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Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden is putting Vice President Harris in charge of addressing the migrant surge at the U.S.-Mexico border, senior administration officials announced on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Just as President Obama tasked Biden with fixing the U.S. economy after he assumed office in 2009, Biden is putting his own vice president in charge of a problem threatening to overshadow the new administration's successful launch.

  • Harris will lead efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) to manage the flow of unaccompanied children and migrant families arriving at the border in numbers not seen since a surge in 2019.
  • "Starting today, the Northern Triangle nations and Mexico will know there was one senior official dedicated to this effort. To be very clear, this is an important task," a senior administration official told reporters during a conference call.
  • It was held just an hour before a White House event with Biden, Harris, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

The announcement and high-level meeting, coming the same day the White House arranged a trip for senior aides and members of Congress to South Texas, illustrated the breadth of the administration's efforts to get control of the problem.

  • Republicans say Biden is to blame for refusing to reinstate a Trump-era policy to expel unaccompanied minors, as well as more accommodating language the president's own press secretary concedes is connected to the administration's humanitarian values.

What they're saying: "President Biden said during the transition, whatever the most urgent need, he would turn to the vice president," one of the three officials briefing reporters said, "and today he is turning to the vice president."

  • The first goal will be stemming the flow of illegal migrants to the U.S.
  • In a broader context, Harris also will work on establishing a strategic partnership with the Central American countries "based on respect and shared values," another official said.
  • The work will be conducted with the understanding that "these countries are our friends and our neighbors. They are members of our shared community of the Americas and within the Western Hemisphere."

Details: One official said Harris spoke Wednesday morning with Ricardo Zúñiga, the State Department’s special envoy to the Northern Triangle.

  • Zúñiga and other top border officials left earlier this week for Mexico and planned to go on to Guatemala with the goal of addressing local problems fueling the migration north.
  • They include lax responses to the coronavirus pandemic, rampant crime, as well as the aftereffects of two hurricanes that blew through the region.
  • The Biden administration has discussed increased aid to address some of these root concerns.

The bottom line: "The people of the Northern Triangle certainly deserve to experience freedom and opportunity, and be able to access protection within the Northern Triangle," one official told reporters.

  • "They shouldn't have to come to the United States to seek that freedom and opportunity, and that's what she'll be working toward."
  • Among the items to tackle are local corruption and ways to improve local economies.

Go deeper

Heat wave grips U.S. this week from coast to coast

Computer model projection from the GFS model showing an unusually hot airmass across the western and Central U.S. on Thursday, June 29, 2021. (Weatherbell.com)

A widespread heat wave has begun across the contiguous U.S., with at least 30 million people likely to see temperatures reach or exceed 100°F by the end of the week.

Why it matters: The hot weather, which comes courtesy of another heat dome building across the Southwest, Rockies and then sliding into the western Plains, will only aggravate drought conditions and worsen many of the western wildfires.

VA first federal agency to require COVID vaccines for employees

A medical doctor gives the thumbs-up sign to a COVID-19 patient who is no longer using a respirator at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York City. Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

The Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday it would require its frontline health care workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus within the next two months, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: The VA is the first federal agency to mandate that employees receive the vaccine. The decision comes as cases of the Delta variant in the U.S. have increased dramatically.

4 hours ago - Health

Biden: Americans with long-COVID symptoms may qualify for disability resources

President Biden speaking in Arlington, Virginia, on July 23. Photo: Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Americans experiencing long-term symptoms of COVID-19 may qualify for disability resources from the federal government, President Biden announced Monday during an event to mark the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Driving the news: The departments of Justice and Health and Human Services released new guidance Monday that categorizes “long COVID" as a physical or mental impairment, entitling people with the illness to discrimination protections under the the ADA.