Washington Wednesday: Big stories from 2023 | WORLD
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Washington Wednesday: Big stories from 2023


WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday: Big stories from 2023

Chaos at the border, budget drama in Congress, and the Biden administration caught pressuring social media companies to silence opposing viewpoints

Migrants at the southern border Getty Images/Photo by John Moore

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 27th day of December, 2023. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. We’re down to our final few days of our crucially important December Giving Drive. This program, like all of our work at WORLD, relies on support from those who benefit from it.

So we’ve been asking you this month to give some thought to how you benefit from our work, and then try to place a dollar value on that benefit. Of course, how you work out that economic equation is very personal. We can suggest, but only you’ll know, which is why we resist the suggestion and leave it to you.

REICHARD: That’s an important point, Nick, because it’s quite possible to be unable to afford the way you value WORLD. I’d hate to wake up one day with no WORLD programming to start the day. Hard to put a value on that, because WORLD means so much to me.

And that’s why we emphasize giving from the grassroots level. If each listener and reader and viewer gave what he or she can afford as a token of that value…well, that’s what makes coming alongside one another so powerful.

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So please visit wng.org/donate having figured a dollar value that you can afford, that represents the value that you place on the work of WORLD. And, again, thank you!

It’s Washington Wednesday: year in review.

2023 was a year of first-evers, from a former president facing indictment to the removal and replacement of the Speaker of the House.

Meanwhile, Republican and Democratic candidates challenging Donald Trump and Joe Biden jumped into the race for 2024, and so far failing to win public opinion.

REICHARD: Illegal immigration continues to overwhelm the U.S. with yet another wave, the last at least 6-thousand strong setting out around Christmas Eve, the largest-single migrant caravan in more than a year.

In the first three quarters of 2023, the Customs and Border Protection agency reported over 2.5 million encounters with people illegally crossing the Southern border. That doesn’t include the ones that got away. And it’s not just people from Central and South America either: Asians, Africans, and Middle Easterners are among the long lines of people crossing the Rio Grande and requesting asylum.

EICHER: Joining us now to discuss this and other stories are Compassion beat reporter Addie Offereins, Washington Bureau reporter Leo Briceno, and World News Editor Lynde Langdon. Good morning, all.

ADDIE OFFEREINS: Good morning.

REICHARD: Addie, I’ll start with you. how has the surge of immigrants illegally crossing into the U.S. affected border states, and what are they doing to handle the crisis?

OFFEREINS: In Texas, we had border communities once again feeling overwhelmed. We saw the state erect large buoys in the middle of the Rio Grande to try to stop migrants from crossing the river illegally. That is being challenged currently by the Justice Department. We also saw the state erecting razor wire and anti-climb fences, which these policies are also getting challenged in federal court by different civil rights groups. And then most recently, Governor Abbott signed a bill that allows local and state law enforcement to apprehend illegal immigrants once they’ve crossed the border illegally. They are then taken to a local judge who can order them to leave the country and go back to Mexico, or they will be prosecuted and charged with a state misdemeanor. And once again, this policy is getting challenged in federal court as well. 

And so you have Texas trying to control the flow on their border. In Florida, we saw Governor DeSantis sign a law that went into effect in July. It’s an anti-human trafficking law that makes it a third degree felony for anyone to transport an illegal immigrant into Florida. And then in Arizona, we’ve seen some response as well from the governor there recently, and this has been in the past few weeks, there’s been a surge of illegal immigrants in remote desert areas in Arizona. And this forced US Customs and Border Protection to close down a port of entry from Mexico to Arizona so they could focus on processing these illegal immigrants. And Governor Katie Hobbs ordered National Guard troops to the area. We’ve seen lawmakers and the governor demanding the federal government to reimburse the state for the loss of trade and traffic, because the federal government is having to focus on processing these immigrants and that’s hurting these border states.

EICHER: Let’s turn to Leo Briceno, and talk about Congress. Leo … Republicans took control of the House with an idea that they’d like to return to normal … passing each of the 12 appropriations bills to fund government discretionary spending … instead of wrapping up everything into one big bill. Talk about the progress made … and where they fell short … under Speaker Mike Johnson.

LEO BRICENO: They’ve passed, the House of Representatives, has passed eight bills that deal with those kind of overarching topics, but there are still a few to go. The Senate has only passed one, the President has not signed any of them, and they will all pretty much face really stiff resistance and a democratically-controlled Senate. So if Johnson wants to somehow get away with passing the rest of them, and then having those bills actually become law, he’s got a long way to go, a road which goes through again, negotiating with the Senate and then negotiating with the White House, because virtually all of the bills that he’s passed so far include some degree of spending cuts, which Democrats object to kind of on their face. He’s made a lot of progress, in that they’ve already passed a number of these bills. But realistically, they don’t have a lot of runway before they hit their first deadline right there at the end of January. And so the skeptics of this process, are looking at Johnson, are looking at a very divided Republican majority, a very slim divided Republican majority in the House and are saying, you know, I don’t think you’re going to be able to pull this off. And many people expect Johnson to in one way or another have to spend a long term omnibus spending package, contrary to the promise that he made to Republicans when he assumed the gavel, and contrary to the policy that House Republicans have really wanted to see out of a Speaker ever since they gained the majority at the outset of 2023.

REICHARD: Ok, I have a question for all three of you…what was a story under-reported in other media that you think is important to remember going into 2024? Lynde, let’s start with you.

LYNDE LANGDON: The story that I have been fixated on actually happened on July 4th, when a judge in Louisiana ruled in a case that has to do with the federal government’s interaction with Facebook, Twitter, Google, numerous social media companies. So here’s what happened. We all kind of knew and suspected that Facebook and Twitter and other companies had been suppressing opposing views during the pandemic on things like vaccines and masking. Anyone who was questioning the official recommendations coming from the government was getting kicked off of these platforms or their posts were getting suppressed. What we learned in this case is that the Biden administration was pressuring those companies to do that suppression. The Biden administration was contacting places like Facebook and threatening them that if they did not promote the official view on the pandemic, and suppress the opposing view, that they would take away some of the protections that these companies have under law that allows them to not have to moderate content so aggressively. And so that was just really astounding, I think. 

But there were a lot of people who during that case, we’re saying, basically, I told you so, we told you that the government was behind this, and they were right and interesting, so what the judge said, as a result of that case, was he actually limited the Biden administration and specific agencies from having any contact with these social media companies. And the Biden administration appealed the ruling, essentially saying, not that they didn’t do it, but trying to justify that it was okay, that they did because it was in the best interest of the country. An appeals court heard the case and the appeals court upheld the judge’s ruling, but they narrowed the court order. Instead of just saying now that the Biden administration can’t have any contact with these companies, they’re just prohibited from any further pressure or coercion campaigns. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this particular case next, I think, but it was a real eye opener, and something that didn’t get a whole lot of media attention.

EICHER: Ok, Leo, how about you. A big political story that warrants more attention?

BRICENO: Sure. One of the things to keep your eye on in 2024 is reform for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, better known as FISA. And specifically when looking at FISA, you want to keep in mind Section 702. The long and short of it is that this very short, very powerful section basically grants the United States government the power to go after individual communications, like the stuff on your phone or on my phone, without a warrant. But it’s only ever supposed to be used for non-U.S. persons. That is to say, someone that’s not a U.S. citizen, not a U.S. resident, not a U.S. business, or someone that’s geographically outside of the United States.

Now, here’s the catch: that’s not what’s been happening. The FBI, other members of the intelligence community have been really caught red-handed, misusing this tool to investigate people who had no connection to foreign organizations and were posing no security threat really. We’re talking like campaign people, journalists, other people of interest. So Congress has really looked at that and said, you know what, we think that there needs to be some degree of reform here to make sure that that doesn’t happen going forward. And many had thought that right now was the best moment to do that. The tool, section 702 of that act, expired on December 31. But due to a punt due to an extension that Congress just passed, that issue now is something to deal with in 2024, April of 2024, actually. So we will be talking about how Republicans, how Democrats want to look at this issue. A huge bipartisan consensus that something needs to happen, and right now, Republicans have two bills for consideration on how to do that: one put forward by the Judiciary Committee in the House and one put forward by the House Intelligence Committee. And so two dueling versions of how the solution should play out and one of the things that speaker Johnson will have, at the top of his to do list starting next year will be to consolidate Republican support around one of these bills or merge the bills together.

So I know that’s extremely technical, extremely complicated, but if you’re somebody that cares about privacy, if you’re somebody that cares about security and the balance between those two, this is definitely a topic to keep your eye on in the next few months here.

REICHARD: Ok, so FISA. Alright, Addie Offereins, underreported stories on your beat?

OFFEREINS: Something I’ve been keeping an eye on on the Compassion beat is just how liberal-leaning states across the country are having to reckon with ineffective drug homelessness and immigration policies, and have been walking back some of the more traditional liberal approaches to these issues.

So we’re seeing the fruits of harm reduction approaches to overdose deaths play out in San Francisco where Governor Gavin Newsom has brought in more law enforcement and is cracking down on open air drug markets because he’s realizing the policies they’ve pursued in the past several years have been ineffective and caused the deaths of thousands of people. And we’re also seeing in western states the fruits of “housing first” approaches to homelessness, as these states are asking the Supreme Court to make it easier for them to remove homeless encampments, to clear their streets. And then we’re also seeing the fruits of just open border policies in cities like New York and Chicago self-proclaimed sanctuary cities that are reckoning with this surge of asylum seekers and are realizing that these more liberal approaches to the border are causing issues in their cities, and are asking the administration to crack down and implement more restrictions at the border.

And something else I just would always highlight as an effective compassion reporter is how are local ministries and communities doing effective compassion on the ground in their ministries? And I think it’s easy to focus on the government policy. It’s always, you know, the headlines, the big news stories, what is the government doing, what are state governments doing? But what really is changing lives is what ministries are doing, what local communities are doing to transform individual people. And so I’ve talked to some of these ministries, as I’ve reported these different stories throughout the year, and I think that’s super important to keep before us as believers that there is hope and there is transformation happening in local communities.

EICHER: Alright, last question and has to do with our ability at WORLD to cover D.C., Lynde. We opened up a D.C. bureau right next to the Supreme Court, right across the street from the Capitol, so we’re right on top of things.

Lynde, as our WORLD’s news editor, how has having that hub there changed things for the better?

LANGDON: Well, hopefully our readers and listeners have noticed an increase in the breadth and the depth of our coverage out of Washington, because our two reporters who work in the Washington Bureau are eating, sleeping and breathing Capitol Hill politics. And what I love is that this particular Bureau has really given our readers and listeners direct access into the halls of power in Washington. Leo and Carolina are staking out committee meetings, they are catching lawmakers in the hallway to ask them tough questions that other reporters aren’t asking. And it’s an exciting time to be a news editor to be editing these stories and these podcast segments that are directly asking questions to people in power that aren’t being asked by any other reporters.

REICHARD: Lynde Langdon is executive editor for news, and Leo Briceno and Addie Offereins are reporters for WORLD.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. 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 WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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