After more than 30 months, my relationship with President Joe Biden has entered a sour predictability stage. Not the kind that you see in a “meet cute” movie in which the initial frisson of passion is replaced with routine followed by discontent (think the 1986 rom-com, About Last Night). No, the kind in which the irritating habits have become so foreseeable that I realize the problem’s not with me, it’s with him — and that problem is a lack of transparency and accountability coupled with foreseeable late-night dumps of bad news, and the Southwest border news for August promises to be dreadful.
“Bring Transparency and Truth Back to Government”. Keep in mind our relationship started with a lot of promise. During her first media availability on Inauguration Day, Biden’s then-Press Secretary Jen Psaki seemed to be speaking directly to me as she earnestly stared into the camera and said:
When the President asked me to serve in this role, we talked about the importance of bringing truth and transparency back to the briefing room, and he asked me to ensure we are communicating about the policies across the Biden-Harris administration and the work his team is doing every single day on behalf of all American people.
“Every single day”. This wasn’t going to be one of those relationships in which the president would ghost me for weeks and then only spontaneously call me when he was lonely or scared — oh no, this would be a bond of trust and complete disclosure — dare I say intimacy?
The Honeymoon Phase. I, for one, kept up my part of the bargain, coming to the president’s defense in February 2021 when the administration announced it would be reopening shelters for unaccompanied alien children (UACs) who started pouring over the border in droves shortly after he took office.
Bully, I thought to myself, for the president to take such brave action that was bound to be unpopular with his base (which it was), and kudos to the White House for not hiding what it was doing.
Still, I was not entirely swept off my feet, explaining that if Biden “fails to address the incentives that encourage parents to trust their children to smugglers, and the issue just gets demagogued even more, he will have to open even more ... shelters for a coming wave of UACs”.
That early honeymoon phase did not last, and not only did my president quickly drop the ball on the UAC shelters, but he did so in such a spectacular manner that even his more ardent fans at the New York Times could not shield their eyes from the fact that the president’s policies were feeding children into the hungry maw of exploitation here in the United States.
Gaslight Unfortunately, it did not take long to realize that I was not dealing here with an overgrown man-child struggling to adjust to adult relationships like David Mamet’s character Danny (Rob Lowe) in About Last Night, but instead had tied myself to a dissembling schemer like Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), who attempted to convince Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman) that she was going insane as part of a plot to steal her late aunt’s jewels from her attic in the 1944 George Cukor classic, Gaslight.
The truth of the matter is: Nothing has changed. As many people came — 28 percent increase in children to the border in my administration; 31 percent in the last year of — in 2019, before the pandemic, in the Trump administration. It happens every single, solitary year: There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. That happens every year.
He even sent his friends at the Washington Post around to let me know that he was correct, as they assured me “There's no migrant 'surge' at the U.S. southern border. Here's the data.” Of course, in its own act of gaslighting, the Post later quietly changed that headline to the much blander and more anodyne “The migrant ‘surge’ at the U.S. southern border is actually a predictable pattern.”
The only reason I realized there had been a switch was because the folks at Fox News took me into another (chat) room and explained it to me, calmly assuring me that I was not losing my mind.
Things only got worse from there, as Biden’s DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas continually explained to me that, no matter how many times I went to the Southwest border and found myself engulfed in chaos, I should not fret because he still had “operational control” there.
Realizing I had my doubts, Mayorkas then pulled a switch on me, redefining “operational control” to suit his needs. But I was no longer a naïf in my relationship with the administration, and started to push back, realizing that even under its watered-down terms, it still wasn’t giving me what I was promised.
Pacific Heights. Soon, however, things took an even darker turn, as the administration began to manipulate both me and the legal process, not unlike the actions of ne’er-do-well Carter Hayes/James Danforth (Michael Keaton) in the 1990 John Schlesinger psycho-thriller Pacific Heights.
Many states scheduled early voting to occur unusually early by historical standards for the 2022 mid-term elections. In my current home state of North Carolina, for example, election officials sent out absentee ballots nearly two months before election day, on September 9. Two weeks later, voters were able to cast their ballots at open polls in Minnesota, South Dakota, Virginia, and Wyoming.
The border was certain to pose a problem for the president’s fellow Democrats in the midterm elections, because even by the time those North Carolina ballots were mailed, it was apparent Border Patrol would set a new yearly apprehension record there.
The federal government runs on a fiscal-year basis, which begins on October 1 and ends the next September 30. Normally, CBP releases its monthly Southwest border encounter numbers on the 15th of the following month, and therefore the monthly Southwest border encounter stats for September 2022 — and the yearly numbers for FY 2022 — should have dropped on Saturday, October 15.
That didn’t happen, as Bill Melugin from Fox News tweeted at 10:40 PM on Friday, October 21:
BREAKING: In a blatant Friday late night news dump, CBP has released the September border numbers, revealing there were 227,547 migrant encounters, the highest Sept. in DHS history. FY’22 ended with 2,378,944 encounters, also the highest ever, & doesn’t include gotaways.
That late-night CBP release revealed that the border was in freefall, with more than 2.2 million Border Patrol apprehensions at the Southwest border (a new yearly record, as expected), on top of more than 172,500 other aliens who were deemed inadmissible at the ports of entry there (a 128-percent increase over FY 2021).
there is something decidedly deceptive, shabby, and unbecoming about the way CBP released its FY 2022 Southwest border statistics — late at night, nearly a week after they are normally published, and past the point voters had begun casting ballots to determine which party will control Congress.
U.S. voters deserve to know what’s being done in their name, but the Biden administration has long suffered from a “transparency” problem when it comes to its immigration policies and their effects.
Not that I then knew nor know now that the timing was deliberate. That said, I don’t believe in coincidences in politics. Plus, it would not be the last time that CBP released bad border numbers late.
The November stats appeared on December 23, 2022 — the Friday before Christmas — “more than a week late, and curiously, [not] until the day Congress passed a $1.7 trillion spending bill that provide[d] little relief to the agents trying to stem the border migrant tide”, as I then reported.
CBP’s numbers showing that Border Patrol agents apprehended more illegal entrants at the Southwest border in December 2022 than in any prior month in history didn’t appear until the evening of Friday, January 20, even though on their face they revealed they were ready to publish two days earlier.
The July 2023 numbers, which revealed a massive upturn in CBP Southwest border encounters following a brief, post-Title 42 decline (that the administration took a premature victory lap over) didn’t appear until late on Friday, August 18. And now, as I write this, the August numbers are five days late with the weekend looming.
Speaking of Pacific Heights, it involves a young couple, Patty Palmer (Melanie Griffith) and Drake Goodman (Matthew Modine) who innocently rent an apartment in their house to the aforementioned Carter, who puts on a good front initially but then fails to pay and later attempts to steal their house and Drake’s identity.
A key plot point in the second half occurs when Drake in desperation pushes Carter, an incident the latter plainly planned as the police quickly show up and bar Drake from his own residence.
That’s not too dissimilar from what has played out over Biden’s handling of the border, as the state of Texas has sued the administration to get the law enforced (twice, in Biden v. Texas and in Texas v. U.S.), only to have the Supreme Court step in and narrow states’ standing to force the federal government to comply with the immigration laws.
In a third-act twist, however, two Fifth Circuit judges appointed by Democratic presidents recently joined one of their Trump-appointed colleagues to stay an order requiring Texas to remove a riverine barrier it placed in the Rio Grande to prevent illegal entries. Schlesinger would have loved it.
Network. On August 31, the Washington Post released preliminary statistics on illegal crossings last month at the U.S.-Mexico line. According to the paper, Border Patrol apprehensions at the Southwest border surged in August, exceeding 177,000 — a 33 percent increase over July, which itself was a 33 percent increase over June.
My sources tell me that the apprehension stats for August could be even worse than the Post reported, and if true, they would reveal the White House’s claims that its latest efforts to secure the border by “expand[ing] legal pathways for safe, orderly, and humane migration” (which are neither safe, nor orderly, nor humane) have been the bust that many (myself included) have long known they would be.
Which is why, if I were a betting man, I would gamble that we won’t see CBP release those numbers until on or after close of business today, Friday, September 22.
That brings me to my last Tinseltown reference, Sidney Lumet’s 1976 Oscar winner, Network. It’s the tale of the fictional Union Broadcasting System (UBS), which is mired in bad ratings and looking to make some changes.
One of those changes involves firing the anchor of the “UBS Evening News”, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), and if you are familiar with the film at all, it’s because of Beale’s later reaction, as he famously shouts on air:
I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell — 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!
If you want to understand the state of this country today, and the dreadful state of its media in particular, give Network a watch. Lumet could have put it in a 47-year time capsule.
As the foregoing shows, I’m disheartened by the administration’s broken transparency promises and its seeming indifference to the national-security and humanitarian disaster it continues to promote at the Southwest border. Unlike Howard Beale, however, I’m not “mad as hell”, and I don’t want you to be, either. But I do want us to know what the president is doing in our names, and for the games to stop.