Then-top Biden aide Susan Rice would privately slam fellow Cabinet member Xavier Becerra as a “b—h a–’’ and “idiot’’ over the migrant crisis — yet another sign of a White House in turmoil, a report said Monday.
Rice insulted the Health and Human Services secretary and clashed with Vice President Kamala Harris, Homeland Security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall and other officials while coordinating the administration’s border response as President Biden’s domestic policy adviser from January 2021 to May 2023, Axios reported.
Sources told the outlet that Rice’s ire for Becerra stemmed from his failure to secure additional sheltering spaces for child migrants — and that at one point she cautioned Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas not to “save” the HHS secretary from Biden’s wrath during a meeting.
Rice further disparaged Harris for not taking charge of immigration policy as Biden’s border czar. In private conversations, she also questioned whether Harris had tanked Rice’s chances of being the president’s running mate in 2020 by distributing opposition research that resulted in unflattering coverage.
Additionally, some of Harris’ aides mocked Rice, the former US ambassador to the UN under Obama, as a mere “staffer,” sources said.
A former policy adviser to both Rice and Harris disputed the sources in comments to Axios.
“As a former senior staff member for both Vice President Harris and Ambassador Rice, I know firsthand that they and their teams worked hand in hand to address the complex issues of migration,” Carmel Martin told the outlet.
A rep for Rice told Axios she “categorically denies” the reported exchanges.
President Biden, 81, also exploded in rage at aides over the border crisis last year, demanding obscure immigration data and erupting when they couldn’t immediately produce it — underscoring how tense the issue was becoming in the administration, the outlet said.
Those in attendance at the volatile meeting aboard Air Force One in late January 2023 later vented that Biden’s frustrations over the issue have made it increasingly difficult to reach decisions about the border, Axios said.
“There are definite incentives … to not be the person who owns the scary issue with no solutions,” a source said.
“If you’re the person briefing the president, you get to piss him off every day,” the source said.
Adding to the debacle is the fact that Harris has missed “an opportunity” to demonstrate her leadership during the crisis, sources said.
“She’s been at best ineffective, and at worst sporadically engaged and not seeing it was her responsibility,” a former senior Biden administration official told the outlet. “It’s an opportunity for her, and she didn’t fill the breach.”
The White House told Axios that the previously unreported meeting — which included then-deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon and Sherwood-Randall — was “productive” and claimed that “multiple firsthand participants of the meeting refute this description of the tone and outcome” of a conversation on “the specifics of this complex issue.”
Some Biden officials feel the State Department dragged its feet for years before setting up regional processing centers to allow more migrants to apply for protection in the US ahead of the border, the outlet said. A department rep rejected this claim.
A range of ideologies among Democratic leaders has also seemingly slowed decision-making, according to the report.
Sherwood-Randall — who reportedly requested a memo early on in her tenure explaining the difference between refugees and asylum seekers — has advocated for tougher enforcement of migration policies than others, who have pushed for reform and the expansion of legal pathways for migrants to stay in the US.
Internal indecisiveness and constant turnover on the White House’s immigration team have led to contradictory steps taken by Biden’s team as they flail trying to handle the thousands of asylum seekers inundating the border, according to sources.
The administration’s uncertainty over the hot-button issue was evident when the Biden administration halted former President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” program but continued Title 42, which allows for the rapid expulsion of immigrants.
“Remain in Mexico” involves an arrangement in which asylum seekers stay in Mexico while their court cases play out in the US.
Biden then also expanded temporary protections for Venezuelans in the US — weeks before announcing plans to deport Venezuelan migrants for the first time in years.
When a makeshift camp was erected along the US side of the Rio Grande in September 2021 — the start of what would become thousands of migrants taking shelter at the border — staffers knew it was “a moment where people were gonna get hurt,” a former administration official told the outlet.
That day, which two former administration officials called the worst day of their jobs, led to ex-ICE official Jason Houser making several profanity-laced calls to the White House and DHS officials, sources said.
It also led to the Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan parole program, which allows undocumented people “outside the United States” to request parole in the US based on “urgent humanitarian or significant public benefit reasons.”
The program, approved last year, has sent a soaring number of undocumented migrants into Florida.
White House spokesman Andrew Bates told Axios that Biden is proud of his team’s work to solve the “unprecedented challenges” that go along with the border crisis.
“President Biden is proud that his team has worked well together as they work to resolve unprecedented challenges, and as congressional Republicans continue to choose politics over securing our border,” Bates said.