Dec 14, 2023 - Politics & Policy

White House plows ahead on border talks despite progressive backlash

Migrants walk in Lukeville, Arizona, after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The White House and Senate Democratic leaders are on notice that progressives have serious concerns about a potential border security compromise with Republicans. Negotiators are still steaming ahead.

Why it matters: For President Biden and vulnerable Senate Democrats, a deal would unlock two key priorities — funding for Ukraine and Israel. It would also mean addressing a major political problem: record crossings at the southern border.

Between the lines: The likely result is a Senate deal that is deeply unpopular with the party's base and needs significant support from Republicans to clear the Senate.

  • Any Senate compromise faces an uncertain future in the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has made it clear that the GOP wants substantial changes to asylum, expulsion and detention procedures.
  • There's also entrenched opposition within the House GOP to additional funding for Ukraine, regardless of whether it's paired with favorable border policies.

What they're saying: "I'm very concerned about — and upset — about the lack of outreach," Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told Axios. "It still hasn't improved but I will still keep pushing."

  • "It feels like it's sharing from afar, as opposed to speaking about specific details or movement of specific policy," he said.
  • "Until we start seeing language, it's hard to tell," Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) told Axios. "What we hear is very concerning."
  • Asked about his level of frustration over the negotiations, Padilla said that on a scale of one to 10, he's "maybe a 12.5."

On the House side, there are similar complaints.

  • "It's shameful that members of the CHC have been cut out from these negotiations as the president is on the verge of moving forward with the most severe restrictions to asylum and legal immigration in a generation," said Rep. Jesús "Chuy" García (D-Ill.)
  • "If this is a political decision, it's a bad one rooted in bad policy."

Driving the news: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday afternoon that enough progress was being made on a potential package that he would call the Senate back next week.

  • The goal is to give the negotiators more time to find an agreement and pass a bill out of the Senate before lawmakers leave for Christmas.
  • At the White House, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was also optimistic. "It is going in the right direction, we believe," she said.

Senior White House officials are doing one-on-one calls with members of the CHS and Progressive Caucus, including Padilla and Lujan, as well as Reps. Nanette Barragan (D-Calif.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), according to a person familiar with the matter.

The other side: Senate Republicans insisted that the two sides were still far apart.

  • "The White House is making very small concessions that really don't deal with a significant threat that our nation is under," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.), the chair of the Senate Republican Conference.
  • "Democratic senators are expecting Republicans to put duct tape on a national security nightmare," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) "You can forget that."
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