The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Back to the future on immigration, Afghanistan, Iran




Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Today is Monday! We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the co-creators. Readers can find us on Twitter @asimendinger and @alweaver22. Please recommend the Morning Report to friends and let us know what you think. CLICK HERE to subscribe!

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning: 542,359.


Today, 24.5 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 13.3 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the Bloomberg News global vaccine tracker.

It took two months, but the international world broke through President Biden’s laser-like focus on domestic affairs, COVID-19 relief and his arguments that in a post-Trump era, he has new solutions for age-old problems.


From immigration at the U.S. southern border, to relations with China, Russia and Iran, to next steps with the Taliban and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the Biden White House finds itself back to the future.


On Sunday, Biden defended the administration’s response to conditions at the border, telling reporters the White House is “making sure that we reestablish what existed before, which was they can stay in place and make their case from their home country.”


The president said he would visit the area “at some point,” assuring reporters he understood the conditions migrants are experiencing in U.S. detention facilities.


Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas repeated on four network news shows on Sunday what he has told Congress for weeks. The U.S. message to Central American migrants and asylum-seekers who are putting themselves and their children in danger and attempting to reach the U.S. border is, “do not come.” 


It is the same message Biden delivered in June 2014 at the southern border on behalf of former President Obama when a migrant surge led to tough responses that earned Obama the nickname “deporter in chief.” 


“Those who are pondering risking their lives to reach the United States should be aware of what awaits them. It will not be open arms,” Biden said in Guatemala City nearly seven years ago while discussing the crisis then. “We’re going to send the vast majority of you back.”


Immigration law in 2021 remains a politicized puzzle, complicated by emotions tied to children, a pandemic and Biden’s campaign vows to undo former President TrumpDonald TrumpPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy  Hannity after Jan. 6 texted McEnany 'no more stolen election talk' in five-point plan for Trump MORE’s hard-line immigration policies, which also required immigrants to file appeals to enter the United States from their home countries. 


The Associated Press: Biden aims to prevent border crossings from swamping agenda.


The Hill: DHS chief takes lead in Biden administration’s border response defense.


“The border is closed, the border is secure,” Mayorkas said on ABC’s “This Week.”


“We are encouraging children not to come. Now is not the time to come. Do not come, the journey is dangerous. We are building safe, orderly and humane ways to address the needs of vulnerable children. Do not come,” he continued.


The Associated Press: Mexico on Sunday moved to limit all nonessential travel at its shared border with Guatemala. It is under pressure in Washington, as it was in 2014 and 2020, to slow the migration north as the U.S. government wrestles with growing numbers of undocumented people fleeing their countries.


Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine On The Money — Ban on stock trading for Congress gains steam MORE (R-Texas) this week plans to visit the border with 14 colleagues and he urged Biden on Sunday to open migrant detention facilities to press coverage, despite White House arguments that COVID-19 risks are one reason officials are keeping journalists at bay. In a letter sent today to Biden and shared with the Morning Report, Cruz called it “unacceptable” that the news media could not join the GOP delegation to see “a crisis of your own making.” Trump also issued a four-paragraph statement on Sunday accusing Biden of “destroying” the country (The Hill).


As The Hill’s Jonathan Easley reports, Biden’s agenda for his first 100 days got off to a strong start but is being buffeted by border issues he understood from experience, instances of domestic extremism and violence that he assailed during his campaign and pressures from a host of foreign adversaries he has assured voters he knows well. 


Also on Sunday, Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — White House raises new alarm over Russia GOP lawmakers press administration on US weapons left behind in Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation MORE (pictured below in Kabul) arrived in Afghanistan, making an unannounced visit as the administration wrestles with a war that is nearly 20 years old. Austin met with officials, including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, U.S. diplomat Ross Wilson and Army Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Austin told reporters traveling with him in Kabul that senior U.S. officials want to see “a responsible end to this conflict” and “a transition to something else” (The Washington Post and The Hill).


The Taliban on Friday warned the United States that if it does not meet a May 1 deadline for U.S. troop withdrawals, there will be a response. Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban negotiation team, told reporters “it will be a kind of violation of the agreement. That violation would not be from our side … Their violation will have a reaction” (AlJazeera).


Meanwhile, Turkey and Afghanistan today will commemorate 100 years of diplomatic relations and Turkey appears ready, with encouragement from the Biden administration, to play a mediator role in Istanbul in April in trying to finalize a peace deal with the Taliban. On Sunday, Biden also rebuked Turkey for abandoning an international agreement aimed at preventing violence against women (ABC News). 


CNBC: Former Energy Secretary Ernest MonizErnest Jeffrey MonizOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama marine monument designation | Interior reverses course on tribal ownership of portion of Missouri river | White House climate adviser meets with oil and gas companies Moniz: Texas blackouts show need to protect infrastructure against climate change The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Back to the future on immigration, Afghanistan, Iran MORE, who helped negotiate a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran from which Trump withdrew the United States, said on Thursday “there’s probably just about 10 weeks left for some serious diplomacy” with Tehran.


The Associated Press: Iran in January threatened attacks on Washington’s Fort McNair Army post as well as a top general.


Across the globe, the Biden administration hoped to counter Russia and China by strengthening U.S. alliances and to collaborate with partners to put pressure on both countries to change behavior. Antagonistic signals from Moscow and Beijing last week showed the Biden administration that the two powerful nations are willing to confront the United States, report The Hill’s Laura Kelly and Morgan Chalfant


The Hill’s Niall Stanage: Biden faces steep climbs two months into governing.


The Hill: On the Sunday talk shows, the Biden administration grappled with conditions at the border whether labeled a “crisis” or a problem.



Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Afghanistan



POLITICS: Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonI'm furious about Democrats taking the blame — it's time to fight back Barnes raises over million in final quarter of 2021 Sen. Ron Johnson: Straight from the horse's mouth MORE (R-Wis.) and Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleySenate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Voting rights and Senate wrongs Swalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down MORE (R-Iowa) have effectively hit the pause button on two potentially competitive Senate races that could help determine party control of the upper chamber through the next presidential election. Both senators are up for reelection next year. But even as a handful of their GOP colleagues announce retirement plans ahead of the 2022 midterms, Johnson, 65, and Grassley, 87, are taking their time with their respective decisions, saying that it could be months before they reveal their intentions. Republicans familiar with their thinking say they are both quietly laying the groundwork for reelection campaigns, but could still decide not to run (The Hill).


The New York Times: How Johnson spreads misinformation and helps erode confidence in government.


> House - aspirations: From Alabama to Missouri to Pennsylvania to California to Ohio this cycle, ambitious House politicians are looking for promotions, The Hill’s Scott Wong reports. Conservative Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksJudge questions Trump's claim of 'absolute immunity' in Jan. 6 lawsuits Alabama GOP gears up for fierce Senate primary clash Democratic super PAC ties Trump allies to Jan. 6 in new ad campaign MORE (R-Ala.) will launch a bid for the Senate on Monday. In Missouri, a quartet of House Republicans are all exploring a bid for the seat held by retiring GOP Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSwalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down Johnson, Thune signal GOP's rising confidence Senate Minority Whip Thune, close McConnell ally, to run for reelection MORE. And at least five House Democrats are eyeing a possible Senate bid to replace retiring GOP Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyMeet Washington's most ineffective senator: Joe Manchin Black women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal MORE in Pennsylvania. Allies of Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCIA says 'Havana syndrome' unlikely a result of 'worldwide campaign' by foreign power The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta Democrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit MORE (D-Calif.) are aggressively lobbying Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomThe Hill's Morning Report: Biden takes it on the chin Newsom denies parole for RFK assassin Why California needs a Latino state supreme court justice MORE (D) to appoint the Intelligence Committee chairman as attorney general of the most populous state. Democratic Reps. Greg StantonGregory (Greg) John StantonPoll shows Sinema's popularity dropping further among Arizona Democrats House GOP campaign arm expands target list after brutal night for Dems Sinema trails potential primary challengers in progressive poll MORE and Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoLawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine Senators to meet with Ukraine president to reaffirm US support The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat MORE are being encouraged to run for Arizona governor. Rep. Warren DavidsonWarren Earl DavidsonOhio Republican apologizes for comparing DC vaccine mandate to Nazi Germany amid backlash Ohio Republican sparks condemnation for comparing DC vaccine mandate to Nazi Germany Trump war with GOP seeps into midterms MORE (R-Ohio) is mulling a GOP primary challenge against Ohio Gov. Mike DeWineMike DeWineOhio Supreme Court strikes down GOP-drawn congressional map Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Russia have face-to-face sit down States turning to National Guard for COVID-19 help as omicron surges MORE (R).


> House - Louisiana: Republican candidate Julia Letlow won a special election to replace her late husband in Congress on Saturday, eliminating the vacancy left after Luke Letlow’s COVID-19-related death last year. Letlow will represent the 5th Congressional District as soon as the House returns from its work period next month. “What was born out of the terrible tragedy of losing my husband, Luke, has become my mission in his honor,” Letlow said in a statement declaring victory. Former President Trump endorsed Letlow in a written statement on Saturday (The Washington Post). 


Also on Saturday, a pair of Democratic state senators from New Orleans claimed the most votes in a special election to replace former Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric RichmondBiden should seek some ideological diversity Biden says 'consumer spending has recovered' to pre-pandemic levels Build Back Better is a 21st century New Deal MORE (D), who is now a senior adviser to Biden. State Sens. Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson (they are not related) will advance to an April 24 runoff that will determine who represents a heavily Democratic seat in a Black-majority district that stretches from New Orleans along the Mississippi River to Baton Rouge (The New York Times).



Julia Letlow



> California recall: Supporters of an effort to recall Newsom have turned in the last of the more than 2.1 million signatures they collected over the past year, almost certainly setting up what will be the most expensive and most competitive election of 2021, reports The Hill’s Reid Wilson.


> House - Iowa: Republicans are hammering Democrats for what they say is hypocrisy in their efforts to challenge Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’s (R-Iowa) victory over Democrat Rita Hart in the state’s second congressional district (The Hill).




ADMINISTRATION: This week, the Senate will consider for confirmation Boston Mayor Marty WalshMarty WalshA year into Biden's presidency, we're only burying more overdose victims Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey jumps into gubernatorial race The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks MORE (D), Biden’s nominee to lead the Labor Department. The Hill’s Brett Samuels reports that the president still does not have a full complement of leaders in place to help steer critical agencies and departments. 


> Veep: When it was announced last week that Biden adviser Gene Sperling — a veteran of the National Economic Council and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under former Presidents Clinton and Obama — is to oversee the implementation of Biden’s signature American Rescue Plan law, some Democrats wondered why the assignment didn’t go to Vice President Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTrump by the numbers: 2024 isn't simple Biden 'profoundly disappointed' after voting rights push fails in Senate Madame Tussauds unveils new Biden and Harris figures MORE. What is her biggest role to date? It may be in the Senate and as an influential ambassador to key constituencies, The Hill’s Amie Parnes reports.



Vice President Harris



> Cyber security: Biden is coming under increasing pressure from lawmakers and other officials to nominate a White House cyber czar, particularly as the government continues to reel in the wake of two major foreign cyberattacks (The Hill). … The next cyberattack is already under way (The New Yorker).


> Internal Revenue Service: The administration this week extended the tax filing season to May 17, but that decision didn't sweep away all the hurdles taxpayers and the IRS face when it comes to the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (The Hill).


> OMB: Deep in the weeds of what matters to American cities when the federal government gets involved, an obscure technical board has proposed changing the definition of a Metropolitan Statistical Area for the first time in 70 years, a minor amendment to a definition about which only the hardest core demographers care. But to the 144 cities that might suddenly be dubbed “micropolitan,” the proposal is a threat to their pride and their economic futures, reports The Hill’s Reid Wilson.


CONGRESS: Senate rules, in the minds of some, keep the upper chamber from functioning. Ten Republicans and 10 Democrats are offstage discussing what The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports would be “smaller changes” than dispensing with the filibuster. This ambitious band of senators also wants to try to forge consensus proposals to tackle immigration and infrastructure.


At the same time, House and Senate Democrats warn they have no patience for GOP stonewalling (The Hill).  


Fractious congressional budget talks lead into what is expected to be a May submission to Congress of Biden’s first budget. The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports on expectations that the administration will request a static Pentagon blueprint. A group of progressive Democrats instead seeks to “significantly” slash defense spending and told Biden so in a letter last week that sparked backlash from Republicans, who ideally want an increase for defense. Bottom line: Expect much jockeying and lobbying.

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Biden is making America’s Afghanistan problems worse, by Eli Lake, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion.


Why McConnell gets away with filibustering, by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, opinion contributors, The Atlantic.


The House meets at 11 a.m. on Tuesday. The House Oversight and Reform Committee examines D.C. statehood legislation during an 11 a.m. hearing.  The House Energy and Commerce Committee holds a hearing at 11 a.m. about infrastructure policy and will hear from former Secretary Moniz. 


The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and resumes consideration of the nominations of Walsh to become Labor secretary. 


The president and Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:50 a.m. Biden will meet virtually at 7 p.m. with the Senate Democratic Conference during the group’s annual retreat. This week, the president will focus on the American Rescue Plan, the Affordable Care Act and pay equity, and travel to Columbus, Ohio. He plans to give his first official press conference on Thursday.


Harris at 9:30 a.m. will ceremonially swear in Isabella Guzman as administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. At 11:50 a.m., the vice president departs for Jacksonville, Fla., where she will visit a vaccination center at 2:25 p.m. and participate in an event at Feeding Northeast Florida Food Pantry and distribution center at 3:20 p.m. Harris will depart the Sunshine State at 6 p.m. and return to Washington.


Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Biden clarifies any Russian movement into Ukraine 'is an invasion' Blinken calls for 'global action' against Russia amid Ukraine tensions MORE will be in Brussels through Thursday. 


The White House press briefing is at 12:30 p.m. The coronavirus response briefing takes place at 11 a.m.


INVITATIONS: The Hill’s Virtually Live packs this week’s calendar with smart conversations about key issues! Join “Climate Under Threat” Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. (registration HERE). Wednesday is “The Loss of Nature: A Global Threat,” at 1 p.m. (registration HERE). Thursday is “The COVID-19 Vaccine & the New Era of Manufacturing,” at 1 p.m. (registration HERE).


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. EST at Rising on YouTube


CORONAVIRUS: U.S. data in a late-stage study shows the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective for all ages. AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been authorized in more than 50 countries but has not yet been given the green light in the United States. Scientists have been awaiting results of the U.S. study in hopes it will clear up some of the confusion about just how well the shots really work. AstraZeneca said its experts also identified no safety concerns related to the vaccine, including a rare blood clot issue that was identified in Europe. Scientists found no increased risk of clots among the more than 20,000 people who received at least one dose of the AstraZeneca inoculation (The Associated Press and Reuters).


Bloomberg News: The European Union announced on Sunday it will block exports to the United Kingdom of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and related ingredients.


Vaccine hesitancy tied to COVID-19, observed among some Trump voters, is the result of “natural resistance to government,” Arkansas Gov. Asa HutchinsonAsa HutchinsonGOP governors press Biden administration for control of infrastructure implementation Sarah Huckabee Sanders raises .8M since launch of Arkansas governor campaign Wisconsin GOP bill would count prior COVID-19 infection as immunity MORE (R) said on Sunday. The governor, whose state strongly supported Trump in November, said the former president’s public endorsement of vaccination last week was commendable. “I think we have to have our leaders, we have to have sports figures, we have to have different representatives of our community, including our political leaders, say [the] vaccine is important,” he said on CNN (The Hill). 


Hutchinson nonetheless said he plans to lift the mask mandate in Arkansas at the end of March because "we're a year into this and we know so much more today than we did a year ago. … I expect even though we take the mask mandate away that people will continue to use the mask when you cannot safely distance."  


The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports that U.S. progress in controlling COVID-19 infections is plateauing, a troubling sign even as vaccination rates rise in states and major urban areas. Brazil and Europe are once again in COVID-19 crisis, a possible preview of the backsliding the United States could face in the months ahead.


CITIES: The weekend focus in Atlanta turned to mourning eight victims in last week’s deadly shootings at three massage parlors in the area. Seven of the victims were women and six were of Asian descent, and reports sought to describe who they were (The Associated Press). … Miami residents blame out-of-town visitors for spring break havoc in South Beach. It was described as “multiple fights, brawls, melees, and other public displays and disturbances of the peace” (Reuters). … A Thursday-through-Sunday emergency curfew in Miami beginning at 8 p.m. in the entertainment district and other key areas will continue through April 11, the end of the spring break period (Miami Herald and The Washington Post).  … Evanston, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, has a plan to pay Black residents reparations, which could be a national model (Reuters).



Miami police officers in South Beach



U.S. POSTAL SERVICE:In transit, arriving late.” The Postal Service has failed to restore its target delivery times months after the November elections and a holiday rush of packages and cards in 2020. It made a poor showing, delivering 62 percent of first-class mail on time, the lowest level in years. Americans, some of whom depend on mailed medications that never arrived, complained. Businesses complained. Lawmakers held hearings. The courts got involved. The rate of delivery rebounded to 84 percent by March 6, but that achievement remains far below the agency’s target of about 96 percent on-time mail delivery. A pending overhaul plan, welded to the USPS’s wobbly finances, may make persistent delays the norm (The New York Times).  


And finally … “No way, man.” 


Who would have guessed back in 1989, when TV viewers met Bart Simpson and his relatives, that audiences would still want to watch them in 2021? 


The Simpsons” on Sunday marked its 700th episode, and more are on the way. Fox recently renewed the animated institution created by cartoonist Matt Groening for another two seasons, bringing the show to Season 34 (and a grand total of 757 episodes) by 2023. But what happens after that?


“We’re going to definitely do 757,” said executive producer Al Jean. “I wouldn’t say that’s the end but I don’t know how much further we can go” (Variety).



Creator Matt Groening poses with Simpson characters at "The Simpsons" Panel during the 2008 Comic Con