Semafor: As Democrats double down on border bill, some progressives grow uneasy

By Kadia Goba

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is eager to put Republicans on defense with a vote on a bipartisan border bill. Not every Democrat is so excited.

Schumer announced he’d revive a border bill that died in the Senate last February after Donald Trump nixed what was shaping up to be a compromise for Democrats in exchange for funding for Ukraine. The measure would have made it harder to apply for asylum and easier for the government to impose new border restrictions, goals promoted by many conservatives. And yet, it failed at the time, rejected by all but four Republicans in a procedural vote.

The White House and the bill’s backers accused Republicans of deliberately refusing to fix the border in response and are hoping a new vote on it will help make the contrast clear. Vulnerable Democrats up for reelection like Sen. Jon Tester in Montana and Sherrod Brown in Ohio have embraced it. But some Democrats are uneasy with making it their de facto border platform without the added context of getting an aid package over the line.

“It’s…not lost on me that the last time we were here, a lot of people mentioned that this was a price they were willing to pay for the sake of Ukraine funding. That’s no longer the case,” Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif. told reporters Monday. “The foreign aid package has been approved. So this should not be the Democratic starting point for security or immigration reform.”

Padilla, who also opposed the bill in February, is upset that the newly revived proposal doesn’t address adding pathways to citizenship, especially for DREAMers, a component of prior bipartisan talks on major border changes.

“I agree, we need to address the border,” he said. “I wish we did it in a more thoughtful approach. But to think we could have something pass, that not one Dreamer is helped, no relief for a single farmworker or any essential worker, no long-term resident of the United States who’s been here working hard and paying taxes, it’s unconscionable.”

House lawmakers aren’t thrilled the Senate is taking up the proposal either, which Speaker Mike Johnson has said is “dead on arrival” even if it somehow gets there. “It doesn’t include DREAM Act or any relief for people that have been residents for generations,” Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif. told Semafor.

There’s no real dispute this is a political move. Schumer and the White House understand Senate Republicans will tank the bill.

But the substantive stakes are high, especially for Democrats who see the party drifting right as increased border crossings and asylum claims since the pandemic have created new challenges for mayors and governors. In a matter of months, Democrats have gone from being asked to reluctantly embrace a conservative-tilted bill as a concession on Ukraine aid to embracing it as a core promise to voters.

That’s especially true as the White House weighs executive orders to take further action on the border, even as they may face hurdles in the courts. The coming Senate vote is seen by many as a setup for Biden to announce a new crackdown just in time to tout the accomplishment at his first debate with Trump on June 27. The expected message: Biden is forced to act on his own because Trump sabotaged the best option.

In a statement, the White House noted that Biden had recently met with Congressional leaders in both parties to discuss the issue. “It’s been over 100 days since Congressional Republicans blocked the bipartisan bill that included the toughest and fairest reforms to secure the border in decades,” the statement read. “In these calls, President Biden reiterated that Congressional Republicans should stop playing politics and act quickly to pass this bipartisan border legislation that would add thousands of Border Patrol agents and personnel, invest in technology to catch fentanyl and combat drug trafficking, and make our country safer.”

Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklah. was the top GOP negotiator and the bill and did not pull his punches in accusing members of his own party of killing it for political reasons at the time. But he also condemned the vote as a stunt. “It’s trying to score political points rather than actually trying to solve a problem,” Lankford told reporters, according to NBC News. “There’s been no attempt to sit down and say, ‘OK, what went sideways last time? Let’s figure this out.’”

Border crossings have dropped in recent months, thanks in part to renewed efforts by Mexican authorities to police their own southern border.

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