spread of disease. The effort was largely unsuccessful.

Emma Bubola contributed reporting from Rome, and Stephen Castle from London.

Credit…Brian Inganga/Associated Press

At a virtual summit on Wednesday, while the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting is underway, President Biden will urge other vaccine-producing countries to balance their domestic needs with a renewed focus on manufacturing and distributing doses to poor nations in desperate need of them.

The push, which White House officials say seeks to inject urgency into vaccine diplomacy, will test Mr. Biden’s doctrine of furthering American interests by building global coalitions. Covax, the United Nations-backed vaccine program, is so far behind schedule that not even 10 percent of the population in poor nations is fully vaccinated, experts said. And the landscape is even more challenging now than when Covax was created in April 2020.

Some nations in Asia have imposed tariffs and other trade restrictions on Covid-19 vaccines, slowing their delivery. India, home to the world’s largest vaccine maker, banned coronavirus vaccine exports in April, but announced on Monday that it would resume shipments next month. And an F.D.A. panel on Friday recommended Pfizer booster shots for those over 65 or at high risk of severe Covid, meaning that vaccine doses that could have gone to low and lower-middle income countries would remain in the United States.

Officials said Wednesday’s summit would be the largest gathering of heads of state to address the coronavirus crisis. It aims to encourage pharmaceutical makers, philanthropists and nongovernmental organizations to work together toward vaccinating 70 percent of the world’s population by the time the U.N. General Assembly meets in September 2022, according to a draft document the White House sent to the summit participants.

Experts estimate that 11 billion doses are necessary to achieve widespread global immunity. The United States has pledged to donate more than 600 million — more than any other nation — and the Biden administration has taken steps to expand vaccine manufacturing in the United States, India and South Africa. The 27-nation European Union aims to export 700 million doses by the end of the year.

But on the heels of the United States’ calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan last month that drew condemnation from allies and adversaries alike, the effort to rally world leaders will be closely watched by public health experts and advocates who say Mr. Biden is not living up to his pledges to make the United States the “arsenal of vaccines” for the world.

Credit…Jessica Reilly/Telegraph Herald, via Associated Press

The Wisconsin Republican leading the state’s partisan inquiry into the 2020 election results on Monday warned election clerks that they would face subpoenas if they did not cooperate and defended the investigation’s legitimacy by declaring that he was not seeking to overturn President Biden’s victory in the state.

“We are not challenging the results of the 2020 election,” Michael Gableman, a conservative former State Supreme Court justice overseeing the investigation, argued in a video posted on YouTube. The inquiry, he said, “may include a vigorous and comprehensive audit if the facts that are discovered justify such a course of action.”

The video from Mr. Gableman comes after he and Wisconsin’s Republican legislative leaders have faced increasing criticism from both their party’s far right and from Democrats. The right has accused Mr. Gableman of not doing enough to push lies about the 2020 election propagated by former President Donald J. Trump. Democrats have painted the $680,000 inquiry into the election as a waste of state resources and a distraction from other needed business.

Mr. Gableman was assigned to look into Mr. Trump’s false claims that the state’s election was stolen from him by Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, nearly three months ago. The five-minute video released on Monday was the first extensive public statement Mr. Gableman has made outlining the scope and aim of his investigation.

The Republicans’ continuing effort to re-examine the 2020 results in Wisconsin comes as Trump allies elsewhere have gone to great lengths to undermine Mr. Biden’s victory.

Arizona Republicans are near the end of a monthslong review of ballots in Maricopa County. Pennsylvania Republicans last week approved subpoenas for driver’s license and partial Social Security numbers for every voter in the state. And 18 states, including Texas this month, have passed laws this year adding new voting restrictions.

In recent weeks, Trump-allied conservatives in Wisconsin have shown public frustration at the pace and transparency of Mr. Gableman’s investigation. This month, a group led by David A. Clarke Jr., a former Milwaukee County sheriff who has been a prominent purveyor of false claims about the election, held a rally at the State Capitol in Madison to protest what it argued was insufficient devotion by Mr. Gableman and the state’s Republican leaders to challenging the 2020 results.

Mr. Gableman said on Monday that his investigation would require the municipal officials who operate Wisconsin’s elections to prove that voting was conducted properly. He said local clerks would be required to obey any subpoenas he might issue.

Election clerks in Milwaukee and Green Bay ignored previous subpoenas issued by the Republican chairwoman of the Assembly’s elections committee for ballots and voting machines. Mr. Vos had declined to approve those subpoenas.

“The responsibility to demonstrate that our elections were conducted with fairness, inclusivity and accountability is on the government and on the private, for-profit interests that did work for the government,” Mr. Gableman said. “The burden is not on the people to show in advance of an investigation that public officials and their contractors behaved dishonestly.”

Mr. Gableman added that he did not plan to release information to the public on a regular time frame but would do so when he found it appropriate.

“My job as special counsel is to gather all relevant information and, while I will draw my own conclusions, my goal is to put everything I know and everything I learn before you, the citizen, so that you can make up your own mind,” he said.

The chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, Ben Wikler, said the Gableman video was evidence that state Republicans were at odds with one another over how far the election investigation should go.

“Robin Vos and his far-right ‘investigator’ Michael Gableman are clearly upset that the most extreme fringe doesn’t think they’re going far enough to entertain conspiracy theories,” Mr. Wikler said. “They’re wasting taxpayer funds to serve the political interests of a small group of Republican insiders who want to erode the freedom to vote. It’s a sham, a waste of time and money, and it’s damaging our democracy.”

Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The largest U.S. accounting firms have perfected a remarkably effective behind-the-scenes system to promote their interests in Washington, Jesse Drucker and Danny Hakim report in The New York Times.

Their tax lawyers take senior jobs at the Treasury Department, where they write policies that are frequently favorable to their former corporate clients, often with the expectation that they will soon return to their old employers. The firms welcome them back with loftier titles and higher pay, according to public records reviewed by The Times and interviews with current and former government and industry officials.

From their government posts, many of the industry veterans approved loopholes long exploited by their former firms, gave tax breaks to former clients and rolled back efforts to rein in tax shelters — with enormous impact.

Even some former industry veterans said they viewed this so-called revolving door as a big part of the reason that tax policy had become so skewed in favor of the wealthy, at the expense of just about everyone else. President Biden and congressional Democrats are seeking to overhaul parts of the tax code that overwhelmingly benefit the richest Americans.

This revolving door, with people cycling between the public and private sectors, is nothing new. But the ability of the world’s largest accounting firms to embed their top lawyers inside the government’s most important tax-policy jobs has largely escaped public scrutiny.

“Lawyers who come from the private sector need to learn who their new client is, and it’s not their former clients. It’s the American public,” said Stephen Shay, a retired tax partner at Ropes & Gray who served in the Treasury during the Reagan and Obama administrations. “A certain percentage of people never make that switch. It’s really hard to make that switch when you know where you are going back in two years, and it’s to your old clients. The incentives are bad.”


Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Eight months into President Biden’s term, both he and Jill Biden, the first lady, are finding that winning the “battle for the soul of the nation” is perhaps his most elusive campaign promise. In Washington, an outrage-driven approach to politics has replaced Mr. Biden’s rose-colored belief that bipartisan deal making can be an art form. As he tries to prove that this is still possible, his wife is not a bystander.

Dr. Biden, an English and writing professor who made history as the only first lady to keep her career while in the White House, has traveled to 32 states, many of them conservative, to promote school reopenings, infrastructure funding, community colleges and support for military families. She has also traveled to states where low numbers of eligible people have received the coronavirus vaccine.

“He trusts my intuition as a spouse,” Dr. Biden said in the interview, “not as a policy person or an adviser.”

Dr. Biden entered the White House with several focus areas, including supporting free community college. The president said this spring that she would be “deeply involved” in the effort to make community college tuition free. So far, she is not deeply engaged in the legislative or policy arenas. After The Times published its profile of Dr. Biden on Sunday evening, Elizabeth Alexander, her communications director, said that the first lady’s work to raise awareness on the issue “is a big reason why it’s in the legislative package today.”

They are sometimes confronted with the reality that Mr. Biden’s decisions have been politically costly. When the first couple met with Gold Star families after a terrorist attack in Kabul last month, some relatives made it a point to publicly embrace former President Donald J. Trump.

Neither Biden takes an overly optimistic view that the country’s problems are easily solvable, their advisers say, but both are united in the idea that Mr. Biden is the best-positioned person to try.

“She very much believed he was the right person for the time,” Mike Donilon, one of the couple’s closest advisers, said in an interview. He said that when it came time to make “fundamental decisions about the campaign message and strategy, she was there, and she really brought it to a close.”

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