Democrats pressure Biden to back off Title 42 decision
Democrats on Capitol Hill, fearing a deluge of migrants at the southern border this summer, are pressuring President Biden to back off his decision to lift the Trump-era Title 42 order next month.
Democrats in tough races publicly criticized Biden’s decision earlier this month, but now the pushback is growing to include the president’s moderate allies such as Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.).
Democratic aides on Monday suggested the administration should postpone the date for lifting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order, which is now set for May 23, to give themselves more time to craft a plan to deal with an expected surge in migration.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but there’s a lot of lobbying,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide, who said the easiest solution would be to delay lifting the order until the fall or after the election.
“Extend it and move on,” the source said, acknowledging that Republicans are winning the messaging war over Biden’s border policy right how. “It shows how much the right drives the discourse.”
A second Senate Democratic aide predicted the Biden administration would reverse course before the May 23 deadline.
“I think it is almost certain they will either have to change their ruling on Title 42 or come up with something else that is going to address what will otherwise be a very critical problem at the border,” the aide said. “Seeing how we’ve been unable to come up with a successful Plan B over the past two years … I think pushing back the Title 42 rescission is probably the more likely outcome.”
A Morning Consult-Politico poll published this month showed that 56 percent of registered voters nationwide oppose the decision to lift the Trump-era border control, making it Biden’s most unpopular move so far.
Biden is feeling pressure from Democrats in tough reelection races, such as Sens. Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.). Kelly and Hassan, two of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, spent time at the border during the first week of the April recess.
“Our front-line personnel need significant additional numbers, people on the ground at the border. They need more technology. They need access roads and, in some places, they need physical barriers,” Hassan told WMUR News9, a New Hampshire television station, while visiting Arizona. “The administration really needs to step up here, develop a plan and get more resources to the southern border.”
Coons, who is seen as one of Biden’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, made a splash over the weekend when he said the lifting of Title 42 should be reconsidered in light of rising COVID-19 infections.
“In the region where I’m from, we’re seeing infections rise. I think Philadelphia, for example, just returned to a mask mandate. So my hope is that that will be reconsidered appropriately,” Coons said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Democratic strategists say it was a significant development, given how close Coons is to the president.
“When Coons breaks, it’s a big deal,” noted one Democratic strategist, who warned that Biden may not get a COVID-19 supplemental spending bill passed until he revises his border policy.
“They absolutely have to change this. They can’t get the COVID relief bill done until they change this,” said the strategist who requested anonymity to discuss tensions between Senate Democrats and the Biden administration. “You’re going to start seeing every moderate doing this, making this their issue because you have to break with the administration.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) fought off an effort to vote on an amendment to keep Title 42 in place shortly before the Senate left for a two-week recess.
Republicans insisted it be considered as an amendment to a $10 billion COVID-19 relief package, something Schumer avoided by postponing the bill until after the recess.
Peters, who is also chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, on Monday floated the possibility of keeping Title 42 in place a while longer.
“Unless we have a well-thought-out plan, I think it is something that should be revisited and perhaps delayed. I’m going to defer judgment on that until I give the administration the opportunity to fully articulate what that plan is,” he told reporters.
Peters said vulnerable senators such as Kelly, Hassan and Cortez Masto are right to raise concerns.
“I think they’re right to raise questions. This is a very serious issue. They need to ask questions. I’m asking those questions as well, and we’ll look forward to hearing directly from the secretary in the near term,” he said, referring to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Democratic strategists say the pressure Biden is feeling from members of his own party is getting stronger.
“It strikes me that what started as a handful of voices in the party, mostly southern border state senators like Sen. Sinema, Sen. Kelly, Sen. Cortez Masto, has turned into a chorus of Democratic senators pushing the administration to pump the brakes here,” said John LaBombard, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
Vulnerable Democrats are scrambling to distance themselves from Biden’s Title 42 decision and demanding the administration delay action until it has a plan for dealing with a summer migrant surge.
“It’s going to be a crisis,” Kelly warned after visiting the border.
He wants the administration to provide a plan for bussing and housing migrants and more judges to hear the asylum requests of refugees entering the country.
Kelly has introduced legislation with Hassan, Sinema and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to delay the termination of Title 42 for at least 60 days.
Sinema and other Democrats are pointing to the Biden administration’s decision to extend the COVID-19 public health emergency and the federal transportation mask mandate as a good reason to also delay lifting the Title 42 health order.
Cortez Masto is warning the administration is unprepared for a surge in migration at the southern border.
“I think it’s just wrong to do it without a detailed plan. We always know right around summer there’s a surge,” she said earlier this month.
She and other vulnerable Democrats are scrambling for ways to distance themselves from the president. It may be the best strategy for keeping their seats in November, when Republicans are expected to make big gains in the House and possibly flip the Senate as well.
Jon Ralston, CEO of the Nevada Independent and a longtime commentator on Nevada politics, said Cortez Masto “is going to pick her spots to distance herself from the administration.
“This is just the beginning of that,” he predicted.
The fight over Title 42 could keep the COVID-19 relief package bottled up in the Senate for a few weeks, and Biden could spare Schumer a fight by changing his policy, which would give Democrats a good reason not to vote for the amendment.
“I would describe it as a win-win if the administration were to decide that more time is needed. I think that’s something that a lot of senators in both parties have pointed out, that more time is needed to put a time in place,” said LaBombard. “It would pave the way for an informed, robustly supported plan [to handle a border surge] to be in place on Day One and … would also allow for, hopefully, for expedited passage of critical COVID relief funding. This is all connected.”
“This is one that strikes me as a no-brainer,” he said. “We all know that Title 42 was never meant to be permanent, but that doesn’t mean that we have to lift it without it having a really effective, informed plan in place.”
Morgan Jackson, a prominent Democratic strategist based in North Carolina, cautioned that Democratic candidates can’t afford to not pay attention to the issue.
“Democrats have to be smart, Democrats have to make decisions and they have to meet voters where they are and understand what voters’ perceptions of issues are,” he said. “It’s why you see Democrats asking the administration to reconsider this order because they’re trying to meet voters where they are.”
But he also said the administration’s border policy is a bigger concern to Republican voters and that most swing voters are more worried about the economy and inflation.