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Week in Politics: Some Democrats question plans to lift immigration restrictions


Another dilemma for the administration - the lower risk from COVID-19 prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lift the rule known as Title 42 beginning about a month from today. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: And some Democratic lawmakers - not just from border states, even Delaware and New Hampshire - openly question whether these restrictions ought to be lifted. What are their concerns?

ELVING: Well, first off, Title 42 was imposed to protect public health in the pandemic, and it's contributed to a big buildup of humanity along the southern border. Those throngs are straining resources to accommodate them on both sides of the border. Many are coming from Central America, from Cuba, some from Ukraine, even from Russia. So the Democrats' fear is that lifting Title 42 just now will allow this enormous backlog to surge into the U.S., igniting a new firestorm over immigration levels, much like the one that fueled the rise of former President Trump and lots of other like-minded Republican candidates.

SIMON: But President Biden and the Democrats campaigned on a promise of making immigration more humane in this country. What do - how do they back away from that?

ELVING: Well, it should be hard to back away from it, and there's a consortium of more than 90 groups called Welcome With Dignity that's working hard to hold Biden to his campaign position. But this is one of those cases where what you said in getting elected collides with what you may need to do to stay in office - or to keep your party in power in this case. A week ago, we were talking about how Biden was opening federal lands to drilling for oil and gas. That was a total reversal of his campaign promises. But gas prices were driving inflation to levels that looked fatal for Democrats in November. Immigration has some similar points to that. Biden promised a more humane policy, started off in that direction, stopped Trump's wall, his Remain in Mexico policy - at least until the courts weighed in on that latter. But it's really the court of public opinion and the threat of losses in November that's got the Biden White House trying to find some middle ground now.

SIMON: Many Republicans are also trying to do battle with their own ideals. Governors of Texas and Florida are each taking dramatic actions with political consequences. What do you see?

ELVING: We have some aggressive governors in the second and third most populous states in the country, both of whom are considered presidential contenders in 2024 or beyond. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott wanted more inspections for trucks on the Mexican border. That caused horrendous backups, forced the governor to recalibrate. In Florida, we have the Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, fighting a pitched battle not only against the Democrats, but now also against Disney and Disney World, which is the state's single largest employer. Disney had been critical of DeSantis's new laws that restrict what teachers might say about gender identity and racial history in the classroom. That's made DeSantis something of a hero to social conservatives around the country, but it also raises questions about doing business in Florida going forward.

SIMON: Let's hear the audio The New York Times released this week of Republican leader Kevin McCarthy shortly after the attack on the Capitol last January 6 talking about then-President Trump.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: I've had it with this guy. What he did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend that, and nobody should defend it.

SIMON: So when Kevin McCarthy said he never said what we just heard him say - that's a lie?

ELVING: It will so appear, Scott, and that's awkward for a guy who wants to be speaker of the House. But his real problem here is not about his personal integrity. It's about saying something that embarrasses his party - something that highlights the role that President Trump still plays in that party. You know, McCarthy did something similar six years ago, saying something about the Benghazi hearings that was a little too revealing about his party's motives. And suddenly, the party found someone else to be their new boss. That was Paul Ryan at the time. So this is another situation where McCarthy's kind of gotten himself into a difficult spot.

SIMON: Why are we just hearing this audio now when two people have a book to promote? Should we have heard it earlier? Should they have broken it earlier? They're both reporters, after all.

ELVING: The simple answer is yes, but we don't know where and how they got this tape. We don't know who leaked it or why. The reporters have said only that they got this in the course of reporting for their book, which implies it might have been a while ago, yet they did not advise - advertise, rather - having that tape, even writing the initial stories about it. That has been noticed.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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