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Politics chat: Border legislation, Supreme Court takes up Trump ballot challenges


The saying goes, out with the old and in with the new. But there are issues in the news that will very much carry over into 2024. Some of the most pressing at the moment are at the border and what may or may not end up on the ballot. Here for more is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Good morning, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Rob.

SCHMITZ: So, Franco, as we at NPR have been reporting, authorities at the southern border are intercepting thousands of migrants a day. December crossings were at their highest in 23 years. What is the Biden administration doing about this?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, he's under a lot of pressure, including from some big-city Democratic mayors. I mean, you add to all that there's a large caravan of migrants making their way towards the U.S. Now, Biden just sent his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and other top officials to Mexico just this week to meet with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to talk about the issues and see what can be done from the other side of the border. But Lopez Obrador has his own issues and big concerns with U.S. policy himself. You know, it's all just really complicated. And Biden has limited options without more help from Congress.

SCHMITZ: You know, so that brings us to some negotiations that are now happening in the Senate. What does your reporting tell us is on the table here? Are we talking about comprehensive immigration reform or more limited measures?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, we're definitely not talking about comprehensive immigration reform, which would include some form of legalization for those here illegally. Instead, the conversations are focused on border security and making it harder to apply for asylum. And that has really raised concerns with advocates and elected Latino leaders of the Democratic Party, who are warning of political consequences for Biden. Rob, you know this part very well. The border issue is tangled in Biden's efforts to get more aid to Ukraine...


ORDOÑEZ: ...And stop Russia from threatening more of Europe, but Republicans are holding the money up for Ukraine in order to squeeze Biden into taking more dramatic steps on the U.S. border. And I was talking yesterday with Douglas Rivlin. He's a veteran of immigration battles on Capitol Hill and now works for the advocacy group America's Voice. You know, he says, Biden risks losing on both issues because Republicans have little incentive to compromise.

DOUGLAS RIVLIN: Biden is approaching this from the point of view of bipartisanism, where both sides want to solve problems. And that's just not the case right now. Republicans don't want to solve this problem. They don't want to solve the problem of funding Ukraine, and they don't want to solve the problem of people coming to the border and having no legal way of doing it. Both of those are problems they see as good for them politically.

ORDOÑEZ: And a number of Republicans have been pushing to end funding to Ukraine. And Rivlin notes that several also see the border as a way to stoke their base. And Biden has to think about his own base as well.

SCHMITZ: Yeah. I mean, it's nearly 2024. We've got an election year before us. And one of the big questions as we're about to enter this new year is, will Donald Trump literally be on the ballot?

ORDOÑEZ: Right. Maine became the second state, actually, to disqualify Trump from the ballot. Colorado, of course, was first. The Maine secretary of state, Shenna Bellows, said she had an obligation to act because of Trump's actions in that insurrection on January 6. But Republicans are pushing back, particularly the Trump campaign, calling it an attempted theft of an election. So you got Colorado. You got Maine. But then Michigan - the Michigan Supreme Court went the other way and rejected an effort to remove Trump from the state's ballot.

SCHMITZ: So we got the Michigan Supreme Court, Colorado Supreme Court. How about the U.S. Supreme Court?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. The U.S. Supreme Court is going to be thrust into all this, into a very uncomfortable role of ruling on key aspects of the presidential election. I mean, the case has already drawn comparisons to the 2000 election, when the High Court was called in to settle that election in favor of President George W. Bush over Al Gore. I mean, remember the hanging chads?

SCHMITZ: Oh, yes.

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, confidence in the Supreme Court right now is already really low. And like in that case, whatever the decision, you know, a large chunk of the population is going to be very angry and see politics at play. And, Rob, it all just adds up to the already existing tensions across the country over the rule of law, elections and democracy.

SCHMITZ: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez, who has a very big year ahead of him. Franco, thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Rob. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.