President Biden is facing growing pushback from Democrats, including from typical allies, over his decision to lift a Trump-era immigration policy.
The administration’s decision to rescind Title 42 — the Trump-era policy that allows for the rapid expulsion of migrants at the border and blocks them from seeking asylum due to the coronavirus pandemic — is opening a rift not only between Biden and vulnerable Democratic incumbents but also with influential senators, who are seeking public distance from the decision.
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who chairs both the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, said in an interview in the Capitol on Monday that he had privately raised concerns with administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Peters said that he wanted to give the administration time to detail a plan to offset lifting the Trump policy but floated revisiting the decision without one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to terminate Title 42 goes into effect on May 23.
“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. But I share … concerns of some of my colleagues,” Peters told a small group of reporters.
Peters’s comments come as several Democratic Senate incumbents have been some of the most vocal critics of the administration’s decision to lift Title 42.
Republicans were already planning to make immigration a prominent line of attack heading into the November midterm elections and view lifting the Trump-era policy as prime fodder to use against Democratic candidates. Peters, as the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is responsible for coming up with the party’s strategy to try to hold on to, and potentially expand, its 50-50 majority.
Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), who are all on the ballot in November, have all come out against rolling back the Trump-era rule. Kelly and Hassan also traveled to the border last week, using the stops to question the administration’s strategy.
“Right now this administration does not have a plan … and it’s going to be, to be honest, it’s going to be a crisis on top of a crisis,” Kelly told reporters during his visit to the border.
Peters defended their decision to break with the administration, saying that they are “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 added.
Coming out against lifting Title 42 isn’t without risks for Democratic senators who are trying to hold on to their seats in November. Biden faced intense pressure from Democratic lawmakers and immigration advocates to nix the rule, which they view as inhumane.
A Politico and Morning Consult poll found that 54 percent of registered voters surveyed said they oppose the Biden administration’s decisions, while 35 percent support the move. Though 62 percent of Democrats polled said they supported the decision, only 33 percent of independents held the same position, compared to 53 percent who said they opposed the move.
“The senators have to take a position that they think is best for their state and so that’s what they are doing,” Peters said, asked about the competing political pressures.
The division among Democrats runs deeper than just senators who are on the ballot in November.
Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who won’t be up for reelection until 2024, have all signed on to legislation with Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) that would effectively keep Title 42 in place for now by tying it to the broader coronavirus public health emergency.
“I’ve … been reaching out to Secretary Mayorkas and the administration letting them know what the consequence will be in Arizona if Title 42 ends with a workable plan in place,” Sinema said during an Arizona Chamber of Commerce event.
Sinema noted that she and Lankford are working to help build support for the bill and that they are planning to hold a subcommittee hearing next month on what comes after Title 42 is lifted.
Peters is also working on potentially setting up a broader border-related hearing for the Homeland Security panel next month. He sidestepped weighing in on if he would look at supporting a bill to keep the Trump-era rule in place, stressing that he wanted to give the administration time to outline its thinking.
“I want to give the administration the opportunity to fully articulate how they are going to handle the situation because it really is something that’s going to be incredibly challenging,” Peters said.
“I can assure you that they are working on it. We’re having regular communications with” the Department of Homeland Security, he added.
The fight over Title 42 has already tied up a $10 billion deal on new coronavirus aid in the Senate. Republicans are refusing to move the bill unless they can get a vote on Lankford’s proposal as an amendment, which would likely have enough support to get added to the bill.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) — one of Biden’s most loyal allies in the Senate and part of the negotiating group on the COVID-19 aid — said that the coronavirus funds and the border fight should be dealt with separately, but said that he hoped the decision to lift Title 42 “will be reconsidered appropriately.”
“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. I know that there are both Republicans and Democrats calling for a reconsideration and the administration just announced a plan for how to deal with a possible surge in crossings at the border,” Coons said during an interview with CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”