Sep 7, 2021 - Podcasts

Biden's autumn roadblocks

It’s been a turbulent political summer, most recently with the Texas abortion ban that dominated headlines last week. As summer ends, a host of crises are placing roadblocks before President Biden and his agenda for the fall.

  • Plus, Afghan refugees are at the mercy of an overwhelmed immigration system.
  • And, the new growth of organized labor in the U.S.

Guests: Axios' Mike Allen, Stef Kight, and Dan Primack.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Michael Hanf. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Tuesday, September 7th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. It’s great to be back with you. Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: Afghan refugees at the mercy of an overwhelmed immigration system. Plus, the new growth of organized labor in the U.S. But first, today’s One Big Thing: Mike Allen on the roadblocks before President we head into fall.

It’s been a turbulent political summer, most recently with the Texas abortion ban that dominated the headlines last week. Now that summer's over, everyone is back from vacation, including me, and back to work and school. And so I'm wondering as we look towards the fall, what is next...No better to ask that than Axios co-founder Mike Allen. Good morning, Mike.

MIKE ALLEN: Niala, welcome back.

NIALA: Thank you. Mike, it's the first week of Fall. What does the agenda look like for President Biden in this first week back to work?

MIKE: I have not had so many different tracks playing as we started to fall in all the time that I've been doing this. So look at what we've got. Like at home, massive time for the Biden agenda... Finishing out the summer, Senator Joe Manchin said, oh, by the way, let’s, uh, hit pause on that $3.5 trillion dollars, uh, that you queued up, uh, to rewire, uh, The American Safety Net, uh, might be less than that, so that is going on. An extremely solemn week, of course, the 20th anniversary of 9/11. We'll be hearing about that all week. And then Saturday, President Biden, The First Lady traveling to all three of the sites for that day, like a very emotional, uh, trip and moment. And this is what I mean about so many tracks. Early in the week, President Biden is going to be in Queens and New Jersey today after Ida. And New Orleans still doesn't have electricity. It's more than leaders have dealt with ever. And I have not said one word Niala... What's that word? Afghanistan.

NIALA: Mike, so much of what we've talked about, it seems like with the Biden presidency is what President Biden has on his agenda versus what keeps happening in the world. How much of-how much are we going to see that interplay this week in particular?

MIKE: Yeah, Niala, President Biden, who had been on a roll. Things had been going pretty well for him. His agenda had been on track. The economy, jobs were on track. COVID vaccinations were on track. Now all those individually are at risk and now you have the backdrop of a massive international crisis with questions about how his administration handled it. These of course are all interlinked. They all depend on his attention, his competence, his popularity, his muscle, and that's the drama for this fall.

NIALA: What's the bottom line here then?

MIKE: The bottom line: President Biden has more at risk at home and abroad than ever. Americans are watching just as we head into the midterms of 2022. Republicans out there, of course, are going to do him no favors.

NIALA: Axios co-founder Mike Allen. Thank you, Mike.

MIKE: Niala, usually I say have the best week... Hard to do it after that recitation, but I wish you the best for the fall.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with deepening problems for the U.S. immigration system.


Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. The U.S. immigration system was already overwhelmed and that's before thousands of Afghan refugees entered the system. Now the crisis is making the existing bottlenecks in the system even worse. Axios’ political reporter Stef Kight is here to explain how. Hey Stef, good morning.

STEF KIGHT: Good morning, Niala.

NIALA: Can you tell us what President Biden is facing now as Afghan refugees try to relocate to the U.S.?

STEF: We're seeing a surge at the U.S.-Mexico border - that's lasted for months which is unusual. There’s also backlogs that have always existed in the system when it comes to paperwork and getting visas out. So then on top of that, we have Afghans trying to come to the U.S. Whether they're seeking refugee status or trying to go through the special immigrant visa process, both take a really long time and time isn't exactly what we've had when it comes to quickly getting Afghans out of Afghanistan.

NIALA: And Stef when we talk about Afghan refugees, part of that group also includes unaccompanied minors?

STEF: Yeah, we've heard so far that there are dozens of unaccompanied kids who are Afghans, who have been brought into the U.S. That number is obviously changing. So we don't know the latest number, but the last we heard is that it was dozens of them who are already in the U.S. And a lot of them will go through the same process as unaccompanied kids who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. So they'll be placed in shelters that are overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services. And we've seen the complications that come with that: about one in five migrant kids have been testing positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks, according to sources I spoke to. And I've also recently reported that HHS has lost contact with about one in three migrant kids that they released to parents or other people who are in the U.S.

NIALA: What is the Biden administration doing to try to alleviate all of this pressure on a system that was already overwhelmed?

STEF: We've heard about them working on, for example, regulations that would make the asylum process quicker by changing up the way that asylum applications are processed at the border. They've also worked to speed up the special immigrant visa process, which is the process that a lot of Afghans who help the U.S. military would have to go to. They set up dozens of shelters whether it's for unaccompanied kids or for Afghans. So we're seeing them respond to these emergencies, but it doesn't, it doesn't give them as much time to really fix the longer term issues. One thing is the backlogs in visas, looking at the way we hand out visas, should there be other categories? Some of those bigger questions, that the administration has pushed legislation on, but oftentimes they can't really fix the issues on their own. And It really does fall on Congress.

NIALA: Axios’ political reporter, Stef Kight. Thanks Stef.

STEF: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: I’m working from New York City all this week -- including yesterday, Labor Day, where the very first Labor Day march was held in 1882 -- as the American labor movement was growing strong - with the creation of unions, banning child labor, and the 8-hour work day. Of course - Fast forward to today, and we are normally talking about the decline of organized labor. But now, union membership among the American workforce is at its highest point in five years - about 11%. Axios’ business editor Dan Primack has been reporting on this. Dan, why is this percentage going up?

DAN PRIMACK: Union membership did go down last year. It just didn't go down by nearly as much as regular jobs went down. So it's now a bigger percentage of the workforce than it was before the pandemic, basically because unions protected more jobs than non-unionized jobs.

NIALA: What kind of impact do you think this could have on the labor force as we think about efforts to unionize gig workers or other parts of the economy?

DAN: This really right now, say, 2021, 2022, really is a major inflection point for organized labor. Which as you said earlier, has been declined for a long time. In part because it hasn't done a terribly good job adjusting to the new realities of work, right? Labor unions are very much kind of manufacturing-focused, some service work, but not so much, as you say, gig workers, Starbucks workers, warehouse, Amazon workers, et cetera. And there have been these efforts recently to try to get these new types of work unionized. There hasn't been much success yet, but if you're going to do it, this is kind of the moment. And you are seeing a real push, including from unions, like the Teamsters, trying to push it.

NIALA: Dan Primack is Axio’s business editor and writes the Pro Rata newsletter. Thanks for being with us, Dan.

DAN: Thank you.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! Thanks so much to Margaret Talev, Hope King and Erica Pandey for filling in for me while I enjoyed a wonderful - and relaxing - vacation these past two weeks. And big thanks to all of YOU who got in touch while I was out! The Axios Today team is in New York all this week, as I mentioned. And we’ll have some special coverage ahead of the 9/11 anniversary coming up this weekend. Sept. 11, 2001 was actually the beginning of my journalism career - I was in Washington, D.C. And I was wondering if you’re reflecting back on 9/11, this week, too? Tell us how: text me a voice memo, including your name and location: (202) 918-4893. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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