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D.C. Download: Why Nevada Dems want Biden to take action on the border

Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum

Remember earlier this year, when Senate Republicans voted down a national security bill that included a conservative border policy wish list?

Immigration policy is Congress’ job, and there’s wide agreement that for decades now, Congress has failed, setting presidential administrations up to fill the gap. Nevada’s Democrats are now calling for further immigration and border-related policy, but they’re asking the Biden administration to take the lead — a tacit acknowledgment that a congressional immigration deal is impossible, at least in an election year.

The News of the Week: The messy politics of immigration reform

The Biden administration proposed a new rule Thursday aimed at speeding up the processing of migrants by allowing immigration officers to reject asylum claims earlier in the process.

Under current law, migrants who arrive at the border and give a “credible fear” interview — a metric to determine whether they had sufficient reason to leave their home country and thereby be granted asylum — have their fate determined by an immigration court judge. The Biden administration’s proposed rule would allow officers to reject asylum claims earlier in the process for migrants who have a criminal record or otherwise pose a national security risk.

The new rule — which would not go into effect for several months — comes as the Biden administration reportedly mulls stricter executive actions related to the border. The move comes as 2023 ended with a record 250,000 migrant encounters at the southern border. 

Democratic allies in Congress, particularly members from swing districts or states, have been pushing him to take a more aggressive approach at the border. Fifteen House Democrats signed onto a letter this week calling on the president to “use all the tools at your disposal” to better address border security — including Reps. Susie Lee (D-NV) and Steven Horsford (D-NV).

Meanwhile, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus held a press conference this week urging Biden to use executive action to protect the undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens, or mixed status families. The groups, which included Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), want the administration to expedite the process by which these long-term residents can receive lawful status.

The various pushes by Democrats in Congress reflect a few political realities. Trump is running as the best candidate for voters worried about immigration — a theme he riffs on in public and in private, often with offensive language. And he’s winning in polling on immigration, including with key voters from Biden’s 2020 coalition. That dynamic is part of why Republicans killed the bipartisan border deal in the first place — the perception of chaos at the border and anti-immigrant sentiment is a political benefit.

Democrats, meanwhile, want to portray themselves as the party taking border security seriously. To that end, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is considering reviving the failed border deal and putting it back on the floor. 

The Nevada Angle

Cortez Masto’s approach to immigration reform has long been a “walk and chew gum at the same time” mantra — she wants a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants while strengthening border enforcement. As one of four Hispanic Senate Democrats, she was more supportive of the earlier border deal than Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA), for example, who has pushed more aggressively for migrant rights and criticized it as a return to Trump-era policy.

Padilla, of course, represents a far bluer state than Cortez Masto. And on Wednesday, the two were on the same side, calling for streamlining pathways to legal status for long-term residents.

She pulled no punches with the GOP, saying Republicans killed the border deal and that the Biden administration must act so that “immigrant families don’t pay the price for Republicans’ political games.”

While Lee’s and Horsford’s letter focused on the opposite side of the equation — border security measures — they similarly laid the blame of inaction at the feet of Republicans.

Citing the tanking of the border bill as well, the two Southern Nevada-based Democrats, representing competitive districts, urged Biden to “restore order at the Southern border and fix our broken immigration system.”

The latter is quite literally the responsibility of Congress, which the letter writers acknowledged, saying congressional action is long overdue. But in the absence of a deal over Republicans “playing politics,” they put the onus on Biden to act.

Joining the letter reflects Lee’s and Horsford’s increasingly confrontational approach to Biden on the border. Last week, they joined all Republicans and just 12 other Democrats to vote for a resolution denouncing the Biden administration’s immigration policies — meaning Republicans cannot include that particular bit of legislation on attack ads.

The Impact

Polling in Nevada consistently ranks immigration as a top three issue for voters, making Democrats hyper-aware of their voting and messaging on it — particularly because voters are giving Trump the advantage on the issue.

If Schumer does decide to give the border bill another go in the Senate, I would expect Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who is up for re-election, to message on it heavily. Republican candidates for House and Senate frequently cited the border in early ads.

Around the Capitol

🪓The Jacky/Joe split When Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that Israel should have new elections, Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) told Jewish Insider that she disagreed and left it at that. Now, Rosen again finds herself on the opposite side of a party leader on the topic of Israel — this time Biden, who said Wednesday that he would withhold offensive aid to Israel if it moves forward with a ground invasion at Rafah.

Rosen told Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod that security assistance to Israel should remain “unconditional” and that the U.S. should not stand in the way of Israel’s mission to defeat Hamas. Will she do anything to try and block Biden’s move? It remains to be seen, but fellow pro-Israel Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) said that while he was disappointed, he would not do anything legislatively to undermine the president.

📪DeJoy mailing it in — Representatives from Northern Nevada continued their crusade against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s plan to relocate mail processing operations from Reno to Sacramento. 

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) met with DeJoy at a roundtable and issued a harsh statement afterwards, saying he believes USPS has no interest in responding to Nevadans’ concerns. And the full force of the North’s political might, Amodei, Cortez Masto, Rosen and Gov. Joe Lombardo (R) sent the USPS board of governors a letter asking them to stop (or consider replacing) DeJoy. 

🏘️HUD kicks in $43 million for affordable housing — Acting Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Adrianne Todman was in Reno Wednesday to announce $43 million for Nevada through various HUD programs to build out more affordable housing stock, fund homeless shelters, preserve existing affordable housing communities and offer housing assistance to low-income Nevadans with HIV.

🧑‍⚖️CCM to Garland: Hurry up Cortez Masto and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) sent a letter Wednesday to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging him to speed up the implementation of their 2020 law to address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis.

Savanna’s Law, passed in 2020, requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to adjust its law enforcement protocols to better coordinate with agencies and tribes to collect data and provide education on the crisis. The senators’ letter says that the DOJ’s website detailing its implementation of the law has not been regularly updated and that the agency has “fallen short” in its efforts to enforce the law. 

What I’m Reading

Roll Call: Rating change: Nevada a Toss-up in presidential race

Roll Call reflecting what we’ve known over here — #WeMatter.

The Nevada Independent: Amodei’s mining bill passes House after procedural mishap last week

Tired: Derailing Amodei’s bill as part of a floor protest against leadership

Wired: Briefly postponing Amodei’s bill for a motion to vacate the chair

The Associated Press: President Joe Biden cheers the Las Vegas Aces and women’s basketball

Biden joked that Aces coach Becky Hammon should “put him in.” I see him as a 3-and-D wing, but I’m open to debate.

Notable and Quotable

“I kind of like that back-to-back stuff.”

— President Joe Biden, to the Las Vegas Aces

Vote of the Week

H.Res.1209 — On motion to table: Declaring the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives to be vacant

Democrats and Republicans banded together to table Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-GA) motion to vacate the speaker. While 11 Republicans and 32 Democrats voted to move to debate, all of the Nevadans voted to swiftly end the debacle before it even began.



LEE: Yes



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