Biden administration stokes frustration over Canada

The Biden administration’s decision to extend border restrictions between the United States and Canada is stoking frustration among members of Congress who represent states and districts that abut the Great White North, including some of the president’s closest allies.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Wednesday it would extend the closure of land borders between the neighboring allies through at least Aug. 21. Its announcement came two days after the Canadian government said it would admit Americans fully vaccinated against the coronavirus beginning Aug. 9.

The American extension on restrictions came as a surprise to members of Congress who had been pushing to ease the lockdown, several sources on Capitol Hill said. They felt caught off guard by an announcement that is all but certain to doom some businesses that will now lose a second straight summer of cross-border economic activity.

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“I’m deeply disappointed in the Biden administration’s decision to unilaterally extend the Canada-U.S. border closure another month. This means further suffering in our border communities in Whatcom County & elsewhere,” Rep. Suzan DelBeneSuzan Kay DelBeneBiden administration stokes frustration over Canada Reducing compliance burdens for the beauty industry Tech industry pushes for delay in antitrust legislation MORE (D-Wash.) wrote on Twitter

Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi considers adding GOP voices to Jan. 6 panel Biden administration stokes frustration over Canada Here's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer MORE (D), who has pushed to reopen the border for months — especially to residents of Point Roberts, Wash., an isolated community whose only access to the mainland is by driving through Canada — called himself “extremely disappointed” in the decision.

Rep. Brian HigginsBrian HigginsBiden administration stokes frustration over Canada Canadian ambassador calls for close coordination in handling of US border House GOP campaign arm adds to target list MORE (D-N.Y.), who represents Buffalo and Niagara Falls and who co-chairs the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group, said in a call with reporters that the Biden administration was misleading Americans.

“Today’s decision by the Biden administration harms economic recovery and hurts families all across America’s northern border; this is completely unnecessary,” Higgins said in a statement. “Continuation of this shutdown is illogical given the success of vaccines and counterproductive, putting the United States at a disadvantage given Canada’s decision to welcome back vaccinated Americans effective August 9th.”

Even Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck Schumer84 mayors call for immigration to be included in reconciliation Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds Could Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? MORE (D-N.Y.), one of Biden’s critical allies on Capitol Hill, criticized the administration for “failing to reciprocate” Canada’s reopening gesture.

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“It is critical for the United States to level the playing field and create a uniform system, following the science and data, to safely — and finally — reopen the border for those vaccinated,” Schumer said in a statement.

DelBene and several other members of Congress have asked for meetings with the White House to clarify the administration’s position.

The 17-month shutdown of the northern border is the longest in history, outpacing even the shutdown that took place during the War of 1812. And while Canada and the United States ostensibly closed the border in March 2020 through a cooperative agreement, experts said it is becoming increasingly clear that there is little agreement — or even dialogue — a year later.

“For these two great partners who were supposedly operating together in closing the border, they have been operating independently from the beginning,” said Christopher Sands, director of the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute and a professor of Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University. “There’s not a lot of what you would call high level planning on how are we going to ease these restrictions.”

The economic devastation wrought by the lockdown is being felt most in tourism-reliant communities on either side of the border. After the lost summer of 2020, those communities hoped that the new influx of vaccines against the coronavirus, and the pandemic’s North American ebb, would bring relief. 

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After a slow start in administering its own vaccines, Canada has raced ahead of the United States. Today, 52 percent of Canadians are fully vaccinated against the virus, and another 18 percent are partially vaccinated. In the United States, 48 percent are fully vaccinated and another 7.5 percent have had one shot.

Prime Minister Justin TrudeauJustin Pierre James TrudeauBiden administration stokes frustration over Canada The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Schumer moves ahead with likely-to-fail infrastructure vote US extends travel restrictions with Canada, Mexico MORE announced the looser border restrictions on Monday. At the same press conference, Bill Blair, Canada’s minister of public safety, said he had been in contact with DHS Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasHillicon Valley: Tech groups urge Congress to 'dig deeper' on Facebook role in Capitol riot | Kaseya denies paying hackers for decryption key | Tech coalition expands tracking of extremist content Hillicon Valley: Amazon employees petition company to investigate discrimination allegations | ACLU calls for investigation into Alaska official over tweets | Electric cars to outsell combustion vehicles by 2036 Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks MORE, who told him the U.S. was considering its own data.

Asked about loosening border restrictions, White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiSenators scramble to save infrastructure deal Overnight Health Care: New round of vaccine mandates | Health groups call for mandates for all health workers | Rising case count reignites debate over restrictions On The Money: Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds | Trump tells Republicans to walk away | GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden MORE has said the United States is following its own data-driven metrics, rather than any kind of reciprocal agreement

“We rely on the guidance of our health and medical experts, not on the actions of other countries,” Psaki told reporters Wednesday aboard Air Force One.

Republicans who represent border districts have put their own pressure on the Biden administration. In a letter to the White House last week, 14 Republicans who hold neighboring districts urged the White House to lift remaining restrictions. 

President BidenJoe BidenTrump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race GOP lawmakers request Cuba meeting with Biden For families, sending money home to Cuba shouldn't be a political football MORE’s decision to unilaterally extend the Canada-U.S. border closure — despite the clear progress our nation has made and Canada’s easing restrictions — represents a failure to lead our country,” Rep. Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseBiden administration stokes frustration over Canada Cheney, Kinzinger are sole GOP votes for Jan. 6 select committee Progressives nearly tank House Democrats' Capitol security bill MORE (R-Wash.) told The Hill. “There is simply no scientific reason to keep our nation shuttered away, and the ramifications this closure has on our border communities and small businesses is causing more long-term damage than he seems to realize.”

The American resistance to reopening the border is becoming a political challenge for Trudeau, who has considered calling elections as early as this fall. Trudeau has generally received high marks for his handling of the pandemic, and his Liberal Party leads recent polls, giving him an opportunity to turn his minority government into a majority.

Canadians largely celebrated Biden’s victory over former President TrumpDonald TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race MORE in 2020, and Trudeau greeted Biden warmly at the G-7 summit last month in Cornwall, Britain. But with the border closed for another month, the new American president has robbed his Canadian counterpart of a convenient foil.

“The good thing about Trump was that Trump got blamed for everything,” Sands said. With Biden, “people have expected [Trudeau] to be able to do more.”