Opinion

Which Crisis Should We Talk About First?

Bret Stephens: Hi, Gail. Democratic mayors and governors are warning the Biden administration that the migrants crossing our southern border are straining their cities and states to the breaking point. New York City alone is sheltering and feeding an average of 59,000 migrants a day. What’s your advice to the White House?

Gail Collins: Easy stuff first, Bret. There are job openings many newcomers could fill in areas like food service, if they’re given the ability to work. And the federal government needs to give stressed-out regions — particularly New York City — a whole lot more help when it comes to housing.

Bret: I’m definitely in favor of handing out work permits, if that’s what you mean. Please go on.

Gail: Making more housing available has to include building new accommodations and transforming existing city buildings, both residential and those with unneeded office space. Over the long run, we absolutely have to open up options for multifamily housing in suburban areas that have long resisted it.

As to the border itself, Biden is trying to tighten up the whole immigration process, but a lot of his initiatives have been challenged in court. The administration has expanded federal border resources in an effort to make processing families faster. Although of course there’s still more that should be done.

OK, your turn.

Bret: Assuming the president wants to get re-elected, while preserving the possibility of immigration reform sometime in the next, oh, 100 years, he has to get control of the border. Right now. Jobs can take months to fill and housing takes years to build — not to mention that there are plenty of U.S. citizens who ought to be the administration’s first priority when it comes to affordable housing.

In the meantime, we’ve had a 30-month crisis that too many Democrats downplayed until it became a blue-state problem. Millions of people have entered the country illegally and tens of thousands in New York are now living off government assistance. Working-class people are afraid they are going to be priced out of low-paying jobs by desperate migrants.

My advice to the president: Ask for the resignation of Alejandro Mayorkas, his failed homeland security secretary. Put a highly respected former military officer, like retired Adm. William McRaven, in the job. Call up 10,000 active duty troops to help police the border. Work with Mexico to further strengthen its border with Guatemala. And invest infrastructure funds to build that damned wall. Because if Biden doesn’t get control of the border, it will become Donald Trump’s signature — and possibly winning — issue in next year’s campaign.

Gail: Ah Bret, once again you lose me at the wall. Which isn’t very useful at stopping migrants but is great as a symbol of our worst impulses — the evolution from our image as welcoming land of liberty to cranky neighbor warning the kids to stay out of his backyard.

Bret: It’s one thing when several kids come into the cranky neighbor’s backyard. It’s quite another when several million do, then raid his fridge and medicine cabinet and never want to go home.

Gail: Speaking of kids — I know this is not a terrific segue — I guess we should discuss the Hunter Biden situation.

Bret: I think of it as two situations: the first about Hunter, the second about Joe.

Regarding the first, I don’t see why the son of any president — but particularly a Democratic president who favors gun control and believes the rich should pay their taxes — should not face stiff penalties for blowing off paying his taxes and also for buying a gun while addicted to drugs.

As for the second, at a minimum I’d like to know how the president’s story went from “I’ve never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings,” to the White House’s tacit admission that Hunter would put his dad on the line when speaking to business associates, ostensibly just to make small talk but very likely as a way of selling the Biden “brand.” I’d also like to know why Biden used email aliases during his vice presidency to communicate with Hunter. The answers might well turn out to be innocent. But that’s all the more reason to respond to the questions rather than evade them.

Gail: We definitely have two different Hunter Biden issues: what punishment he deserves and how much of an impact his messy saga should have on our opinion of his father.

Bret: The father who, I should underscore, I will probably find myself voting for next year barring the miracle of a Nikki Haley or Chris Christie candidacy on the Republican line. Go on ….

Gail: As to the first, we have a guy who lied, when filling out the paperwork to buy a gun, about whether he was a drug addict. And who failed to pay all his 2017 and 2018 taxes. Hunter was going to get 24 months probation, until his plea deal collapsed.

This is a combo for which low-income folks with no friends in high places would probably get a stiffer punishment. But I am also sure that any Republican senator’s son who got in similar trouble would not in a billion years go to jail.

Do you disagree?

Bret: I’m sure you’re right — and that’s wrong in itself. But Hunter definitely deserved stiffer punishment than the wrist-slap he seemed on his way to getting before his plea bargain fell apart this summer.

Gail: On the second count, it is pretty clear that Joe Biden helped Hunter get some business cred by reminding potential clients that Dad was vice president.

Bret: Meaning that Joe could have been turning himself into a willing participant in some pretty shady business dealings in places like Ukraine, where he was supposed to be the Obama administration’s point man for fighting corruption.

Gail: Even if that’s the version of the saga voters buy, I find it extremely hard to imagine this is going to have any impact on the president’s re-election prospects. You have here a guy who lost his first wife and a daughter in a terrible car crash and his beloved older son after a long cancer battle. Don’t think most Americans will hold his attempts to aid the surviving son against him. While he’s running against a man whose family profited shamelessly from foreign business ties during the presidency.

Bret: I truly feel for the president when it comes to the tragedies in his life. And I have zero sympathy for Trump or his sleazy family. But that doesn’t change the fact that Hunter is also sleazy. And that, at a minimum, Joe shouldn’t make a habit of having Hunter constantly by his side.

Gail: I know the Republicans can’t let a day go by without howling about Hunter, but I truly don’t think the country cares.

Bret: Not sure you’re right about that. Democrats are really underestimating the impact this could have on the election. A CNN poll published last week found that 61 percent of Americans think Joe was involved in Hunter’s business dealings, and that 55 percent think he acted inappropriately regarding the investigation into Hunter. What that does is to diminish Biden’s claim to represent honesty and decency in the White House. A similar thing happened in 2016 when Democrats went after Trump on his sexual ethics, and Trump struck back by bringing Juanita Broaddrick to his second debate with Hillary Clinton, to remind the country about Bill’s sexual ethics. The risk is that undecided voters conclude that both sides are morally tainted so they may as well vote their pocketbook interests.

Gail: I just feel the only people who are going to vote against Biden because of Hunter are people who were going to vote against Biden for something anyway.

Bret: Different subject, Gail. Nancy Pelosi just announced she intends to run for re-election, when she’ll be 84. I realize she’s no longer in a leadership position, but given Mitch McConnell’s and Dianne Feinstein’s and, well, Joe Biden’s diminished capacities, wouldn’t it be better for her to retire in good health and make way for someone a little younger?

Gail: The super-important fact about Nancy Pelosi’s career decision is that she opted to give up one of the nation’s most powerful posts because she felt a younger leader could do it better.

Bret: True, and she deserves credit for that. I’d still suggest she take a look at some of her generational peers in politics, including McConnell and Feinstein, and ask herself if that’s the best way to walk off the political stage.

Gail: The nation is growing older and people need to believe that they can step aside for the next generation of leaders without totally retiring from public life. So, hey, I’m a Pelosi rooter on this front.

Bret: I’ll defer to you on this subject. And speaking of immortality, I need to put in a word for Rebecca Chace’s wonderful obituary of Edith Grossman, the great translator of Gabriel García Márquez and Miguel de Cervantes. I started reading García Márquez in Spanish as a kid — he lived just a few blocks from us on the south side of Mexico City — and then I read some of the same books in her English translations when I was a bit older. Grossman’s translations somehow managed to make him a more vivid, lucid, enchanting writer.

She wasn’t just a translator. She was an artist.

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