Apr 22, 2021

Tangle gets its first "bias rating."

Tangle gets its first "bias rating."

Plus, the debate over Joe Biden's refugee cap.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 10 minutes.

The debate over the Biden administration’s refugee cap. Plus, a reader writes in about Tangle getting a bias rating from AdFontesMedia.

A refugee camp on the border of Rwanda. Photo: Julien Harneis / Flickr

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Quick hits.

  1. President Biden is ramping up his focus on climate change, and is convening with world leaders virtually today to talk about tackling emissions. (The Washington Post)
  2. Facebook’s oversight board is voting soon on whether to allow former President Donald Trump back onto the platform. (Axios)
  3. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is planning to reintroduce his police reform bill from last year, and is working on garnering bipartisan support with Democrats to get the bill up for a vote. (NBC News)
  4. South Korea’s president Moon Jae-In, who helped broker peace talks with North Korea, took the unusual step of criticizing former President Trump yesterday, saying he “beat around the bush and failed” on North Korea diplomacy. (Politico)
  5. Jobless claims hit a new pandemic low this week, dropping to 547,000 claims. Last week, the total was 586,000. (The Wall Street Journal)

What D.C. is talking about.

The refugee cap. With my job announcement on Monday, and the Derek Chauvin trial on Tuesday and Wednesday, we didn’t get a chance to cover this story. So we’re going to dive in now.

On Friday of last week, President Joe Biden announced that his administration would be keeping the Trump-era refugee cap in place at 15,000. The cap for yearly refugee admittance was a record low, and something Biden had campaigned vigorously on raising. After blowback from Democratic allies and progressives, though, the Biden administration reversed course and announced the next day that it would stay committed to raising the cap from 15,000.

In February, President Biden said the cap would be raised to 62,500 by the May 15th deadline and eventually 125,000 by October, an announcement that was celebrated by progressives.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the issue had been “the subject of some confusion.” Reporting by The Washington Post and The New York Times has painted a different picture: one where President Biden was concerned about lifting the cap while also trying to grapple with the situation on the Southern border, where an influx of young migrants has overwhelmed the immigration system. The administration is now saying it will raise the cap above 15,000, but isn’t committed to raising it all the way to 62,500 by May.

In previous administrations, the refugee cap has typically remained above 70,000, with both Republican and Democratic support. President Trump repeatedly lowered the cap, and then got it to a record low during the coronavirus pandemic.

Below, we’ll take a look at some arguments about where the cap should be — and some responses from the right and left to the reversal by the Biden administration.

What the right is saying.

The right criticized Biden for the flip-flop and said the administration is floundering on immigration issues.

In The Wall Street Journal, columnist Jason Riley said “Democrats are fooling themselves on immigration.

According to the Journal, ‘the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which runs a network of child-welfare shelters to house unaccompanied minors, has exhausted its $1.3 billion budget for this year as it copes with record numbers of migrant teenagers and children.’ Quantitatively, this latest surge isn’t a blip, or something that ‘happens every year,’ which was the initial White House spin. Rather, it’s a full-blown crisis, and it finally looked as if Mr. Biden was starting to treat it that way…

“On Friday afternoon, the president announced that he was shelving plans to increase the refugee limit and would keep the Trump administration cap in place for now,” Riley said. “It’s getting harder to deny that the immigration system is overwhelmed, that resources are limited, and that quadrupling the number of refugees admitted this year would further aggravate an already dicey situation. Nevertheless, immigration activists and progressives in Congress like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar complained loudly about the administration’s decision to keep the Trump limit in place, even temporarily, and the White House soon reversed itself. On Saturday Mr. Biden said the refugee limit would be raised after all, albeit by an amount still to be determined. Score another one for the Squad.”

In The National Review, Jim Geraghty asked why Joe Biden is blocking Joe Biden from lifting the refugee cap.

“This is not a situation where Biden needs Congress to pass legislation,” Geraghty said. “He can change the refugee cap with the stroke of his pen. Biden simply hasn’t gotten around to it. CNN cites unnamed sources who say Biden has resisted signing off on raising the Trump-era refugee cap because of political optics. That may be the case, but it doesn’t reflect well for Biden to publicly pledge to do something, and then renege on that pledge, because he thinks it will be unpopular – and it’s particularly bad to renege on the promise and then refuse to explain why.

“Maybe it’s like Joe Biden’s promise to not hold children in detention centers, his promise to send out $2,000 stimulus checks, his promise to establish a national commission on policing, or to not raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000, or to punish the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, or his promise to end the use of standardized testing in schools… Maybe Joe Biden just makes a lot of promises to a lot of people that he isn’t all that committed to keeping.”

In The Washington Examiner, Naomi Lim said Biden’s immigration errors “loom large” as his 100th day approaches.

“Biden was skewered by liberal Democrats last week for seeming to walk back a campaign promise to admit more refugees. Hours later, he appeared to bow to pressure from the political Left — a top spokeswoman on Monday denied Biden caved, saying critics merely misunderstood the White House's plans,” she wrote. “On Saturday, Biden undermined some of his top officials by calling the immigration situation at the southern border a ‘crisis,’ a word his administration has aggressively avoided…. And a majority of people agree, at least those who responded to a Quinnipiac University poll published last week. The survey found 55% of the public disapproves of Biden's handling of immigration and the border. Another 29% approve, while 15% did not have an opinion.”

What the left is saying.

The left criticized Biden for not fulfilling a promise to lift the cap, and said the delay is unacceptable even if the issue is complex.

“The controversy confused and dismayed immigrant advocates who had expected Biden to take a more open-arms approach to US refugee policy, particularly after promising on the campaign trail to raise the refugee cap to 125,000 or even higher — which Psaki described Monday as more of an ‘aspirational goal,’” Nicole Narea said in Vox. “It also laid bare the practical challenges of restoring an immigration system that former President Donald Trump sought to dismantle, and revealed the enduring political power of his anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric.”

In NBC News, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Biden must keep his promise — one he keeps postponing.

“The United States’ refugee resettlement program has long been a bipartisan operation, supported in idea and practice by a deeply committed field of nonprofit organizations, including many faith-based organizations, that do the hard work of resettling and integrating refugees into the fabric of American life,” Jayapal said. “Many refugees are joining family members here in the United States; all are escaping persecution and violence. Many have assisted the United States military in their home countries during wars at great risk to their own safety. This includes wars that we started, and resettling these individuals in America is both a moral obligation and essential for our own national security. And, though some have sought to confuse the issue of refugee resettlement with unaccompanied children at the southern border, it is important to be clear that the refugee resettlement program is entirely different.

“Resettlement is managed through the Office of Refugee Resettlement in a unique public-private partnership with refugee resettlement agencies,” she added. “These organizations, who were decimated by funding cuts during the Trump administration, have been actively building up staff and preparing to welcome more refugees since President Biden’s election in November because of the promises he made about lifting Trump’s refugee caps. They all expected to start resettling the more than 100,000 refugees waiting to come to the United States — including 35,000 refugees who have already been approved for resettlement.”

The Los Angeles Times editorial board said the move was “a sore disappointment, particularly to the tens of thousands of people hoping to start news lives here in the U.S. But the political and logistical realities are hard to deny.

“The refugee resettlement system was gutted by Trump administration policies, and the sharp increase of children and families at the U.S-Mexico border has strained resources and muddied the politics,” it wrote. “In a nutshell, the non-government agencies that do the actual resettling are funded primarily by per-refugee payments from the federal government. When the Trump administration slashed annual resettlements from the Obama administration’s 2016 cap of 85,000 to 15,000, that meant the floor fell out for the resettlement programs themselves…

“To significantly increase refugee resettlements, we need a stronger and more resilient resettlement system, but to rebuild that under current rules, we need more refugees resettled,” it added. “Nevertheless, some of the resettlement organizations say they have plenty of capacity to handle more resettlements.”

My take.

I don’t think there’s much debate that this was a flip-flop, and in both cases it was Biden bowing to political pressure. He knows his poll numbers are suffering on immigration, and he knows the situation on the border is something that is animating the right and even moderate Republicans who voted for him over Trump. Reporting on how this all went down indicates Biden rebuffed his own aides to keep the Trump-era cap in place. Then, the political pressure from the left came, and Biden bowed to them too. It was one of the first real PR blunders of a presidency that, so far — whether you hate or love his policies — has been pretty disciplined.

Many progressives talk about this issue as if the United States is the Evil Empire, but the truth is basically the opposite. Up until the Trump administration, the United States led the world in refugee resettlement — and typically settled more than every other country combined. That changed in 2017, when the U.S. resettled 33,000 refugees and every other nation combined settled 69,000. Even then, though, no other single country took in more refugees than the United States did.

There are other ways to parse those numbers, obviously: the Cato Institute noted that in 2018, 49 other countries resettled a higher rate of refugees and asylum seekers than the U.S., as a percentage of total population.

All this being said: it makes me proud when the United States sticks its chest out as a welcoming, growing nation that’s a safe haven for people fleeing war-torn, impoverished or violent countries. It’s a cliché, but also true, that most of us are the descendants of immigrants who made a similar calculation. I certainly am. And I think that Biden’s long-term goal of resettling 125,000 refugees is both admirable and achievable. Our resettlement program is one of those things the government has historically managed very well, and I am certain we can “handle the load.” And because of the promises Biden made, the people running those programs have been ramping up and preparing for the increase for months.

Of course, now is a complicated time. COVID-19 is very much still a thing, which adds a difficult health care question on top of all the usual complications. Yes, there is a crisis on the border, but the refugee resettlement groups have made it clear their work is not really impacted by the administration’s efforts there — and it seems clear to me Biden linking the two was a political calculation, not a logistical one. 15,000 resettlements still strikes me as far too low, and a robust refugee program really is one of those issues that has united Democrats and Republicans for decades. It’d be great to see the cap lifted, and great to see bipartisan support around a decisive number that’s far higher than it has been for the last four years.

Blindspot report.

Tangle has very few partners because we are very careful about who we work with. But one of them is Ground News, an exceptional app and website that tracks the political bias in news reporting. I feature parts of Ground News’s “Blindspot Report” in Tangle. The Blindspot Report tells you what you were likely to miss based on your political leanings and the news feed bubble you’ve created for yourself.

If you’re on the left, you probably missed a story about how Facebook was preventing users from sharing a New York Post report on a Black Lives Matter founder who bought a multi-million dollar home.

If you’re on the right, you probably missed a story about how two transgender women were killed in separate shootings at two Charlotte hotels. (North Carolina police have issued warnings to the LGBTQ community as they continue to investigate.)

Want to check out Ground News’s bias ratings, blindspot reports or other news sources? Click here.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Not sure if you have noticed, but you have landed yourself a spot on the classic media bias chart from AdFontesMedia. They list you as slight right lean, with a “Complex Analysis or a Mix of Facts and Analysis.” What are your thoughts on this? I'm mostly just curious about what you think of landing slight right.

— David, Athens, Georgia

A screenshot of the AdFontesMedia bias chart, with Tangle circled in red.

Tangle: Honestly, I am pretty shocked by this rating. And I hadn’t seen this until you sent it in. I’m very excited AdFontesMedia has added Tangle to its chart (legitimacy!), but it has also undermined my faith in whatever metrics they are using to rate their news outlets. The idea that Tangle is more “right” than the Wall Street Journal, Independent Journal Review, or The Dispatch — three explicitly conservative outlets — is just not true. And I say that as someone who has written for IJR: that staff is clearly more conservative than Tangle’s, as is the story selection process they go through.

That being said, I’m also pretty happy. When people write in to complain about Tangle’s “bias,” about 35% of the complaints are that we are “actually conservative” and 65% are that we’re “actually closet liberals.” So this is a refreshing counterbalance to that — and something I can point to in the future. I think it also means we’re hard to peg down, which makes me especially happy. Another website that does ratings, AllSides, reached out to Tangle early on in our existence and suggested they were torn between “center” and “center-left” for our rating, so this — again — is pretty fun for me. AllSides never published their ratings for us, but it’d be awesome (in my opinion) if they put us center-left while we remained lean right on AdFontesMedia — that’s basically the best I could ask for.

Still, my goal isn’t to land anywhere specific on these charts. Nor is it to be “unbiased.” My goal is to get people out of their bubbles. I think this chart is proof the ratings (and perceived bias generally) are in the eye of the beholder. I am not shy about the fact I have my own political leanings — my emphasis is that, like many Americans, my biases exist issue by issue, and don’t fit neatly into one party or the other. Not just that, but this newsletter isn’t about my views — it’s about all the views I find and share, across the spectrum, and I’m not trying to tell you what to think or get you to land on one side or the other. There’s already enough of that in the media. I am not loyal to Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, liberals, conservatives or anyone else — I’m loyal to good ideas and to being open-minded and honest about how I actually feel. It’s gratifying when I can move my readers to my position (or vice versa!), but this newsletter isn’t about making that happen.

I will say, too, I really love our placement on the y-axis, and find it accurate. We are a “complex mix of fact reporting and analysis” and “reliable for news but high in analysis/opinion content,” right on the cusp of pure “fact reporting.” All those things are true, and intentional, so that was nice for me to see.

Where do you think we land? Take the poll and let us know:

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A story that matters.

The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is monitoring the social media activity of Americans organizing protest activity. In a leaked document obtained by Yahoo News, it appears USPIS was keeping a watchful eye on March 20th protests against coronavirus lockdowns and 5G installations. “The bulletin includes screenshots of posts about the protests from Facebook, Parler, Telegram and other social media sites. Individuals mentioned by name include one alleged Proud Boy and several others whose identifying details were included but whose posts did not appear to contain anything threatening.” News of the report has set off alarm amongst civil liberties experts. “It’s a mystery,” University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone told Yahoo. “I don’t understand why the government would go to the Postal Service for examining the internet for security issues.” (Yahoo News)


  • 700. The estimated number of Americans dying from COVID-19 every day, based on averages from the last week.
  • 3,500. The number of Americans who were dying from COVID-19 every day at the pandemic's peak.
  • 22%. The percentage of likely Democratic voters who said Andrew Yang was their first choice for New York City mayor, best among all candidates, according to a Spectrum News NY1 poll.
  • 52%. The percentage of Americans who say they know someone who is transgender, according to a new PBS News Hour/Marist poll.
  • 48%. The percentage of Americans who say they do not know someone who is transgender, according to a new PBS News Hour/Marist poll.
  • 63%. The percentage of Americans under the age of 45 who say they know someone who is transgender, according to a new PBS News Hour/Marist poll.
  • 43%. The percentage of Americans over the age of 45 who say they know someone who is transgender, according to a new PBS News Hour/Marist poll.

Don’t forget.

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Have a nice day.

In a single year, Stephen and Ayesha Curry have managed to donate more than 16 million meals to children in San Francisco. The Golden State Warriors all-star guard and his philanthropic wife have been building out their charity “Eat. Learn. Play.” for a year. Ayesha is an actress, restaurateur and author of a cookbook, and she and Steph combined their backgrounds to create a charity mind-meld. Incredibly, they’ve managed to hit the ground running with one of the most successful food drives in California history. “It’s pretty crazy,” Stephen said recently. “We’ve been able to mobilize quickly. We didn’t expect to have such an impact — we only launched a year and a half ago. But so many kids were hanging in the dark. It was alarming.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

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