Inside this fall’s biggest Dem divide — over the border

Inside this fall’s biggest Dem divide — over the border

Democrats are clashing anew over border security funding — just as the Biden administration is seeking a new infusion of it as part of a $106 billion Israel-Ukraine aid package.

It’s happening within the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Hill’s leading voice for Latino lawmakers that includes roughly three dozen House members. CHC chair Rep. Nannette Barragán (D-Calif.) acknowledged that her group had requested border funding to be kept out of the administration’s massive emergency spending pitch.

“That’s something that we wish had not happened, and I don’t think it should be mixed in with” aid to Israel and Ukraine, she said, predicting that her members would split over the request.

Rep. Chuy García (D-Ill.) further criticized the package’s proposed funding for migrant food and shelter: “It’s inadequate. I’ve made my views known. My hope is that it will be increased.”

The CHC’s split over Biden’s border request comes as the group is already fracturing over the bipartisan immigration package known as the “Dignity Act.” That bill, authored by Reps. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) and Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.), would beef up border security, create a pathway for undocumented people to apply for legal status and address visa backlogs, among other reforms.

It’s not clear that the House GOP would ever bring the bill to the floor, particularly under Speaker Mike Johnson. But the proposal was designed to show that the ideological middle of both parties still could find common ground on the border — and it’s in trouble, with no members even asking the CHC for an endorsement.

“Members of Congress need to come to us and ask us to support a bill. That has not been done with that bill,” Barragán said.

The Democratic divisions are emerging against the backdrop of raging battles over the Biden White House’s mega-aid pitch for Israel and Ukraine, with that border security funding added, not to mention over how to avert a Nov. 17 shutdown.

House Republicans are signaling that they expect Johnson to link his short-term funding bill to border demands. The Louisianan has said he will seek “certain conditions” to patch federal funding but hasn’t yet identified them.

If Democrats have any hope of outmaneuvering Johnson’s conference, they’ll want to get on the same page about border add-ons that they’d be willing to support. And the CHC’s internal split on the matter makes that even more difficult.

A Johnson spokesperson declined to comment about linking border and federal funding. But two GOP lawmakers speaking on condition of anonymity told us Johnson wants to tie them together. He also made the point privately during the speaker’s race, a Republican aide familiar with the discussion told POLITICO.

Meanwhile, senators from both parties are still figuring out how to handle the administration’s request of roughly $24 billion for border security and migrant aid.

Democrats like Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) want to direct money into the asylum system. Republicans want to staff up border patrol and border security, arguing that policy changes should be included in an emergency spending package. (Senate Republicans want to see that happen as part of any feasible vehicle, which differs from Johnson’s specific interest in linking the border to government funding.)

Importantly, no concrete package from either side has emerged. But two Republican senators, Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), said they are close to agreement on their side on a border proposal.

“It’s going to be very hard to get a package through the Senate that doesn’t have border [provisions] on it,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters Tuesday.

Which leaves House Democrats still trying to agree on exactly what kind of border funding they’d accept. And also trying to resolve the closed-door disagreements that have seeped into the open as some Hispanic Caucus members criticize parts of the Escobar-Salazar bipartisan immigration package.

CHC members’ beef is centered on the bipartisan bill’s provisions on farmworker visas and asylum seekers, as well as its funding for border barriers.

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) told Huddle in an interview that “just because the worst of the worst that is in Congress is supporting a bill is not an excuse to get behind bad legislation.”

Other Latino Democrats are openly warning that while GOP control of the House clouds the prospects for passing any immigration legislation, the bigger risk may come on the 2024 campaign trail from Republicans seeking to weaponize the border.

House Republicans “want to make immigration, the border and migrants an issue for the campaign,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said. “And so it’s not going to go anywhere, or it could become even worse.”

Jordain Carney and Burgess Everett contributed.

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