Politics 'Not quite ready yet': Democrats won’t take up Biden immigration plan this month
Biden wades into immigration morass that has stymied other presidents
President Biden is hoping to succeed where the last three presidents have failed by proposing his own legislation revamping immigration. © Provided by Washington Examiner While diametrically opposed to former President Donald Trump’s approach, the Biden-backed immigration bill follows in the footsteps of unsuccessful pushes by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to increase legal immigration and offer a pathway to citizenship for most illegal immigrants in the United States.
Top House Democrats have promised to put key immigration bills on the floor this month — but President Joe Biden’s sweeping overhaul won’t be one of them.
The issue of what to do with Biden’s comprehensive immigration plan has bedeviled Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team, particularly after a disappointing whip count came back this week showing they don’t yet have the votes to pass the bill on the floor, according to people familiar with the talks.
The immigration debate has a blind spot
The change in immigration policy that could most affect the US' long-term economic growth is at risk of falling out of the debate as the congressional maneuvering over the volatile issue intensifies. © George Frey/Getty Images In this April 10, 2019, file photo, an applicant holds an American flag and a packet while waiting to take the oath to become a US citizen at a naturalization ceremony in Salt Lake City.
So now Democrats are moving ahead with an alternative plan: Move the Biden bill through committee while the full House votes on more targeted immigration legislation that already enjoys broad caucus support.
The chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), confirmed the path forward, calling the Biden proposal both “important and serious.”
“We need to engage in some consultation with key members and stakeholders, but I see no reason why we wouldn’t mark it up when we reconvene in April,” Nadler said in a statement to POLITICO.
Biden’s proposal is a top priority for progressives and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who say it’s critical to take action in the early months of his term. But Democratic leaders were never going to bring up a bill on the floor that would fail — putting them on a tightrope as they try to keep all factions of their diverse caucus on board for a realistic approach to one of Washington’s thorniest issues. Further complicating matters, the White House has taken more of a hands-off approach to the bill’s future in the House, several lawmakers and aides said.
Biden promised a 'fair and humane' immigration overhaul. What he inherited is a mess.
“It’s one thing to make promises. It’s another thing to execute on those promises.”Ask a Republican, and most will insist Biden is doing it all wrong: Dismantling Trump’s legacy is too radical. The president needs to keep the borders closed. A migrant crisis is brewing — or already here.
“We need to have a discussion. It was put together by a few people. I don’t know what the role of the administration has been,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), a border-state Democrat who belongs to the centrist Blue Dog Coalition. “But I have a sense that it’s just not quite ready yet.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, acknowledged that “it’s difficult because of the schedule,” but vowed that “at the same time, we’re pushing very hard” to lend momentum to Biden’s sweeping proposal.
“It’s like we have three pedals, and we’re pushing every one of them with just as much strength,” she said, referring to a pair of other, more targeted immigration bills that will hit the floor in two weeks.
Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) huddled on Tuesday evening to discuss the whip count and strategize on what to do next. That meeting was interrupted as the nominee to lead Biden’s budget office yanked her name from consideration, and multiple Democrats said Wednesday that immigration issues remained unresolved.
Biden officials urge patience on immigration amid border surge
President Biden is facing pressure from all sides as migration swells at the southern border - posing one of the first major policy tests for his administration.Progressives have hit Biden officials over reopening a housing facility for young migrants used briefly during the Trump administration. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and others argue the facilities are inhumane and represent a step backward for the new administration, which has made a point to distance itself from the Trump era on immigration in particular.
Proponents of the Biden bill, meanwhile, are still furiously working the phones to get their colleagues on board. That group, led by California Reps. Linda Sánchez, Judy Chu and Zoe Lofgren, has also lined up meetings with influential groups across the caucus, including the Blue Dogs on Tuesday and progressives on Thursday. Sánchez and Lofgren, along with other top Democrats, also spoke to the New Democrat Coalition late last month.
One of the White House’s leading officials on immigration, Tyler Moran, will also hold a staff briefing on the bill on Friday.
It’s unclear if or when Biden’s bill will come to the floor after moving through the Judiciary Committee in April. But several Democrats have been privately pushing leadership to make a decision one way or the other, privately expressing frustration that top Democrats were still projecting the possibility of the massive bill coming to the floor in March.
In recent days, Democratic leaders have publicly sounded a note of skepticism, while acknowledging the final push behind the scenes.
“If ready, we will also consider comprehensive immigration reform,” Hoyer told reporters this week as he ticked off the upcoming floor schedule. “But I stress, if ready. There’s a lot of discussion going on about that.”
House plans for immigration bills add uncertainty on Biden proposal
Congress plans to consider several stand-alone immigration bills this month, casting new doubt on whether President Biden's comprehensive proposal will make it to the floor.House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday announced that the chamber would take up legislation during the week of March 15, following a push for an "immigration week" by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.Sources say the House is expected to take up legislation that provides a path to citizenship for Dreamers, brought to the U.S. as young children, and others with temporary status.
Democrats were already planning to take up some of their most popular immigration proposals in the coming weeks — one to protect the undocumented population known as Dreamers and another to reform the system for farmworkers. Both have bipartisan support, including strong backing from the CHC and CPC, and could soon see floor votes in the Senate.
But some members of the CHC say those bills aren’t enough because they don’t go nearly as far as Biden’s plan.
“I want to make sure the broader bill gets as much support as possible, and that we send it over as quickly as possible, and that we get this done,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who helped shape Biden’s proposal and has been actively lobbying her colleagues on the bill.
“My fear, always, is that we will get morsels and, as a Congress, continue to kick the can down the road,” she said.
As Democrats move quickly toward a piecemeal immigration strategy, some corners of their caucus have begun to seek changes to the Biden plan. Some moderates, for instance, are pushing to include a provision requiring employers to confirm workers’ legal status — known as e-verify. Progressives, meanwhile, want some tweaks to ensure the bill doesn’t disqualify people from citizenship because of minor infractions on their criminal record.
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The disparity between the reception to President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan and President Biden’s is the result of several seismic shifts in American politics — the most dramatic of which may be the apparent impact of the pandemic on attitudes about the role of government in helping the economy. Since the outset of the coronavirus, polling has found substantial support among Americans for providing more government aid for those in need. That is partially due to the nature of the current crisis, which for a time opened a deeper economic hole than even the Great Recession.
It’s not clear yet which changes might be made to the bill. The Biden administration has repeatedly expressed a willingness to consider more tailored immigration measures that Democrats can get to the president’s desk. A White House official said the administration was in “regular touch” with lawmakers on immigration reform and would continue to hold briefings on Biden’s immigration priorities as Congress considers proposals.
Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), a swing-district Democrat, has been making the case to Biden’s Hill team that an e-verify provision should be part of the bill, just as it was in the bipartisan immigration bill in 2013 that fell just short of passage.
“Yes, I support what’s in the bill. I think we would be in a stronger position to get it enacted if we eventually ended up where, I think, the middle ground is,” Malinowski said. “I think for both solid political, practical reasons and moral reasons, those two things should go together.”
The biggest fear for many progressives, however, is what could happen to the bill to win over the party’s centrists, either in the House or when the bill crosses over to the Senate.
“We don’t want this bill to be watered down before it gets to the floor, which is sometimes what happens with immigration bills,” Jayapal said.
Immigration advocates have argued that failing to act on the issue could come back to haunt them politically, leaving Democrats vulnerable among their base in 2022.
During a session at the House Democratic Caucus’s virtual retreat on Wednesday, advocates shared new polling conducted for the immigrant rights groups FWD.us and America’s Voice, which showed that 63 percent of voters would be “upset” if protections for undocumented immigrants didn’t pass. The online survey of 1,200 voters who participated in the 2020 election was conducted Feb. 20-26.
A clean Dream Act proposal received the highest support nationally with 72 percent of voters supporting it compared to 71 percent support for a bill providing citizenship to undocumented farmworkers and 66 percent support for citizenship for undocumented essential workers. The latter is a proposal that has been pushed by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) alongside Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.).
“Voters will be upset over inaction, especially the voters Democrats need to show up in the midterm elections,” stated the polling memo shared with House Democrats and obtained by POLITICO. “Republicans will not receive all or even most of the blame should the efforts to pass citizenship bills fail.”
Fears of a border crisis fuel tension in Congress .
Republicans are rallying their base around an anti-immigration message, while Democrats are racing to help President Joe Biden control the influx of migrants.As a wave of unaccompanied migrant children arrives at the U.S.-Mexico border — a potentially perilous scenario for those trying to enter the country — Republicans are using the moment to rally their base around the same anti-immigration message trumpeted by former President Donald Trump. And Democrats are racing to help President Joe Biden control the influx of migrants without breaking their promise to make the U.S. immigration system more humane.