Plus, the huge response to yesterday's piece.

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: 11 minutes.

Today, we're breaking down the news that President Biden is going to start constructing border wall. Plus, the (huge) response to yesterday's piece and a reader question about the House Speaker.

Thank you.

Yesterday's post drove a massive response. It is being widely circulated on X/Twitter, my inbox is overwhelmed, I’m getting tweeted at by Elon Musk and Chris Anderson (the president of TED Talks), and our comments section is jam-packed. There was a lot of thoughtful criticism, high praise, and — yes — some harsh words. I'm combing through everything and responding to everyone I can, and I’ve already started to put together Friday's edition of reader responses. Here are a few samples that represent the range of reactions:

  • "Well done. You capture a terrible and complicated situation with intelligence and heart.  I will personally underwrite any subscription that is canceled because of this piece."
  • "I found this 'my take' to be the best thing you've ever written in Tangle. The last few paragraphs, especially, brought me almost to tears."
  • "As always, parts of this I love and parts of this I find incredibly problematic."
  • "What can I say? Despite your time in Israel, you are either ill-informed or ideologically blinkered."
  • "The hate you must have for yourself is enormous... You should never be welcome in a Jewish community again."

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Quick hits.

  1. President Biden confirmed that at least 14 American citizens were among the dead, and some more are hostages captured in Israel (The announcement). Separately, the German-Israeli woman who was seen being driven through Gaza in a pick-up truck is reportedly alive and hospitalized. (The update)
  2. More than 260,000 Gazans have fled their homes, some trying to escape to Egypt, as Israeli forces launch new rounds of airstrikes which have killed at least 1,055 Palestinians. At least 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed during the Hamas attack. (The latest)
  3. Caroline Ellison, the former CEO of the cryptocurrency hedge fund Alameda Research, testified against Sam Bankman-Fried in court yesterday, saying she was a key participant in Bankman-Fried’s scam of using customer deposits on the crypto exchange FTX to pad Alameda's balance sheet. (The testimony)
  4. Rep. George Santos (R-NY) is facing 10 new federal charges including wire fraud, falsification of records, aggravated identity theft, and conspiracy. (The charges)
  5. House Republicans held a closed-door debate on their next candidate for Speaker and will start a GOP conference vote on Wednesday. (The race)

Today's topic.

Biden's border wall. Last week, the Biden administration said that it was waiving 26 federal laws in South Texas to allow new border wall construction. The move is Biden’s first use of executive power to pave the way for more barriers along the border, something that was a common tactic during the Trump administration. In September, the border patrol reported apprehending over 200,000 people, including a record-shattering 50,000 migrants from Venezuela. 

The Department of Homeland Security announced plans to build the wall in Starr County in South Texas, a county that has a population of about 66,000 people and has seen high levels of unauthorized migrants crossing into the U.S. The Border Patrol has recorded roughly 245,000 illegal entries in the area during this fiscal year alone.

A growing surge of migrants that has now overwhelmed border towns and even some northern cities like Chicago and New York is forcing the administration's hand. Biden’s executive action is a major reversal from his campaign pledge not to build a single new foot of border wall. He plans to use funding from a 2019 congressional appropriation for the wall, and had to waive the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act to allow for its construction. The wall is expected to add roughly 20 miles of existing border barrier to the area.

Democrats, immigrant rights groups, and environmental groups condemned the announcement.

“A border wall is a 14th century solution to a 21st century problem. It will not bolster border security in Starr County,” Representative Henry Cuellar (D-TX) said in a statement. “I continue to stand against the wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars on an ineffective border wall.”

Laiken Jordahl, a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, called it "a horrific step backwards for the borderlands," noting that it would "stop wildlife migrations dead in their tracks" and "destroy a huge amount of wildlife refuge land."

Meanwhile, many Republicans criticized Biden for taking so long to give the border proper attention, and said he only approved construction because blue cities began to face the reality of what is happening on the border.

Former President Trump oversaw the construction of about 450 miles of border wall in the southwest during his term. Building more wall in Starr County will also require incursions onto privately owned land, which has drawn criticism from some local residents.

The Biden administration has defended the move, saying the money for the wall construction was already allocated by Congress. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said there is an "acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border."

Today, we're going to share some views from the left and right, then my take.


There is a surprising amount of agreement on this issue, at least in the sense that many pundits on the left and right criticize the decision as a "political stunt." While Republicans view it as a move that is more symbolic than effective, Democrats argue that Biden is trying to appease immigration restrictionists.

What the right is saying.

  • The right criticizes the move as an empty political act. 
  • Some argue Biden is trying — and failing — to maintain credibility with his base while also appearing tough on immigration.
  • Others say the segment of wall is too limited in scope and will have no meaningful effect on the migrant crisis. 

In National Review, Andrew C. McCarthy said “Biden is lying about the border wall.”

The Biden administration is “feeling the heat from blue-state and big-city Democrats on whom it had never dawned that preening as a ‘sanctuary’ would require, you know, actually providing sanctuary,” McCarthy wrote. “It is that political reality, and nothing else, that has forced Biden’s grudging concession to the need for border-wall construction. Naturally, reality is not welcomed by the Democrats’ transnational-progressive base, which does not believe the United States should have borders or be a nation, and which is used to having its way with our senescent chief executive.”

“The Left is in revolt over Biden’s sudden conversion to border-wall construction. So, as is wont to happen on those rare occasions when reality intrudes on utopia, Biden is lying. While seeking credit from the country at large for building some (but not nearly enough) border barrier, Biden is telling his base that he had no choice,” McCarthy said. “Biden has been cornered into half-hearted border-wall construction not by the Congress whose laws he habitually flouts but by his 55 percent disapproval rating heading into the 2024 election campaign. So he poses toward the right as a born-again border cop and toward the left as a victim whose heart is still in the right place. And Biden being Biden, no one believes a word he says."

The New York Post editorial board called the move “just another deceptive stunt.”

“Make no mistake: Team Biden wanted word to go out that it’s ‘building a wall.’ News of Mayorkas’ obscure filing broke too fast for it to be otherwise. The brain trust noticed that the president’s polls on this issue are deep underwater, while big-city mayors, and the liberal governors of Democratic-run states like New York, Illinois and Massachusetts, are screaming. So it ordered a stunt, a move that’s entirely about setting up a talking point: We’re doing everything we can! Even building some wall,” the board wrote. 

“Yet this wall is destined for one small area: Starr County, Texas. It won’t change anything on the other 1,900-plus miles of the border. Not for tiny, overwhelmed Eagle Pass or swamped El Paso — let alone Arizona’s border towns. More important, it doesn’t change the Biden ‘wave them in’ policy: Potential illegal migrants know (because they hear it from those who’ve already come across) that they’ve got an [excellent] chance of being let in,” the board said. That won’t change until they hear “that it’s not worth it, you’ll just get turned away. The Biden administration has yet to lift a finger to make that happen.”

In the Wall Street Journal, Jason L. Riley wrote that Biden is learning Trump supporters “aren’t the only voters who care about illegal immigration.”

“This is tacit acknowledgment from Democrats that we’re dealing mainly with economic migrants in search of a better life and not refugees fleeing persecution back home, which is how liberals and the media have been framing the crisis. Mr. Biden has spent much of his presidency contrasting himself with his immediate predecessor, especially when it comes to immigration policy. How it must have pained him to go back on his pledge in 2020 that ‘there will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration.’”

“Biden is fully aware that building another 20 miles of border wall will do practically nothing,” Riley said. “Immigrants don’t respond to suggestions as well as they respond to incentives. Wall or no wall, so long as the administration allows people to enter the U.S. illegally and stay, we can expect them to keep coming illegally. The president may not care about border integrity, but he does care about being re-elected. That means he must at least make a show of doing something about a problem that has worsened demonstrably on his watch and could jeopardize his shot at a second term.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left is also opposed to the move, arguing that it’s a serious political mistake for Biden. 
  • Some say a border wall won’t address any of the underlying problems with the U.S. immigration system that are causing the current crisis.
  • Others suggest that the decision could cost Biden support from Latino voters in the 2024 election. 

In New York Magazine, Eric Levitz outlined why “a wall won’t keep Biden’s border problem at bay.”

“Given the rapidly growing political backlash to this year’s influx of asylum seekers, it is hard not to suspect that Biden’s action is a willful attempt to improve his electoral prospects. If it is a political tactic, however, then it’s a dumb one,” Levitz said. “Building a wall on one small stretch of America’s nearly 2,000-mile southern border will do essentially nothing to stem the tide of illegal entries, let alone to resolve the bottlenecks plaguing our nation’s processing of lawful asylum seekers. If the aim is merely to project toughness on illegal immigration for messaging purposes, Biden’s insistence that he actually opposes the border wall undercuts that gambit.

“In truth, the president has no great options for redressing the genuine political and substantive challenges posed by the asylum crisis. Since the expiration of Title 42, an emergency authority that enabled the federal government to summarily turn back asylum seekers on public-health grounds, the White House has embraced a carrot-and-stick approach to regulating migration. On the one hand, Biden has made it safer and easier for asylum seekers from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to press their claims through orderly, legal processes… On the other hand, the administration has made it much harder for migrants who cross the border illegally to advance asylum claims.”

In MSNBC, Julio Ricardo Varela suggested Biden’s “heel turn” on the border wall “could make some Latino voters question their support for his re-election.”

“Despite vowing to be the opposite of Trump on immigration, Biden has been a lot more like his predecessor than he and his Democratic supporters want to admit,” Varela said. “From the looks of it, the Biden re-election campaign, led by Julie Chávez Rodríguez, a granddaughter of the late labor leader César Chávez, is banking on running two campaigns — one that is more Republican on the issue of immigration, and another one that is more Democratic in its attempts to cater to Latinos.”

“The Biden campaign needs to understand how disconnected its outreach strategy is with its policy decisions. Polling from last month showed that the majority of Latino voters in key swing state districts want more extensions of legal protections and status for unauthorized immigrants, not just straight border security talk. Once again, Democrats are running the risk of taking Latino voters for granted. If Latino voters want to stop getting played, then there needs to be more unity in criticizing Biden’s immigration policy and holding him accountable.”

In Newsweek, Raul A. Reyes said “Biden adopting Trump's wall is cynical, hypocritical, and a total betrayal of his values.” 

“To put this in the plainest language possible, Biden is now building the border wall. But he is pursuing a plan that is logistically and politically unsound, and it represents a major reversal from the President, who was once committed to undoing as many of Trump's immigration measures as possible. It will not help secure our border in any meaningful way—and could actually endanger the lives of migrants,” Reyes wrote.

“There is no doubt that the situation at the southern border has become a crisis… But building more walls is not the solution. Just ask candidate Joe Biden. In 2020, he promised that ‘not another foot’ of the wall would be built if he were elected. Shortly after he took office in 2021, Biden released a proclamation that said building a wall on the southern border is ‘a waste of money that diverts attention from genuine threats to our homeland security.’ He was as right then as he is wrong now.”

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 isn't going to earn Biden any political points from anyone.
  • Nor will it meaningfully help solve the border crisis.
  • It is a stereotypically hollow "I am doing something" move that won't make anyone happy.

There are two worthwhile lenses to view this decision through. One is through its politics — why now, and how will it be received? The other is through its policy implications — what will the tangible impact of this be?

Politically, Biden was in a lose-lose spot, and I don’t think this changes that. The border crisis is being felt by more than just border towns now, and the friendly fire from Democrats means Biden has to at least look like he's "doing something" to address what is happening. There are simply too many people coming in, and now being sent to cities up north, for all of our humanitarian resources to handle them properly.

At the same time, the issues on the border are fodder for Biden's detractors — Republicans who want more immigration restriction and independents who want to see tangible results from his policies. Biden doesn’t have any legislative options unless Congress can come together and pass immigration reform (and in case you haven’t noticed, the House is currently paralyzed), so executive action is basically all that is available to him.

To Republicans and independents and Democratic detractors, Biden will say, "look, we are doing everything we can." To progressives and liberals who abhor the idea of a wall, Biden will say "this money was appropriated, we had no choice."

A lose-lose, a bad option due to dysfunction, empty posturing… Welcome to Washington.

Far more important than this move’s optics are its practical implications as a piece of policy, and in that regard I think it is effectively worthless. I've long opposed spending money on a massive, 2,000-mile border wall like the one Trump proposed — not just because it requires the government stealing swathes of privately owned land from American citizens or destroying millions of acres of the wild and rural southwest border towns that I love, but also because our money can be better spent elsewhere. Smaller sections of barrier have long been part of our border policies, and there are places where they make sense (especially rural spots that are tough for border patrol or technologies to monitor).

Starr County doesn’t seem like one of those places, though. And I feel like I'm screaming into the void at this point, but: This administration apprehending millions of migrants isn't a sign of a porous border. It's the sign of an overwhelmed one. 

Relatedly, here are a few points I'll keep reiterating. The main issue for our overwhelmed border isn’t drugs. The vast majority of the drugs coming into the U.S. and killing Americans in astonishing numbers come through legal ports of entry. It’s also not ‘illegal immigrants.’ The migrants who are coming here illegally are mostly being found and apprehended — many simply give themselves up. Our issue is not being unable to control the border in the sense that we can't spot and apprehend migrants coming through, it's that, after we do apprehend them, we simply can't do anything with this many people. We don't have the infrastructure to properly house or care for them. We don't have enough judges, lawyers, and officials to adjudicate their asylum claims and decide whether to deport them or allow them to stay here legally. And if we do make a decision, we don't have the resources to deport, incarcerate, or keep track of them if (and often when) we let them go.

Every dollar we put into the construction of physical wall would be far better spent on solutions to logistical problems.

If we genuinely want to increase the security of our border, we should increase the technologies and resources we know are good at spotting crossers: Hiring more border agents, expanding surveillance, and creating more checkpoints. That would actually help. 20 miles of wall in an already well monitored area with plenty of citizens on the ground will only change crossing locations (nobody is going to travel thousands of miles from Venezuela and turn around because of a 20-foot fence, even if it’s 20 miles long). It isn't going to stop or meaningfully change the flow of migration, and it's going to do harm to a lot of local people along the way.

Of course, one potentially helpful policy outcome here might be that the construction of the border wall — if properly publicized — sends a signal to would-be migrants about this administration's evolving posture toward immigration. It is very possible that could temporarily cause a downturn in the numbers, but I sincerely doubt it would have any meaningful impact.

As has been true for decades now, any really meaningful border reform will come from the president acting in concert with Congress. For Biden, using an executive action to build a bit of wall is a political loser — he's getting credit from nobody and criticism from everyone — and a policy nothingburger.

Your questions, answered.

Q: I get that the Speaker of the House is the leader in the House of Representatives, but I don't really know what that means, and I feel like I’m supposed to know. What does the Speaker actually do?

— Anonymous from Tokyo, Japan

Tangle: Something you can find pretty quickly is that the Speaker of the House presides over floor debates, oversees accounting and procurement for the chamber, and collaborates with the House Rules Committee to set processes. They are also the next in line for the presidency after the vice president, and serve as the de facto leader of the majority party in the House — though not necessarily by rule. As we can see in real time right now, the entire chamber votes for the Speaker, and the candidates do not even need to be members of the House.

Perhaps the most important role of the Speaker is to ‘set the legislative agenda’ — that is, help decide what bills come up for a vote and the order that they come up. Unlike in the Senate, the House does not have a filibuster rule, meaning that a simple majority can pass a bill in the lower chamber. A Speaker therefore does not have to work across the aisle just to have debates, which then means that an effective Speaker knows how to align the priorities of the hundreds of representatives in the majority party and brings bills to the floor for debate that they can agree as a bloc to pass.

So, a Speaker spends much of their time talking to members of their party (and, occasionally, working across the aisle). In more recent years, we've seen leaders in Congress collaborate to create legislation behind closed doors, then try to lobby their respective caucuses to support those bills. That means talking not just to members of the House, but also Senate leaders to know what bills can pass Congress; the President to align priorities; and fundraisers, PACs, and organizers everywhere to help support members of their party. 

In short: the Speaker does a lot of talking, on the House floor and behind closed doors.

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.

Texas is scaling up its efforts to bus migrants from the southern border to major U.S. cities, hoping to distribute some of their burden while also making the issue politically relevant for cities further into the U.S. interior. More than 50,000 migrants have already been bussed from Texas to major U.S. cities, which is creating or exacerbating housing crises in some areas while also increasing pressure from Democratic leaders on President Biden to take federal action on immigration. Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., Denver, and Los Angeles are now all seeing migrants arrive on the buses. Biden has responded by announcing a new section of border wall (today's story) and resuming deportation flights of Venezuelan migrants. Axios has the story.


  • 52%. The percentage of registered voters who view Donald Trump as better able to handle immigration and border security policy compared to President Biden, according to an October poll from Marquette Law School. 
  • 28%. The percentage of registered voters who view Biden as better able to handle immigration and border security policy compared to Trump. 
  • 2,206,039. The number of U.S. CPB encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico southwest land border in 2023 as of August. 
  • 2,151,397. The number of U.S. CPB encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico southwest land border over the same period in 2022. 
  • 1,542,685. The number of U.S. CPB encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico southwest land border over the same period in 2021. 
  • 11%. The percentage of CPB’s overall encounters along the Southwest border in August that involved individuals who had at least one prior encounter in the previous 12 months.
  • 23%. The percentage of repeat encounters (out of overall encounters) in April 2023, the last month in which the Title 42 Public Health Order was fully in place.
  • 263,000. The approximate number of individuals who have scheduled immigration appointments using the CBP One mobile app since the service was launched in January 2023.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we wrote about OPEC's production cuts.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was Jesse Singal’s piece on how not defending Hamas is a very low bar to clear.
  • Against Hamas: An even 1,000 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking whether Israelis or Palestinians are more sympathetic, with 48% of respondents saying they view both or neither as more sympathetic. 36% said Israel is more sympathetic, 14% said Palestine, and 3% were unsure or had no opinion. "Israeli and Palestinian citizens have my sympathies. Hamas, no," one respondent said.
  • Welcome to Tangle: We've gained about a thousand new readers, thanks to a large social media response to our piece on Israel and Palestine yesterday. If you're new, please jump in! Feel free to write in with questions, become a paid subscriber if you want to support our work, provide feedback and criticism instead of unsubscribing, and respond to our polls (below)!
  • Nothing to do with politics: Signs of the season: The leaves turn colors, and the pumpkins turn to boats.
  • Take the poll. What do you think of Biden's new border wall construction? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Carla Thompson got a second chance to graduate high school at age 41, thanks to a Washington, D.C., charter school focused on educating students of all ages who dropped out of high school. She came to the Goodwill Excel Center Adult Charter High School after one of her four children, ages 9 to 21, began asking about the point of finishing high school instead of dropping out and getting a job. “My 14-year-old is questioning that part,” she said. “I can’t be a hypocrite and say, ‘You have to,’ and I don’t have it.” Excel is the only adult charter in the district that awards a real high school diploma rather than a GED, and after seven years in operation, it boasts about 500 graduates. It does all this with the same level of funding that other D.C. charter high schools get: about $16,000-21,000 per student. Chelsea Kirk, the school’s executive director, credits the school’s success with its “curated” approach. “People know your name, know your story — and then your coach is your main person,” Kirk said. Reasons to be Cheerful has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.