Progressives were already angry with President Joe Biden over Israel’s war in Gaza. Now he’s considering cutting an immigration deal that they hate even more.
House and Senate Democrats are warning the White House that Biden will suffer serious consequences if he caves to GOP demands on immigration policy and border security in order to unlock billions of dollars in new Ukraine aid. That includes alienating the very voters who helped him win office in 2020.
The growing Democratic discord comes at an extraordinarily sensitive moment for Biden. Down in most polls, the 81-year-old Biden is ramping up his reelection campaign just as House Republicans jammed through an impeachment inquiry resolution Wednesday on a party-line vote. Hunter Biden, the president’s son, is under federal criminal indictment and facing a possible contempt resolution for failing to comply with a House GOP subpoena.
Biden’s support for Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza following the deadly Oct. 7 terror attacks has angered many progressives, who believe the president has been slow to acknowledge — or respond to — the scale of Palestinian casualties in the conflict.
Yet when he needs party unity more than ever, Biden could soon be signing off on immigration restrictions that a large swath of Democrats abhor.
“It’s always been challenging for us to pay attention to our base,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus:
Plenty of progressives see flaws in the way their party leadership has handled Ukraine. Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) said it was a mistake for the White House to include border security funding in its original foreign aid request months ago. Other Democrats warn that Biden could face GOP demands for even more concessions in order to avoid a government shutdown starting next month.
“This is just really bad negotiating on the part of Democrats,” Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas) said. “Would Democrats give away abortion rights in exchange for Ukraine money? … Why would Democrats give Trump-style immigration policy in exchange for Ukraine money?”
Negotiations over a border security package continued late Wednesday night and it’s clear the White House is moving in Republicans’ direction (More on that below).
On the table is a potential revival of a temporary expulsion authority used by the Trump and Biden administrations during the pandemic, as well as a crackdown on the parole process that could lead to expanded detentions and deportations of migrants.
This, of course, is necessary if Biden has any chance of moving a major supplemental spending package through the GOP-run House. Democrats don’t really have much of a choice here if their primary objective is to get the Ukraine-Israel-Taiwan aid package to Biden’s desk.
A group of House and Senate Democrats held an extraordinary press conference on Wednesday warning Biden that he’d be selling out progressives if he gave in to these proposals. One of those lawmakers, Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), told us he’s alarmed at the ongoing negotiations in part because of who is — or isn’t — in the room negotiating.
“I do not see any Latino or Latina advocates at that table who are part of this conversation that are shaping this policy,” said Luján, who has also expressed his concerns about Israel’s war in Gaza.
Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) has been working the phones with White House officials to push them to reject the proposed border policy changes. Padilla said Wednesday night that he didn’t feel like he’d made any inroads with the White House.
We asked Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the lead Democratic negotiator, about progressives’ criticisms. That means the GOP demands on immigration can’t be so extreme that it alienates Democrats, Murphy contended, because there won’t be any Ukraine aid without these votes. And many Republicans, especially in the Senate, still back Ukraine.
“It’s always been clear that you need a lot of Democratic votes to get this passed,” Murphy said. “There’s a package that’s way too hot for Democrats. There’s a package that’s too weak for Republicans. This is the reason we haven’t done immigration reform in a long time.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged that “the immigration system is broken” but noted that Biden had offered reform proposals that were rejected by Republicans.
“Republicans refuse to deal with this issue,” Jean-Pierre said at the White House briefing Wednesday. “It’s been almost three years since [Biden] put forth that legislation.”
Despite progressives’ ire, the reality is that many moderate and vulnerable Democrats are comfortable with some of the GOP’s border proposals. They’ve said what’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border — where illegal crossings have shattered records — is a genuine crisis and will cause serious problems for the party in 2024 unless addressed now.
“The White House should take the pulse of the public. Just take a look at what’s going on. They want border security. We’ve got too many people coming,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told us. “They don’t want to do any of this.”
— John Bresnahan, Andrew Desiderio and Max Cohen