Politico: Congressional Dems confront broken trust on border as Biden prepares to act alone

By Daniella Diaz, Ursula Perano, Nicholas Wu, and Myah Ward

President Joe Biden is expected to announce a new policy that would allow him to close the southern border between certain points of entry — effectively mirroring a provision in the Senate’s bipartisan border bill that has already infuriated progressives.

That step, confirmed by a half-dozen people familiar with the administration’s planning, is expected to come after Mexico’s June 2 presidential election. It would give Biden the power to close the border if illegal crossings exceed a certain daily threshold, though a White House official said that until a final decision is made on any policy moves, the timing and details could shift.

And it’s guaranteed to further split Democrats, given that liberal lawmakers have publicly blasted party leaders for forcing a new Senate vote this week on a border package that the GOP blocked in February. The left isn’t alone in its fury; centrist Democrats are angry that negotiations on immigration have ground to a halt. Republicans are angry at Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for teeing up a vote that is widely seen as bound to fail.

Border politics are headed straight to the gutter of campaign trail attacks now, with no goodwill left between even both parties’ known dealmakers on immigration — with the situation unlikely to change after Election Day.

Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), who opposed the border bill earlier this year and will do so again during Thursday’s test vote, said he’s already repeatedly aired his frustration with the White House over its proposed border policy changes.

“I certainly hope this isn’t the new starting position for Democrats in future negotiations” on immigration, Padilla said. “I made that concern very clear to my colleagues, Leader Schumer and to the White House.”

Despite many progressives’ sense of a frayed relationship with Biden’s team when it comes to the border, White House officials are standing by Schumer’s decision to push the second bound-to-fail vote. They see it as a way to give Democrats as much runway as possible to hammer Republicans for voting against the deal in February at Donald Trump’s behest.

This week has seen a steady drumbeat of attacks from the White House leading up to the Senate vote. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday opened the press briefing with another call for Republicans to pass the border bill.

“It’s now up to Republicans in Congress — do you actually want to do something to solve the problem? Or would you rather use it as a political issue?” she asked.

In addition, administration officials see Biden’s slated bid for unilateral action next month as another means for showing voters that he used all of his available tools to try to tackle surging migration before his fall rematch with Trump. The Biden administration has already announced new actions this month to speed up the asylum system, but officials have also continued to argue that without congressional action, policy changes from the White House won’t truly ease things at the border.

“We recognize that there are limits to what any administration can do in the space with executive action. We have seen the surges of migration now occur regularly under the last three administrations of presidents of both parties. And you see presidents of both parties using their executive authorities to address it,” said a senior administration official.

“What we really need here, and we continue to call for, is Congress to do its job and to take up and pass the Senate bipartisan border security legislation.”

For lawmakers who have struggled for decades to achieve any consensus on immigration, however, it’s tough to see room for legislative movement any time soon, no matter who’s in the White House and no matter the professed sense of urgency.

Months of Senate border negotiations over the winter ended in a package that imploded on the floor, wasting time in both chambers. Campaign committees are left to salivate at the chance to bombard their bases with messaging about the lack of action being the other party’s responsibility.

“I have conversations behind the scenes with Republicans. I’m trying to get something done. And in most of the responses, there’s just no appetite to really do anything to fix it,” Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), who is staunchly opposed to the Senate border bill, said in a brief interview.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), meanwhile, spoke for many Republicans in slamming Schumer for scheduling Thursday’s vote.

“If Schumer is playing this game, then he’s not interested in” progress, Tillis said. “If he were seriously considering trying to mount a bipartisan effort, he’d reach out to people like me, and others who have tried to show some flexibility on the border. … He didn’t do that. He just announced he was going to run it again.”

Schumer this week maintained the vote is a genuine attempt at solving the problem at the border on a bipartisan basis.

The White House’s planned June move won’t cover all the elements of the Senate’s doomed bill, but the expected executive order’s alignment with a major provision of the border legislation shows how far things have fallen since the winter.

About five months ago, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) holed up in the Capitol over the holiday break to hash out a compromise that all three acknowledged was a long shot, designed to unlock GOP support for new aid to Ukraine. Both parties’ Senate leaders were backing the talks, and senators outside of the group were largely locked out, left to put their trust in the process.

These days, many on both sides still feel burned by the outcome.

“They told to us back off, that James Lankford is the one who’s gonna bargain the agreement for the Republicans, and we’re standing by what he comes up with,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said of the GOP. “They certainly didn’t do that, they walked away from it at Trump’s direction.”

The Hispanic Caucus, meanwhile, has asked for a meeting with the president but hasn’t yet found a time, according to multiple people familiar with the situation. That’s left Hispanic lawmakers feeling left out of the loop as the Biden administration pulls together its next steps, including the upcoming executive-branch action.

“We just hope that the administration communicates with members on the border who are experiencing this humanitarian crisis firsthand,” Rep. Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.) said in an interview. “We haven’t heard anything yet. But we expect them to let us know at least — at the very least — let the Congressional Hispanic Caucus know and let the border members know as well.”

Purple-district Democrats are making their own push for attention from the Biden administration to counter election-year attacks from Republicans centered on immigration. They’re focused on issues they believe the administration can also tackle unilaterally, such as fentanyl funneled through the border.

Vulnerable Rep. Hillary Scholten (D-Mich.) called on the administration to do whatever is possible to address the border, while still holding out hope for an ever-elusive congressional accord.

“We are certainly asking him to do everything he can within the confines of what executive action can do,” Scholten said. “But that is a very limited subset of the law. What we need to do, as members of Congress, is a legislative fix for the way that we treat asylum in this country.”

And another swing-district lawmaker diverged notably from Democrats and the White House, who have sought to highlight Trump’s opposition to the border bill to cast blame on the right for sinking the Senate’s proposal.

“Rather than just say it’s Republicans’ fault, I think the time is now for the administration to step forward and issue executive actions and prove to America that we want to address these issues,” Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) said.

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