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Biden's immigration play, failing students, eye on debates

Biden’s pre-midterm immigration play; how failing grades for US students might add up; DeSantis' 2024 debate prep & Fetterman's health

With Midterm Matters, we are counting down to the US midterm elections on Nov. 8 by separating the signal from the noise on election-related news.

Biden’s pre-midterm immigration play

The number of Venezuelan migrants arriving at the US southern border has plummeted by 90% since President Joe Biden invoked Title 42 (a Trump-era law allowing the expulsion of asylum-seekers on public health grounds) earlier this month.

Noise: Biden positions himself as an advocate of a “fair and humane” immigration system and recently said that he is looking to speed up the processing of asylum applications.

Signal: But Biden is quietly clamping down on illegal migration. He recently reversed course and is building parts of Trump’s border wall and has agreed to hand over $1 billion for “border security.” While Democrats in border states like Arizona Senator Mark Kelly extol their party’s tough-on-immigration stance as they face off in close races, the White House is keeping it on the down-low so as not to isolate the left flank of the Democratic Party.

How will failing grades for US students add up?

Reading and math skills among US schoolchildren declined significantly over the past two years, according to a national educational assessment released Monday. The declines – only 26% of eighth graders and 36% of fourth graders ranked proficient – were the steepest in the assessment’s 30-year history. The results throw the academic impact of pandemic-driven school closures into sharp relief just days before the midterms.

Noise: The results will provide a messaging boost to candidates, particularly from the GOP, who are seeking the votes of moderate Democrat or Independent parents frustrated by the educational impact of school closures, which tended to be more extensive in Democrat-controlled districts.

Signal: "Red state vs. blue state” might not be the most useful lens for the data. Some states that were more cautious, such as California or Massachusetts, fared about as well as states like Texas or Florida that re-opened sooner. But across red/blue lines, the learning of students from poorer households, which generally have fewer resources to facilitate remote learning, were disproportionately harmed by school closures. This deepening inequality, and the debate about how to address it, will last beyond Nov. 8.

DeSantis' 2024 debate prep & Fetterman's health

This week features two big midterm debates. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis will trade blows on Monday with Democratic challenger Charlie Crist, a former congressman and governor. On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) faces his Republican rival for the Senate, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz.

Noise: DeSantis will likely cruise to a comfortable reelection as he prepares his 2024 White House run. Fetterman is also leading his rival, though by a smaller margin, with Oz taking flak for being a carpetbagger from New Jersey.

Signal: DeSantis might use the opportunity as debate prep against someone who won't be in the room but is 100% guaranteed to be watching: former President Donald Trump. Florida's governor is a rising GOP star, but he'll need serious debate chops to get in any zingers against Trump if he runs in 2024. Fetterman, for his part, hopes to look energetic next to the Trump-endorsed Oz. After all, he suffered a stroke in the middle of his primary campaign, and voters want to know whether he's healthy enough to be a senator.


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