You don’t have to have a steel-trap memory to recall when favoring a travel ban was a potential sign of xenophobia.
Things are different now, given both the annus horribilis we’ve endured. When President Joe Biden announced his administration was effectively banning travel from India starting midnight on Tuesday, no one was particularly surprised.
According to India’s Business Today, Canada, France and the U.K. are among the other nations that have banned travel to the country as COVID cases mount.
“On the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the administration will restrict travel from India starting immediately,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced on Friday, according to Axios.
Earlier in the week, the U.S. State Department called for all American citizens to leave the country.
#India: Access to medical care is severely limited due to COVID-19 cases. U.S. citizens wishing to depart should use available commercial options now. Daily direct flights to the US and flights via Paris and Frankfurt are available. https://t.co/p5a3v5ws9y pic.twitter.com/LqHhCiZVEg
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) April 28, 2021
The decision was pretty much a no-brainer. India has done a wretched job of managing COVID-19 and the so-called “double mutant” strain that’s appeared in the country — which contains two mutations found separately in two different COVID variants, according to the BBC — is a worrying development.
The issue is the fact that, a year and change ago, then-candidate Biden was dithering about whether to support travel bans and insinuating then-President Donald Trump was xenophobic for implementing them.
Joe Biden vs. Joe Biden pic.twitter.com/3qsX4ooBU5
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) April 30, 2021
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) April 30, 2021
Let’s go back to 2020, because it helps to remember what candidate Biden said about Trump, when he said it and why his plausible deniability excuse isn’t entirely plausible.
According to a timeline from The Washington Post, the first reports that the Trump administration was considering a travel ban to and from China hit the media on Jan. 28, 2020. On Jan. 31, 2020, at a quarter to one in the afternoon, news of the ban was leaked and at 3:54, the ban was announced.
Biden took the stage in Iowa at 4:06 p.m. for a campaign event. “You know we have right now a crisis with the coronavirus, emanating from China,” he told the crowd. “The national emergency and worldwide alerts. The American people need to have a president who they can trust what he says about it. That he is going to act rationally about it. In moments like this, this is where the credibility of a president is most needed, as he explains what we should and should not do. This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysterical xenophobia and fear-mongering to lead the way instead of science.”
“Biden never explicitly mentions the travel ban, and it’s unclear if he knew it had been announced. His staff insists that his ‘hysterical xenophobia’ comment referred to Trump’s response to the Ebola virus and other actions, such as the travel bans on Muslim-majority countries,” chief Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler wrote. “But the timing of his remarks certainly is associated with the Trump administration announcement.”
Even Kessler’s rather credulous write-up regarding the remarks concedes a definite coincidence in the timing. By the time Biden tweeted this on Feb. 1, 2020, however, he was well appraised of the travel ban:
We are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus. We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering. He is the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health emergency.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) February 1, 2020
On March 12, 2020, when Trump banned travel from most of Europe, Biden explicitly mentioned the travel ban in his tweeted remarks:
A wall will not stop the coronavirus.
Banning all travel from Europe — or any other part of the world — will not stop it.
This disease could impact every nation and any person on the planet — and we need a plan to combat it.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) March 13, 2020
On March 18, 2020, Trump tweeted this: “I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the ‘borders’ from China — against the wishes of almost all. Many lives were saved. The Fake News new narrative is disgraceful & false!”
This was Biden’s response:
Stop the xenophobic fear-mongering. Be honest. Take responsibility. Do your job. https://t.co/nQ5aLVrpyb
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) March 18, 2020
Biden’s staff insisted this was all about Trump’s use of the controversial term “China virus” in his remarks. However, it wasn’t until a week later on March 25 that Biden’s campaign officially lent their support to travel bans.
“Vice President Biden was stressing the enormity of the coronavirus threat and the urgent need for a comprehensive response strategy grounded in science and strong government coordination,” campaign spokesman Andrew Bates told The Post.
“Meanwhile, Donald Trump was disregarding warnings from medical and intelligence experts about the virus. The vice president has decried Trump’s xenophobia for years, and was saying that it shouldn’t influence the U.S. approach to this outbreak. This was not in reference to coronavirus travel restrictions. Travel restrictions, when supported by science, advocated by public health officials, and backed by a full strategy can be warranted. Travel restrictions can buy time; but here, the time they bought for preparation was squandered when Trump used it to downplay, rather than ready the country for, the disease.”
By the time Biden’s campaign officially expressed support for travel bans, it was clear to everyone aside from the most Panglossian of optimists that travel bans were prudent, necessary and would be long-lasting.
here are no plaudits to be had for backing them nearly two months after the Trump administration started instituting them.
As for the contortions Biden’s campaign underwent to prove their candidate wasn’t talking about travel bans when he called Trump xenophobic, there’s deniability there, but to call it plausible is quite the stretch.
The excuse that the line about Trump’s xenophobia merely happened to get trotted out every time the administration announced or talked about restrictions that Biden just coincidentally hadn’t taken a position on beggars credibility.
It seems a whole more likely Biden was hedging his bets on travel bans, extracting the maximum amount of mileage by trying to convince voters they were motivated by Trump’s bigotry while still allowing himself space to extricate himself from that position if it turned out to be every bit as much of a car wreck as it was.
Thirteen months after Biden finally got around to embracing travel bans, nobody thinks it was particularly xenophobic for the president to ban travel to India. Then again, no one’s going to give the former administration credit for instituting bans on travel to China and Europe at the same time our current president refused to take a public position on the matter, either — least of all Biden.
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