I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 14 minutes.

Today, we're breaking down the new immigration executive order from President Biden. Plus, a question about Russia and allegations of genocide.

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Tomorrow: Three things I'm wrong about.

We promised this piece last week, but we had to push it out after the Trump verdict came down. So tomorrow, keep an eye out for my reflection on three "my take" sections that I think I was wrong about. In the piece, I’m going to be revisiting my take on Biden’s interview with Robert Hur, Mike Johnson as Speaker, and the Samuel Alito flag controversy.

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Quick hits.

  1. A gunman was arrested after opening fire on the U.S. embassy in Beirut. Five others were also taken into custody. (The shooting)
  2. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) indefinitely paused New York City's congestion pricing plan just weeks before it was set to go into effect. (The pause)
  3. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg argued former President Trump's gag order should stay in effect through his sentencing in a letter made public on Wednesday. (The letter
  4. Israel began an intense military operation in central Gaza, where dozens of Palestinians were reportedly killed during clashes with military combatants. (The fighting) Separately, more than a dozen pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested after barricading the Stanford University president's office. (The arrests)
  5. The Georgia Court of Appeals paused further proceedings in the 2020 election interference case against former President Trump until it decides whether to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis from the case at a hearing in October. (The decision)

Today's topic.

Biden’s new border policy. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to temporarily shut down all asylum requests at the southern U.S. border when the seven-day average of daily encounters at official ports of entry tops 2,500 per day. The measure grants authorities the power to quickly deport migrants caught crossing illegally or turn them back to Mexico, with exceptions for unaccompanied children, people who face serious medical or safety threats and victims of trafficking, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said. Since that threshold has already been met, the shutdown went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday and won’t lift until encounters fall below a daily average of 1,500

The order leverages presidential authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act sections 212(f) and 215(a), suspending entry of noncitizens who cross the southern border into the United States unlawfully. In 2018, the Trump administration tried to enact a restriction based on the same text, but was blocked by the courts. Biden’s executive action now faces similar legal challenges

At a press conference, President Biden said the move was motivated by a need to act, contrasting his motivations to those of former President Donald Trump. “This action will help us to gain control of our border, restore order to the process,” Biden said. “I will never demonize immigrants. I will never refer to immigrants as ‘poisoning the blood’ of a country. And further, I’ll never separate children from their families at the border.” 

The move comes at a time when President Biden trails former President Trump in the polls, with border security a main criticism of Biden’s administration and immigration a top issue among voters. As a result, many conservatives are skeptical of Biden’s decision, believing it to be a cynical attempt to appear to address the issue. “If it’s in line with the way he’s acted before, it’s going to be too little, too late,” said Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ).

Some Democrats defended the action, pointing the finger at Republicans for failing to accept a bipartisan border bill in February and requiring the president to act unilaterally. 

“President Biden has been clear from the beginning he prefers legislation, but given how obstinate Republicans have become — turning down any real opportunity for strong border legislation — the president is left with little choice but to act on his own,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said.

Other Democrats reacted differently. Members of the party’s progressive wing criticized the move, with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-MN), Chair of the Progressive Caucus, saying she was “profoundly, profoundly disappointed” in the executive order, calling it a “step in the wrong direction.”

We get into what the right and left think about the executive order below, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right is critical of the order, suggesting it won’t address the root causes of the border crisis.
  • Some say Biden is trying to create the appearance of being tough on the border without actually doing anything.
  • Others say Biden neglected this problem until it was too late.

National Review’s editors said “Biden is blowing smoke on the border.”

“In January, President Joe Biden pretended to throw up his hands at the border crisis he had created by undoing all of Donald Trump’s executive orders and the Remain in Mexico policy. ‘I’ve done all I can do, just give me the power,’ he then claimed, while trying to get Congress to sign a bill that would further entrench the disorder and abuse of asylum claims his policies initiated,” the editors wrote. “It turns out there is something more Joe Biden can do: He can blow more smoke through the use of executive orders, in a desperate attempt to hide the mess his administration created.”

“The claim is that the new executive order will impel administration officials to close the border once the seven-day average of illegal entries hits 2,500 per day. But there are many loopholes that allow the administration to avoid this and continue to admit bogus asylum seekers at a rate of over a million per year. The executive order would not address the 1,500 migrants per day who use the CBP One app at ports of entry. It doesn’t affect the tens of thousands of migrants a month who fly directly to the United States and are ‘paroled’ into the country,” the editors said. “What the Biden administration has done consistently is propose rules that allow them to wave in more immigrants but advertise the new guidelines as border-control measures.”

In Townhall, Guy Benson called the order “an insulting sham.”

“Biden and his team manifestly do not care about the crisis itself, as evidenced by their policies and behavior over the last three-plus years. They do, however, care about their re-election crisis — and a wide swath of polling demonstrates that immigration and the border is both a top concern for voters, and a very bad issue set for the incumbent,” Benson said. “When attacking Republicans didn't do the trick, Biden and company magically re-discovered power levers they'd frequently told Americans he couldn't access.”

“Because the administration is setting a border 'shut down' threshold, at least on paper, they are conceding that the border can be shut down. They have the ability to do it. They just have not,” Benson added. “After ten million illegal crossings, two million known got-aways, numerous deaths and other serious crimes, untold human misery, billions flowing into the cartels' coffers, and hundreds of suspected terrorists getting caught at the border (it's unknowable how many highly dangerous illegal immigrants were among the population of got-aways), this president has absolutely no regrets about his decisions to reflexively cancel successful immigration policies because they were associated with his predecessor.”

In The Washington Post, George F. Will wrote “the too-little-too-late president strikes again.”

“Regarding border security, as when combating inflation or aiding Ukraine, Biden is a too-little-too-late president. Presidents from both parties have become geysers of executive orders, imposing tariffs, essentially banning internal combustion vehicles, forgiving student debts, altering the legal status of millions of immigrants, etc. What fun,” Will said. “Until it isn’t. Until the public, taught by presidential highhandedness that presidents can do whatever they please, blames them for whatever problems persist. This is both unfair and richly deserved.

“Today’s Congress, which has been well-described as cable television’s largest green room, escapes blame for the immigration disaster because the public, fixated on the presidency, knows that, for Congress, governance is a spectator sport,” Will wrote. “In five months, Biden, who is too busy ‘saving democracy’ to attend to mundane matters of public order, might find that the immigration inundation is the most politically lethal of his multiplying failures.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left is also critical of the order, arguing that Biden’s immigration priorities are misguided. 
  • Some note that many of Biden’s border policies now mirror Trump’s.
  • Others say that Biden is doing what he can on an issue that he can’t solve alone.

In The New York Times, Andrea R. Flores said “to win on immigration, Biden must move the debate beyond the border.”

“Mr. Biden may think that shutting the border to asylum seekers will improve his standing with voters. But he is falling into the trap of believing that the only way to counter Republican criticism and appeal to voters for whom immigration is a top concern is to restrict asylum even further,” Flores wrote. “Though there’s little to be done now about this recycled immigration policy, Mr. Biden has a moral obligation to use his legal authority to protect the communities he promised to defend four years ago while on the campaign trail. That would be a smart political move.”

“Our nation’s immigration challenges transcend the border. The president can set himself apart by taking a more holistic approach. To do so, he can enact policies that benefit immigrants and Americans alike,” Flores said. “Biden could use his executive power to shield immigrants from deportation and allow them to work legally. Even temporary protections of this kind could have a profound effect on people’s lives.… Biden could also extend Temporary Protected Status to more people, which he has already done for some immigrants to great success. Under the law, Mr. Biden has the discretion and power to give temporary legal status to people fleeing their homes because of natural disasters and conflict.”

In CNN, Raul Reyes wrote “Biden is taking a page out of Trump’s immigration playbook.”

“It’s easy to see why the president felt he needed to act: Biden has faced intense pressure from conservative Republicans — as well as some moderate Democrats — to take action on immigration,” Reyes said. “But make no mistake: This executive order is a step backwards. The plan is unlikely to have much of an impact solving our border crisis, and runs the risk of alienating some of Biden’s political allies.”

“It’s ironic that Biden, who once denounced many of Trump’s immigration measures, now embraces them… With his new executive order, Biden is again contradicting his stated principles. In 2019, Biden said, ‘The idea that a country of 330 million people cannot absorb people who are in desperate need and who are justifiably fleeing oppression is absolutely bizarre,’” Reyes wrote. “How unfortunate that the same president who championed the rights of asylum-seekers seems to be willing to toss aside their legal and human rights so easily… On a broader level, Biden’s action is disappointing because it plays to misguided fears that asylum-seekers and migrants are a threat to the most powerful nation in the world.”

In New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore asked “is Biden’s border crackdown too much, too late?”

“Despite significant recent drops in border crossings, the cap is below what we’ve seen lately (about 3,700 per day). But the reaction to this new policy indicates that Biden may be in danger of falling between two stools, as has arguably been the case with his policies toward Israel’s war in Gaza,” Kilgore said. “So is Biden’s action simultaneously draconian but too tardy to matter? Is it too much, too late? That’s hard to say… It’s unlikely that voters for whom immigration is a decisive issue are going to be satisfied with a cap on migrant border crossings unaccompanied by more general restrictions on immigration and/or deportation of undocumented people.

“No matter what Biden does, he will never be able to compete with Trump as a professed border guardian, unless he’s willing to take steps that really would create a revolt among Democrats. But what this step and others might do is reduce the saliency of the ‘border crisis’ and thus allow voters to focus on subjects more congenial to the president, Kilgore wrote. “Making the best of a bad situation may be the most Democrats can hope for on immigration, an issue that in living memory used to help them more than it hurt them.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • This order will do more good than bad, but it’s too late, too reactive, and probably illegal.
  • Biden needs to lead on this issue, and he should start by doing something about our totally broken asylum process.
  • I see three good options for how to move forward, but the strategy that includes this executive order is my least favorite of them.

First, let's just stipulate (because somehow this is still necessary) that we are, in fact, seeing unprecedented levels of migration and border encounters. Here is a chart I tweeted out from the Wall Street Journal showing numbers from the last three administrations. You can see that under former Presidents Obama and Trump, the numbers were almost always just under 500,000 per year (the next-highest in that timespan is actually Trump's third year in office, 2019).

In 2021, 2022 and 2023, these numbers have exploded. And 2024’s numbers are on track to be even higher.

We are in a really bizarre situation. Biden just spent months telling voters that without the immigration bill voted down in the House earlier this year (or Congress more broadly), there was nothing more he could do to address the migrant crisis at the border. Now, his administration is championing precisely the kind of action he could have taken a year ago to address the border crisis, proving that there were things he could do to address the border. But also — and this is where it gets bizarre — this action is probably going to be struck down by the courts, which will prove Biden's original point: That he needs Congress to do anything really meaningful on the border.

In addressing the problem, I think this executive order is going to do more good than bad. But it isn’t exactly “good:” It’s likely to get struck down by the courts, has come too late, and is transparently Biden responding to voters being upset about immigration, not him leading on the issue. 

Some elements of this crisis I don't blame exclusively on Biden. President Trump didn’t face this kind of crisis; I’m positive that his policies served as a deterrent to would-be migrants, but he also served mostly in a pre-Covid era, and the global rebound from Covid has created a different (and unique) migration situation. The largest motivating factor for migrants is that the economies of the U.S. and other Western countries have recovered from Covid comparatively well when contrasted with the Global South — that imbalance almost always induces high levels of migration north.

To me, this executive order reveals what really should be a debate about our broken asylum system. More than anything else, we have an incentive problem: If you cross the border illegally, promptly turn yourself in and then request asylum, you won’t be turned away because you have not broken any asylum laws. Instead, you'll get into the U.S. faster than you would have if you went to a legal port of entry and requested asylum, which is exactly why so many migrants cross illegally.

The other problem with our system is that the people who cross illegally to request asylum effectively get what they want, at least temporarily: They often get to stay in the U.S., they can seek out work, and the simple fact of being here offers a modicum of safety to those with genuine asylum claims.

Of course, most of the people claiming asylum don’t actually get it. Once their hearings come around  — often after months or years — asylum seekers who don't qualify get deported. This motivates some to skip their hearings, or simply work here for a couple of years and quietly return home after.

There are a few ways to solve this problem. The first option is the piecemeal way Biden is going about it, acting through small-scale executive orders to address the issue in aggregate. This recent executive order provides one more piece: Use executive authority to reduce the number of people who can cross illegally per day, then start deporting or rejecting people, even if they are making asylum claims. The cap is simple, applying to all migrants regardless of their need but inevitably turning away a bunch of people who have legitimate asylum claims. That is an obvious issue with a cap, but it would help because it reduces the inflow, allow the system to catch up, and reduce the strain on our resources to manage migrants.

Biden has added some other small pieces, too, like rolling out the CBP One app to try to funnel migrants through legal immigration channels and requiring more migrants to show proof they applied for asylum in the countries they passed through. However, those actions have not done nearly enough to resolve the backlog of several million asylum cases we currently have (in fact, CBP One users are exempt from this most recent order). 

Here’s option two: Make the system for taking in migrants more robust by adding more personnel to quickly and efficiently suss out who is abusing the system and who has a genuine asylum claim. This approach could involve deputizing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Asylum Corps officers to act as the immigration court, then beefing up the number of those officers and their training. It would also mean increasing staffing for the actual immigration courts to more quickly reject or deport those without legitimate claims and welcome legitimate asylum seekers. In other words: We could get a grip on our immigration system while also upholding an altruistic vision of our country as a refuge for those seeking a better life, all while creating a deterrent for anyone thinking about abusing the system.

Option three is to amend U.S. asylum law. Like the second option, this requires Congress, but the idea is just as simple: We could disallow asylum applications from people who cross the border illegally, and make sure anyone here illegally can't apply for a status to withhold their deportation once they get here (which is another loophole in the system). This could be done without the asylum cap in Biden’s executive order, and as a piece of legislation would survive court challenges and new administrations. The major downside is it would be a violation of the U.N.’s 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, an international law protecting asylum seekers who cross illegally that we have long adhered to.

Option two is my preferred solution, and the one favored by many organizations who take a more restrictive stance on immigration. I prefer the second option because it can work while upholding some of our higher values, but I also like the third option because it would substantially relieve some of the pressure on our overly strained system. Right now, we’re getting the first option. That may help temporarily, but it’s not a real long-term solution, it’s come too late, and it’s probably illegal. Which, for what it’s worth, is basically a description of all of our immigration reform efforts (or lack thereof) for the last 20 years. 

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Your questions, answered.

Q: Regarding the wars in Ukraine and in Israel, why does Russia get a free pass committing genocide and Israel not? Russia has been bombing hospitals, theaters, shopping centers, apartment complexes, etc. from the beginning — before Israel was attacked.

I see no logic or rationale. If genocide is against the rules, it should especially apply to Russia as the aggressor.

— Doug from Wichita, KS

Tangle: This is an interesting question to me, but probably not for the reason you’d think. 

I was recently invited to give a TED talk (and we hope to have video of that soon!) about bias in media. I decided to focus on language choices, and how the words that we choose often do more to signal our membership in a political tribe than to communicate an idea to another person. One of my recommendations to improve our political communication was to make sure we agree on the definitions of the terms we’re using. I don’t think there’s a term used in political debate today that has a less-agreed upon definition than “genocide.”

So, before answering your question, I think there are other questions we have to answer, starting with “What do we mean by genocide?” And that’s where I thought this question was really interesting, because it looks like you’re using it to mean ‘the killing of a large number of civilians.’ This is clarifying, and I think other people have been using this definition of genocide too.

But that’s not what the word means. And I don’t want to excuse or dismiss the killing of innocent civilians as morally acceptable; in fact, I’ve been very insistent in Tangle that civilian deaths in Gaza and in Ukraine and wherever else they occur are unacceptable tragedies — completely terrible. But just because some actions are one terrible thing doesn’t make them another terrible thing.

Genocide, since the term’s creation in 1948, is defined as the targetted killing, in whole or in part, of a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. In World War II, the killing of 6 million Jews by the Germans fell under that definition. However, Germany killed over 13 million Russian civilians during World War II, and we don’t call that a genocide. We usually say those civilian deaths (and others from the two world wars) were part of “total war,” and would now call bombings of civilian centers war crimes. To me, some of what we’re seeing from Russians or Israelis constitute war crimes, but I wouldn’t call either genocidal. 

Some experts agree with me on that, but others disagree. And regarding Russia, it too has been formally accused of genocide. The kernel of disagreement on Israel is over whether the IDF is or isn’t making a sufficient effort to prevent civilian deaths and if statements from some members of Israeli government qualify as genocidal intent. I would say that those kinds of statements are absent in Russian leadership, but at the same time, Russian leaders have been claiming Ukrainians are ethnic Russians — an attempt to erase them in a different way, and a perspective that complicates the genocide allegations even further.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

In recent months, President Biden has struggled to remember key details in meetings, raising concerns his mental acuity is slipping, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal. The Journal interviewed 45 people over several months who either participated in meetings with Biden or were briefed on them; most who questioned Biden’s performance were Republicans, but some Democrats also expressed concerns. Examples included meetings where Biden spoke so softly that it was difficult to hear him, extended pauses in the middle of discussions, and instances where he forgot key details about his own policies. After the article was published, several Democrats who went on record for the story said they were not quoted and their perspectives were not represented in the piece, accusing The Journal of presenting a skewed impression of Biden’s mental state. The Journal’s piece is here, and a summary of the pushback from Democrats is here.


  • 405,036. U.S. border patrol’s total encounters with people unlawfully attempting to enter the U.S. in fiscal year 2020. 
  • 1,662,167. U.S. border patrol’s total encounters in fiscal year 2021.
  • 26%. The recidivism rate (the percentage of individuals apprehended more than one time by the Border Patrol within a fiscal year) in fiscal year 2020, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
  • 27%. The recidivism rate in fiscal year 2021.
  • 54%. The percent decrease in apprehensions at the border between December 2023 and May 2024, according to CBS News.  
  • 68%. The percentage of likely voters who say immigration will affect how they vote, according to a May 2024 poll by the University of South Florida. 
  • 77%. The percentage of likely voters who support increasing the number of Border Patrol agents on the U.S. southern border.
  • 47% and 30%. The percentage of U.S. voters who say they trust Donald Trump and Joe Biden, respectively, on handling immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a May 2024 ABC News/Ipsos poll.
  • 46%. The percentage of U.S. voters who say undocumented immigration is a problem in their community.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we wrote about the Pride Month controversy.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday’s newsletter was the ad for the AquaVault charger in the free version (discount with code ‘TANGLE’ at checkout).
  • Nothing to do with politics: On the 80th anniversary of D-Day, a standing ovation in France for the veterans of the allied forces.
  • Yesterday’s survey: 1,587 readers answered our survey on Fauci’s job performance during the pandemic with 23% mostly approving. “Our societal response to the pandemic was HORRIBLE. Making any one person like Fauci a god head with supposedly all the answers is not entirely his fault, but he never shied away from it either,” one respondent said.

Have a nice day.

In honor of the 80th anniversary of the allied forces landing on the beaches in Normandy, France is paying respects to the few living veterans of the Western allied forces in a week-long commemoration that started on Monday. Among those honored was Jake Larson, a 101-year-old American best known on social media under the name Papa Jake. “I’m lucky to be alive, more than lucky. I had planned D-Day. And everybody else that was in there with me is gone,’’ said Larson, who now lives in Lafayette, California. “Here I am 101, without an ache or a pain in my body. How is that possible? Somebody up there likes me.” Spectrum News has the story, and you can find Papa Jake on Instagram here.

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