The Immigration Policy Spiral: Joe Biden, from a position of weakness, is trying to cut a punitive deal on border policy without the House. (DAVID DAYEN, DECEMBER 15, 2023, American Prospect)

As talks flailed, Mitch McConnell, who sees Ukraine as part of his personal legacy, announced that the only way anything would happen on the border-for-Ukraine swap is if Biden got personally involved. McConnell is someone with personal experience fleecing Biden in moments of weakness, dating back to the 2012 fiscal cliff. And because Biden both believes Ukraine is the leading foreign-policy challenge of his presidency, and hopes against hope to take the border issue “off the table” in the next election, he was eager to engage, from a position of weakness.

Biden sent his chief of staff Jeff Zients and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas into the talks, and made a series of concessions. One allows for unilateral expulsions without asylum screenings, a reversion to the Title 42 expulsion policy that was lifted when the pandemic emergency expired, on days with a high number of border crossings. (How this would not violate international law is unstated.) In addition, Biden has offered tightened “credible fear” standards for granting asylum, mandated detention for some migrants pending a court hearing (it’s anyone’s guess where they would be held, as there is already a shortage of beds), and expansion of expedited removal to deport migrants anywhere in the country who fail an asylum screening. As Dara Lind of the American Immigration Council explains, if that ever passed it would be a nice tool for Stephen Miller’s dreams of mass deportation.

The offer has made some Democratic lawmakers, commentators, and immigrant rights groups apoplectic. It devolves the deal-making from “comprehensive immigration reform” to a border crackdown, with no new path to legal standing in the U.S. for any migrant. I’m not sure Latino voters, whose top issues are inflation and jobs and whom Biden is messaging to by likening Trump to Latin American dictators, will see this as a betrayal, but the people who volunteer and knock on doors for Biden might.

There was never any chance he’d govern well, but he needn’t have been as bad as this.