The Biden administration has taken the Orwellian position that the largest surge in migration in two decades is not to be described as a crisis. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

DRIVING THE DAY

Whenever people in power start to police how the press describes an issue of major public concern one those in power are charged with fixing we should be at our most skeptical.

For the Biden administration, the semantic battle du jour is whether to use the word crisis to describe the thousands of migrants streaming to the southern border during a still-raging pandemic. Its not that President JOE BIDEN is allergic to the word: Most of his policies are designed to address crises, which is often the purpose of government.

Climate change? Definitely a crisis, according to the president. Covid-19? Ditto. Among the other crises were up against, according to Biden or administration officials, are an economic crisis, a growing housing crisis, an ongoing public health crisis of gun violence, a caregiving crisis, a global refugee crisis and, a bit farther afield, a deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia.

Its hard to quibble with any of these uses of the term. When presidents talk about a crisis it usually just means a really bad situation that they want to fix.

Which is why its puzzling that the Biden administration has taken the Orwellian position that the largest surge in migration in two decades is not to be described as a crisis. DHS Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS insisted this week it was merely a challenge and a difficult situation.

Press secretary JEN PSAKIslipped up Thursday and used the C-word before she was called on it by a reporter and corrected herself.

The reason for the linguistic dance is that the border crisis sorry! interferes with what has until now been an enormously effective strategy for Biden: staying laser-focused on the two crises he was elected to solve. Its not that Biden isnt doing anything about the surge. Its just not part of the White House messaging on a week he wanted to talk about shots in arms and checks in pockets causes that are far more popular than anything he could do on immigration.

Further evidence: While Democrats in the House spent Thursday passing two major immigration bills that would put Dreamers and many undocumented farmworkers on a path to U.S. citizenship, Biden gave a speech on his 100 million shot goal. He never mentioned the impending votes on the two historic immigration bills. (He did tweet about the legislation, and he put out statements after the bills passed.)

The GOP wants nothing more than to talk about immigration. The border issue is dominating Fox News right now. Congressional Republicans have given up their failed messaging on the Covid relief bill and turned their full attention to the border crisis (judging by Fox chyrons, the right is quite fond of the word). Ex-Trump officials are accusing the Biden transition of scoffing at their advice.

They were warned about [the migrant surge] repeatedly, a former senior Trump official told Playbook. The Biden transition ignored those warnings and thats why you had a situation where you had a rush of migrants.

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But its not just the GOP.

Immigration advocates on the Hill tell us theyre getting increasingly frustrated that Biden and the White House havent moved fast enough to address the needs of migrants. Part of their concern is that downplaying the situation as a challenge and not crisis makes solving it less urgent.

Some House Democrats are stewing over the fact that Biden isnt using military bases or other emergency shelters to help process people quickly in the United States. Theyre giving the White House time to fix the policy, but if the situation continues, expect them to go public with their criticisms.

Thats not to say these Democrats arent encouraged by several Biden moves on immigration. They cheered back on Feb. 2 when Biden implemented a new asylum system. You can read that executive order here.

In it, Biden explains how his new policy can help solve the humanitarian crisis at our border. Oops.

Happy Friday. Got a news tip? A document to share? Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

WATCH: Is there really a crisis on the southern border? The ongoing debate over using the word crisis when describing the southern border has resurfaced the decades-old problem for Democrats and Republicans. TARA and EUGENE debate the importance of semantics when talking about the southern border. They also provide commentary on an awkward exchange during RYAN and TARAS interview with Rep. LEE ZELDIN (R-N.Y.) during a live Playbook event.

IN THE DARK Biden administration lacks a system for tracking Covid at the southern border,by Erin Banco and Sabrina Rodríguez: The Biden administration has outsourced most Covid-19 testing and quarantining for migrants to local health agencies and nongovernmental organizations. But its unclear how many have been tested for the virus, how many have tested positive and where infected people are being isolated along the border, four of the senior administration officials told POLITICO.

Senior officials said although they do not possess the raw testing and case data, they believe the percent of migrants who have tested positive for Covid-19 is significantly less than the positivity rates in the states they have crossed into. But the disjointed federal response has limited the Biden administrations ability to understand the scope of the Covid-19 situation along the border and its capacity to contain potential outbreaks in packed detention facilities, officials said. Uncontained, those hot spots could also spread into the wider U.S. population.

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BIDENS FRIDAY The president will receive the Presidents Daily Brief at 10 a.m. At 10:45 a.m., the president will depart for Joint Base Andrews en route to Atlanta. At 12:45 p.m., Air Force One is scheduled to arrive at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, and will depart at 1:30 p.m. for DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, where it is scheduled to arrive at 1:45 p.m. Biden and VP KAMALA HARRIS will visit the CDC at 2:15 p.m.

At 3:35 p.m., Biden and Harris will meet with Georgia Asian American leaders at Emory University, where the president will deliver remarks at 4:40 p.m. The president and VP will depart Atlanta at 7:10 p.m., and are scheduled to arrive back to Joint Base Andrews at 9:45 p.m. From there, Biden will head to Camp David.

Harris will depart D.C. separately Friday morning en route to Atlanta at 9:50 a.m.

The White House Covid-19 response team and public health officials will hold a press briefing at 12:30 p.m. Principal deputy press secretary KARINE JEAN-PIERRE will gaggle on Air Force One on the way to Atlanta.

THE HOUSE will meet at 9 a.m. THE SENATE is not in session.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION, SUBSCRIBE TO THE RECAST: Power dynamics are shifting in Washington, and more people are demanding a seat at the table, insisting that all politics is personal and not all policy is equitable. The Recast is a new twice-weekly newsletter that breaks down how race and identity are recasting politics, policy and power in America. Get fresh insights, scoops and dispatches on this crucial intersection from across the country, and hear from new voices that challenge business as usual. Dont miss out on this new newsletter, SUBSCRIBE NOW. Thank you to our sponsor, Intel.

PLAYBOOK READS

PHOTO OF THE DAY: VP Kamala Harris swears in Deb Haaland as Interior secretary Thursday, making her the first-ever Native American Cabinet secretary. | Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

THE WHITE HOUSE

IN THE AFTERMATH Biden reaches out to Asian Americans after killings but many remain frustrated by lack of representation, WaPo: President Biden has refocused his trip to Georgia on Friday so he can meet with Asian American leaders about violence against their community. He has ordered flags flown at half-staff after the shooting that killed six Atlanta-area women of Asian descent. His administration is backing a bill that allows the Justice Department to review coronavirus-related hate crimes.

But the flurry of activity comes as the massacre at three spas that left eight people dead is raising new questions about whether Biden has enough people of Asian descent on his staff to fully understand the needs and struggles of the more than 21 million Americans with Asian ancestry.

Foreigners in their own country: Asian Americans at State Department confront discrimination,by Ryan Heath

A CASE WORTH PAYING ATTENTION TO Same-sex spouse fights government denial of death benefits in test for Biden administration, WaPo: For more than a decade, Patricia Rolfingsmeyer and Tina Sammons lived as a committed couple even when the states where they resided did not recognize their same-sex union. They wore matching diamond wedding bands, bought a house together and declared at a private ceremony, It may not be legal out there, but it is in here.

When the laws began to change around the country, the pair drove from their home in Pennsylvania to Maryland, where they were officially married in 2013. Less than three months later, Sammons, an Air Force veteran and longtime U.S. Postal Service employee, died of metastatic breast cancer. Rolfingsmeyer, now 71, is challenging the federal governments denial of employee death benefits because it was not legally or practically possible for her to obtain a marriage certificate in her home state in the nine months before the death of her partner of 16 years.

The Biden administration, considered an ally of the LGBTQ community, is deciding whether to continue defending in court the Trump administrations position backing the Office of Personnel Managements refusal to pay Rolfingsmeyer.

CONGRESS

SWALWELL STAYS House scuttles GOP attempt to boot Swalwell from intel panel,AP: The House has dismissed a Republican attempt to remove California Rep. Eric Swalwell from the House intelligence panel over his contact more than six years ago with a suspected Chinese spy who targeted politicians in the United States. Democrats scuttled the effort from House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, 218-200, after he forced a vote. His resolution against Swalwell cited information, first reported by Axios, that the suspected spy, Christine Fang, came into contact with Swalwells campaign as he was first running for Congress in 2012. She also participated in fundraising for his 2014 campaign and helped place an intern in his office, the report said.

FRIDAY LISTEN RYAN spoke to Sen. BRIAN SCHATZ (D-Hawaii) about the American Rescue Plan, the fate of the filibuster and more in the latest episode of Nerdcast. Listen and subscribe

AMERICA AND THE WORLD

TENSION IN THE AIR U.S., China spar in first face-to-face meeting under Biden, AP: In unusually pointed public remarks for a staid diplomatic meeting, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi took aim at each others countrys policies at the start of two days of talks in Alaska. The contentious tone of their public comments suggested the private discussions would be even more rocky.

The meetings in Anchorage were a new test in increasingly troubled relations between the two countries, which are at odds over a range of issues from trade to human rights in Tibet, Hong Kong and Chinas western Xinjiang region, as well as over Taiwan, Chinas assertiveness in the South China Sea and the coronavirus pandemic.

CBS News correspondent CHRISTINA RUFFINI continued to film the meeting from her phone as U.S. television cameras were ushered out of the room and captured a moment of unscripted tension. Watch the clip

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PANDEMIC

DR. PAUL VS. DR. FAUCI I totally disagree with you, Fauci tells GOP senator in fiery exchange over masks,CNBC: In a fiery exchange during a Senate hearing examining the nations coronavirus response efforts, Paul told Fauci that Americans shouldnt have to wear masks after getting vaccinated because there is virtually 0% chance they are going to get Covid-19.

Isnt it just theater? the Kentucky junior senator, an ophthalmologist, asked during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing. Can I just state for the record that masks are not theater, Fauci said. I totally disagree with you.

POLITICS ROUNDUP

A GOOD PRIMER FOR THE UNINITIATED The Trailer: Explaining the California recall,by WaPos David Weigel

REPUBLICAN ON THE RISE Ron DeSantis Is Very Pleased With Himself,by Michael Kruse in POLITICO Magazine: All successful politicians tell stories most favorable to their electoral aims, but this one surprised me. A year ago, after all, at the outset of the pandemic, the name Ron DeSantis had reached the stature of some dark meme, derided as DuhSantis, DeathSantis and DeSatan. …

Now, though, its a year into the pandemicand the apocalypse has yet to arrive. Its been, no doubt, a wrenching year. Approximately 2 million Floridians have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 32,000 have died, the disbursement of unemployment benefits has been stingy and uneven, the vaccine rollout has been pockmarked by tales of lengthy waits, balky websites and numerous charges of socioeconomic inequities and political favoritism. Ominous variants lurk.

But Florida has fared no worse, and in some ways better, than many other statesincluding its big-state peers. DeSantis, in other words, has a case to make, and in his characteristically odd, methodical, practically mechanical way, he is making it.

MEDIAWATCH

ON SECOND THOUGHT Teen Vogues New Top Editor Out After Backlash Over Old Racist Tweets, The Daily Beast: Shortly after publication of this story, McCammond posted a statement to Twitter: My past tweets have overshadowed the work Ive done to highlight the people and issues that I care about and so Condé Nast and I have decided to part ways, she wrote.

And in an email to staff from Stan Duncan, forwarded by Condé Nast to The Daily Beast, the companys chief people officer wrote that After speaking with Alexi this morning, we agreed that it was best to part ways, so as to not overshadow the important work happening at Teen Vogue.

RUSHS REPLACEMENT Dan Bongino says Biden is boring and a disaster for talk radio but that hell do his best against him anyway, Insider: [Bongino] said in an interview with Insider that his job has changed dramatically since President Donald Trumps term ended and the Biden presidency began. Biden, not only do I think is a terrible president in these last few months, its just terrible for talk radio.

TRUMP CARDS

SOMETHING ABOUT MARY Mary Trump has her next actand believes her uncle’s guilty of sedition,by Meridith McGraw: Mary Trump, a ferocious critic of the uncle shes called cruel and traitorous, is joining the board of LPAC, an organization that supports LGBTQ+ women candidates running for office. And shes doing so, she says, partially driven by the belief that her uncle nearly destroyed Americas democratic system of governance.

Trump, who worked with LPAC before the election, was asked to join the group as it works to recruit candidates for office and raise funds ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. In this political moment, she said, she hopes to use her name and platform to move away from what has been one of the worst administrations in this countrys history on almost every level.

TV TONIGHT PBS Washington Week, guest-moderated by Rachel Scott: Dan Balz, Laura Barrón-López, Weijia Jiang and Jacob Soboroff.

SUNDAY SO FAR

  • This Week: DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) Jonathan Karl and Matt Gutman.
  • Face the Nation: Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) Scott Gottlieb Moncef Slaoui.
  • State of the Union: DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) Reps. Young Kim (R-Calif.) and Michelle Steel (R-Calif.).
  • Fox News Sunday: DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). Panel: Guy Benson, Catherine Lucey and Charles Lane. Power Player: Mike Winkelmann.
  • Meet the Press:Panel: Julia Ainsley, Eddie Glaude Jr., Peggy Noonan and Jon Ralston.
  • Full Court Press: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.).
  • The Sunday Show: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) Donna Edwards Holly McCormack DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
  • Inside Politics: Mesa, Ariz., Mayor John Giles Kaitlan Collins and Perry Bacon.

TUNE IN TO GLOBAL TRANSLATIONS: Our Global Translations podcast, presented by Citi, examines the long-term costs of the short-term thinking that drives many political and business decisions. The world has long been beset by big problems that defy political boundaries, and these issues have exploded over the past year amid a global pandemic. This podcast helps to identify and understand the impediments to smart policymaking. Subscribe and start listening today.

PLAYBOOKERS

THE LIFE OF CHASTEN A New Kind of Political Spouse Arrives in Washington, NYT: As Pete Buttigieg settled in as the secretary of transportation in the Biden administration, the other Mr. Buttigieg sourced items from Facebook Marketplace to furnish their one-bedroom Capitol Hill apartment. The accouterments included a lamp since the couple had been eating Chinese food on the floor in the dark. The lamp seller kept marveling over how normal the newcomer seemed to be, which made Mr. Buttigieg wonder what, exactly, passed for normal in Washington.

Along with Doug Emhoff, the second gentleman, Mr. Buttigieg is now part of a growing club of Washington newcomers married to people who have broken barriers surrounding gender, race and sexual orientation in politics. Dan Mulhern, who is married to Jennifer Granholm, Mr. Bidens new secretary of energy and the first woman to be elected governor of Michigan, is another member.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK Helen Kalla is now deputy comms director at the DCCC. She previously was rapid response director at the DSCC.

Sahar Robertson is joining MoveOn as chief comms officer. She most recently has been a senior adviser to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and is an SEIU and Obama White House and campaign alum.

TRANSITIONS Erin Collins will be director of public relations at Platform Communications. She previously was comms director for Rep. Troy Balderson (R-Ohio), and is an NRCC alum. Bonyen Lee-Gilmore is starting as VP of strategy and comms at Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. She previously was director of state media at Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD Lukas McGowan, senior adviser in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, and Katharine Blake McGowan, a writer and adjunct professor whose first book, The Uninnocent: Notes on Violence and Mercy, will be published in November, welcomed Cora Yeats McGowan on March 10. She came in at 7 lbs, 10 oz, and joins big brother Augie. Pic

Tony Samp, senior policy adviser at DLA Piper and a Martin Heinrich alum, and Scarlet Samp, who works for Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) and is a Dean Heller alum, welcomed Carson Samp on March 12. He came in at 6 lbs, 9 oz and 20 inches. Pic

HAPPY BIRTHDAY:Jill AbramsonEd RollinsZach Parkinson, RNC research director Lynda Bird Johnson Robb (77) POLITICOs Betsy Barrows and Blake LoftinKayla Cook, chief of staff at Axios Carla Frank of the White House former Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), now Aurora mayor Alexander TrowbridgeKia BaskervilleAnatole Jenkins ABCs Van Scott and Pierre Thomas KPMGs Ian HainlineAnnie Policastro, VP of federal government affairs at UPS Ali Chartan, VP at Signal Group Tara Dawson McGuinnessTrey Hardin, founding principal of War Room Strategies Julien Rashid of the Global Health Technologies Coalition CBS Emma Gottlieb WaPos Sarah Pulliam BaileySeth RogovoyT. Christian Miller, senior investigative reporter at ProPublica Mary Streett … Drew Marrs, director at Norfolk Southern … Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno Alissa KrinskyJose Borjon, senior policy adviser at Akin Gump … John Gossel Leah Schaefer of Senate Environment and Natural Resources (24) Liz Plank

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected]. Playbook couldnt happen without our editor Mike Zapler and producers Allie Bice, Eli Okun and Garrett Ross.

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