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The Daily 202: Biden hopes aid to Central America will help his immigration problem

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter; I hope you all have a happy start to Pride Month! Tell your friends to sign up here. Did you know that while most think the Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” on this day in 1967, they actually released it on May 26. Still, it quickly became one of history’s most important rock-and-roll albums. Now that things are opening up, I know I’ll be celebrating the start of summer “With a Little Help From my Friends.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to Costa Rica today as the Biden administration continues pushing its plan to curb migration from the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — by addressing “root causes” and investing in the region. 

Blinken, as my colleague Karen DeYoung reported last week, is visiting the country to participate in a meeting of the Central American Integration System, or SICA, a regional organization that includes the seven Central American nations and the Dominican Republic. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken will meet with senior leaders from SICA member-states and, together, they “will advance a collaborative approach to addressing the root causes of migration, including improving democratic governance, security, and economic opportunity for the people of Central America.” That is the crux of the Biden administration’s four-year, $4 billion plan for Central America investing in the local economies and nongovernmental organizations to convince would-be migrants to stay home. 

While the Biden administration is “seeking to change the perception that high border numbers equate with a crisis, a failure, or even something manifestly negative,” as my colleague Nick Miroff reported last month, Customs and Border Patrol numbers for April showed U.S.-Mexico border arrests and detentions at a 20-year-high. “U.S. agents are making about 6,000 arrests and detentions along the Mexico border each day, a level of law enforcement intensity that has no recent precedent. Family groups and children needing care remain a major challenge for CBP,” per Miroff. 

Immigration is a weak spot for Biden. In April, 53 percent of adults said they disapprove of the way Biden has handled the immigration situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll

Aid to the Northern Triangle could potentially mitigate a border crisis. In March, President Biden assigned Vice President Harris a portfolio focusing on development in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. In April, Harris said the U.S. will spend $310 million to address food insecurity and support protection for vulnerable populations in the region. Last week, as she promoted their plan, the vice president said the U.S. has “the capacity to give people hope — and hope in particular in this case that if they stay, help is on the way.” 

But, as DeYoung writes, “the administration has been at odds with the governments of the three Northern Triangle states.” Sending money to the three nations “has become increasingly complicated. Early last week, Congress released a State Department-compiled list of 16 current and former senior politicians from the three Northern Triangle states that it has found to be corrupt or involved in narcotics trafficking. The list included the chief of cabinet to Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele and current and former Honduran and Guatemalan lawmakers.”

In theory, Biden’s plan to curb migration from Central America is one we have heard of time and time again. 

In 2015, the Obama administration requested $1 billion for Central America aid in its foreign aid budget proposal, a figure that would have, according to the Washington Office on Latin America, tripled assistance to the region. At least 80 percent of funds in the proposed package, WOLA explained then, were earmarked for civil institutions and economic development programs “to address the root causes underlying the violence and lack of opportunity driving migration.” The package ultimately passed after being cut to $750 million by the Republican-led Congress. 

Those funds were slow to reach the countries, in part because the State Department asked the Northern Triangle nations to certify that they had taken steps to reduce corruption and human trafficking in migration as a condition to receive the aid. For a brief moment, the investments came with some returns. As my colleague Kevin Sieff reported in 2019, U.S. officials said aid to El Salvador helped slow migration. But then came the Trump administration, which slashed economic assistance to the Northern Triangle amid a draconian “zero tolerance” immigration policy. 

The withdrawal of funds coincided with a collapse in governance in the region as Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández became a central figure in a drug trafficking investigation, and Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele began an ascent into power that has, among other things, led to a Bukele-dominated legislature that removed the nation’s attorney general and all members of the Supreme Court. According to Freedom House’s latest report on peoples’ access to political rights and civil liberties, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are all described as “partly free.”  

Already, negotiating with the Salvadoran government to address the “root causes” of migration has proven a tricky deal for the Biden administration. Last month, Bukele reacted to news that the U.S. Agency for International Development is pulling aid away from the Salvadoran government and into local civil society and human rights organizations by going on a Twitter tirade (in English and in Spanish).

I spoke with Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.), the only Central American immigrant serving in Congress, about her thoughts on the administration’s plan for the Northern Triangle. Torres, who came to the United States as a 5-year-old after her parents fled Guatemala, recently told the Los Angeles Times that she sleeps with a gun near her following online attacks and threats by supporters of El Salvador’s Bukele, whom she has criticized online for his aggressive, authoritarian tendencies. Torres told me that the U.S. has “tried and tried time and time again” with its development plans in the region, “and we have very little to show for it.”

Torres, who has been in Congress since 2015, collaborated with Biden when he was vice president on his work managing aid to the Central American region during the Obama administration. She attributed part of the momentary and mild success of the Obama administration’s plans to slow migration to Biden’s constant contact with Northern Triangle leaders. Biden, she said, would meet with these leaders “every six to eight weeks constantly” to check in. 

“That constant drumbeat is necessary,” Torres said. “Unless we get that kind of commitment” this time around, she said, “anything that we do would be a complete waste of money and effort on our part.” But now, Northern Triangle governments “have proven they are not a reliable source,” she said. “For those reasons, I think it’s important for us to look for other opportunities” to collaborate with the private sector and nonprofit organizations when investing in the region to curb migration, she said. 

Moves like pulling USAID money from the Salvadoran government and into local organizations, as well as Harris’s announcement that the Biden administration is tapping 12 companies, including Microsoft, Mastercard and Nespresso, to invest in the region, make Torres believe that, this time, the plan may stick. The key, she emphasized, is transparency.  

“These three governments need to know that, if you use tax dollars that are hard-earned by our voters, they demand from us transparency and accountability,” she told me. “We must demand that of them. I know they’re not used to providing that to their constituency, but that is what we have to provide to our constituency.”

What’s happening now

The world’s largest meat processor, JBS, was targeted by hackers. “The company said in a news release that it detected the intrusion on its computer networks in North America and Australia on Sunday, but that its backup servers were not affected. The company is working with an outside cybersecurity firm to restore its systems,” Hamza Shaban reports.

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • Anthony Fauci’s pandemic emails: ‘All is well despite some crazy people in this world,’ ” by Damian Paletta and Yasmeen Abutaleb: The Post obtained 866 pages of the leading Washington infectious disease expert's emails as part of a Freedom of Information Act request. “The correspondence from March and April 2020 opens a window to Fauci’s world during some of the most frantic days of the crisis, when the longtime [Fauci] was struggling to bring coherence to the Trump administration’s chaotic response to the virus and President Donald Trump was seeking to minimize its severity. ... The emails show that he was inundated with correspondence from colleagues, hospital administrators, foreign governments and random strangers — about 1,000 messages a day, he says at one point — writing to seek his advice, solicit his help or simply offer encouragement. 
    “The medical director of the National Football League Players Association asked Fauci for a confidential briefing on how to safely start the next NFL season. A documentary filmmaker working on a forthcoming Disney-backed biopic asked to ride along as Fauci drove to work. An adviser to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates expressed concern about Fauci’s health. And a senior House Republican told Fauci to “keep being a science truth teller” despite skepticism about the virus from other GOP lawmakers and Trump himself. ‘I was getting every single kind of question, mostly people who were a little bit confused about the mixed messages that were coming out of the White House and wanted to know what’s the real scoop,’ Fauci said in a recent interview. ‘I have a reputation that I respond to people when they ask for help, even if it takes a long time. And it’s very time consuming, but I do’ respond. ...
    “Although Fauci often accepted praise for challenging the president, the released emails do not show him directly criticizing Trump. On several occasions, the emails show Fauci and White House officials staying in close contact. Near midnight on April 11, the day before Easter, Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, emailed Fauci about some apparent crossed wires. ‘You correctly noticed the symptoms but misdiagnosed the root cause,’ Short wrote in a heavily redacted email that closes: ‘Apologies for a poor poker face.’ At the time, Trump was anxiously trying to reopen the economy despite Fauci’s reluctance. Less than 13 hours after receiving Short’s email, Fauci responded: ‘Thanks for the note. Understood. I wish you a peaceful and enjoyable day with your family.’”
  • In major rewrite of church law, Pope Francis aims for clearer penalties for sex abuse offenders,” by Chico Harlan: “The changes give church authorities — whether in the Vatican or a far-flung parish — a new template for assessing and addressing possible church violations. The changes deal specifically with church penal sanctions; other parts of canon law — the church’s vast set of ecclesiastical rules — remain unchanged. Still, those revisions alone mark the most significant rewrite of canon law in four decades, since the era of Pope John Paul II. The new laws state that clerics who abuse minors or other vulnerable people be punished with ‘deprivation from office,’ and potentially with defrocking. Previously, the church had only said such cases merit ‘just penalties,’ not excluding defrocking.”
  • Close encounters: Democrats and Republicans unified in taking UFOs seriously,” by Ashley Parker: “UFOs — also known as Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, or UAPs, in official parlance — are having their moment in politics, and a bipartisan one at that. This month, President Biden’s director of national intelligence will release a report containing everything unclassified that the U.S. government knows about UAPs as part of a provision contained in former president Donald Trump’s pandemic relief package. When the report lands, as early as Tuesday, it will do so in a moment of rare agreement across the ideological spectrum that UAPs are worthy of further study.”

… and beyond

The Biden agenda

Biden is traveling to Oklahoma today to mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. 
  • “In addition to delivering an address, Biden is scheduled to meet with living survivors of the massacre at a cultural center in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, where the violence occurred. Biden’s aides said this will mark the first time a sitting U.S. president has gone to Tulsa to commemorate the events,” John Wagner and Annie Linskey report.
  • “The massacre has gained more attention in the United States as the country grapples anew with issues of racial equity. ‘I call upon the people of the United States to commemorate the tremendous loss of life and security that occurred over those two days in 1921, to celebrate the bravery and resilience of those who survived and sought to rebuild their lives again, and commit together to eradicate systemic racism and help to rebuild communities and lives that have been destroyed by it,’ Biden said in a proclamation issued Monday.”
Ahead of the trip, Biden unveiled a set of policies intended to narrow the wealth gap between Black and White Americans. 
  • “The president [offered] a raft of policies intended to bolster homeownership and help minority small businesses and entrepreneurs, an administration official said,” Linskey reports. “They include using federal purchasing power to pump more money into minority-owned businesses and setting aside $10 billion in infrastructure funds to rebuild disadvantaged neighborhoods across the country. He also plans to shore up the Fair Housing Act in ways that will allow the agency to ‘more vigorously enforce’ the law, a senior administration official said, with the goal of increasing Black homeownership.”
Biden will meet with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) tomorrow to continue negotiations over a jobs and infrastructure package. 
  • “The planned meeting with Capito, the point person on the issue for Senate Republicans, comes as Democrats are striking a more urgent tone on negotiations,” Wagner and Amy B Wang report. “In political talk shows Sunday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said a clear direction on the plan is needed by June 7, when members of Congress will return from a week-long recess.”
  • Senate Republicans last week made a revised $928 billion counteroffer to the administration’s $2 trillion plan. 

Quote of the day

“Usually, the local paper was owned by a modestly conservative, maybe even quite conservative usually, guy,” former President Barack Obama said about how the dominance of conservative media has made it harder for Democrats to woo White working-class voters. “He’d call me in. We’d have a cup of coffee. We’d have a conversation about tax policy, or trade, or whatever else he cared about. And at the end of it, usually I could expect some sort of story in the paper saying, well, we met with Obama. He seems like an intelligent young man. We don’t agree with him on much. He’s kind of liberal for our taste, but he had some interesting ideas. ... If I went into those same places now — or if any Democratic who’s campaigning goes in those places now — almost all news is from either Fox News, Sinclair news stations, talk radio or some Facebook page. And trying to penetrate that is really difficult.”

The future of the GOP

Republicans fear Trump will lead to a “lost generation” of talent.
  • “In conversations with more than 20 lawmakers, ex-lawmakers, top advisers and aides, a common concern has emerged — that a host of national and statewide Republicans are either leaving office or may not choose to pursue it for fear that they can’t survive politically in the current GOP,” Politico’s Meredith McGraw, David Siders and Sam Stein report. “The worry, these Republicans say, is that the party is embracing personality over policy, and that it is short sighted to align with Trump.”
  • “ ‘There is a lost generation of conservatives and I think it’s because they’re forced to tie themselves to Trump,’ one Republican operative told Politico. “There was an anti-Romney backlash, anti-Bush backlash. … When you lose the presidency — whether an incumbent or challenger — the party distances themselves and that is absolutely not the case here."
Many Democrats are imploring their colleagues not to take the Trump bait. 
  • “Instead, those Democrats are eager to deploy a policy-heavy playbook to help stave off a potential midterm whipping — and are careful to avoid putting Trumpism on the ballot next November, too,” Politico’s Sarah Ferris and Melanie Zanona report.
  • “ ‘The former president is now a private citizen, and it appears our justice system is handling whatever potential misdeeds he may or may not have committed,’ said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), among roughly three dozen endangered Democrats who will need to win in order for their party to keep the House. ‘Trump is a Republican problem and a Republican cancer that they need to cut out of their party,’ she added. ‘But that’s their problem.’”

Hot on the left

Biden resumed the practice of recognizing Pride Month in a proclamation. “ ‘Pride is both a jubilant communal celebration of visibility and a personal celebration of self-worth and dignity,’ Biden said in the proclamation. ‘This Pride Month, we recognize the valuable contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals across America, and we reaffirm our commitment to standing in solidarity with LGBTQ+ Americans in their ongoing struggle against discrimination and injustice.’ In the proclamation, Biden also put in a plug for passage of the Equality Act, a far-reaching measure that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The House passed legislation in February, but it has stalled in the Senate,” Wagner reports

Hot on the right

At a Texas event with QAnon ties, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) downplayed the Jan. 6 attack. “With the slogan for QAnon — an extremist ideology that the FBI has deemed a domestic terrorism threat — shining onstage behind him, Gohmert spoke to a crowd gathered for the ‘For God & Country Patriot Roundup’ on Saturday, where he downplayed the seriousness of the January insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and criticized Democrats pushing an independent review of the deadly event,” Katie Shepherd reports. “He suggested that ‘it wasn’t just right-wing extremists’ rioting in the Capitol, even though federal officials have consistently debunked claims that leftist activists played a role in the attack. He also suggested that the insurrection shouldn’t be a serious concern because the United States has weathered worse, including foreign attacks. ‘Some of us think Pearl Harbor was the worst attack on democracy, some of us think 9/11 was the worst attack,’ he said. ‘Some of us think that those things were worse attacks on democracy.’”

Daily Beast reporter Will Sommer, who was covering the convention, shared some details: 

Concerns about the covid vaccine, visualized

Nearly half of adults in the United States who have not received a coronavirus vaccine are concerned about missing work as a result of side effects from the shot.

Today in Washington

Biden arrives in Tulsa today at 12:50 p.m. At 1:45 p.m., he, Housing Secretary Marcia Fudge, Domestic Policy adviser Susan Rice and senior adviser Cedric Richmond will tour the Greenwood Cultural Center. 

At 3:15 p.m, Biden will deliver remarks to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. 

In closing

A viral video served as a reminder that while some of us are scared of killing spiders, others are willing to punch a bear:

And John Oliver made an interesting proposition to Cheerios: