Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden’s concessions on border policy to get Ukraine aid passed have put him at odds with key allies who will be charged with mobilizing voters, multiple sources tell CNN, underscoring the political headwinds the Biden campaign faces in the upcoming election.
Border security remains a political liability for Biden heading into 2024, as polls reveal voter dissatisfaction over the president’s handling of migration at the southern border. Since taking office, his administration has grappled with record high arrests at the US-Mexico border amid unprecedented migration in the Western Hemisphere – contributing to a shift toward stricter immigration measures within the administration.
Biden, who pledged to restore the US immigration system during the 2020 campaign, is now considering immigration restrictions that stand to have lasting implications for migrants, a move that could backfire with his progressive base. While the tone and policies from the president are still markedly different from former President Donald Trump – who over the weekend doubled down on saying immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” language condemned for its ties to White supremacist rhetoric – the concessions from the White House to get aid passed are now frustrating the people who are expected to hit the trail for Biden next year.
Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar, who also serves as co-chair of the Biden-Harris 2024 campaign, told CNN: “It’s different from where the campaign was at in 2020, for certain.”
Escobar cast blame on Republican governors and attorneys general for hindering Biden’s immigration agenda, in addition to Congress, but raised alarm over the reported direction of border talks and inclusion of tighter asylum policies, among other stricter immigration measures.
“I want to hold out hope that the White House and the administration, while saying that they want a deal, are also pushing back on really bad policy,” she added, noting that the administration has previously tried to push forward solutions that have been blocked by Republicans.
Democratic Rep. Delia Ramirez, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who delivered the progressive response to Biden’s State of the Union address, told CNN: “I cannot campaign for someone in which I can’t explain tangibly that they’re looking for relief, that they are strengthening the asylum status, improving legal pathways.”
“My credibility is based on my ability to talk about those things and how we’re delivering,” she said, adding that she’d vote “no” on a supplemental funding request that includes provisions restricting asylum at the US southern border.
A White House official defended the administration’s track record, saying, “The Biden Administration has led the largest expansion of lawful pathways in decades, the Trump Administration focused on banning individuals from Muslim majority countries. And while the Trump Administration separated families, the Biden Administration established a Task Force with the purpose of reunifying those families.”
Biden officials and Senate negotiators are still hammering out the details of a potential border deal, but so far, the White House has been open to a series of changes that echo those pursued by the Trump administration.
Those proposals include turning back migrants at the US-Mexico border without giving them the chance to seek asylum, expanding a fast-track deportation procedure to include more undocumented immigrants, and raising the credible fear standard for asylum seekers, sources tell CNN.
“If he does go too far in the Trump direction when it comes to this, it’s going to be felt at the ballot box next year. No doubt about it,” Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla told CNN’s Manu Raju.
One Democratic strategist slammed the White House for considering Trump-era like policies, describing them as misguided and at odds with the Biden campaign.
“There is a disconnect between the narrative they’re using for the campaign and what they’re saying in these negotiations for Ukraine aid,” the strategist said.
“How can we argue to voters that this is their best choice when they’re basically doing the same thing the other candidate tried to do? You’re using immigrants as bargaining chips and asking the same people advocating for good policies to turn around and mobilize voters the year after,” the strategist said, referring to Trump.
For Biden, the politics of the moment are complicated. While losing support from the Democratic base could cost him at the polls next November, the perception of doing nothing on border security could have broad implications. A New York Times and Siena College poll last month found registered voters in six key battleground states gave Trump the edge in trust over Biden on immigration.
In their own private conversations with White House officials, several top border state Democrats told CNN they have been pushing for a harder line approach, worried that the response to date has not adequately addressed the topic and will prove a sleeper issue that costs Biden votes in the key battleground states of Nevada and Arizona.
“What’s clear is the dynamics here are very challenging politically,” said Cecilia Munoz, former President Barack Obama’s top immigration adviser who also served on the Biden transition team.
“The administration has long wanted a constructive conversation with respect to expanding the tools they can use. They have a theory of the case on how to manage things better but don’t have a Congress that wants it,” she added, noting that the immigration system and tools in place are outdated for today’s set of challenges along the border.
“The contrast is not as clean as it could be,” said Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist and CNN commentator, citing White House support for sweeping immigration measures in border negotiations.
Still, the president’s reelection campaign has sought to highlight Trump’s rhetoric on the issue as as they attempt to draw clear distinctions.
After this weekend’s comments, the Biden campaign blasted Trump, saying in a statement: “He is betting he can win this election by scaring and dividing this country. He’s wrong. In 2020, Americans chose President Biden’s vision of hope and unity over Trump’s vision of fear and division — and they’ll do the same next November.”
But allies remain concerned about Biden’s vision.
America’s Voice executive director Vanessa Cárdenas called it “whiplash” when referring to the statements the White House is putting out about immigration policy concessions and the emails Biden’s 2024 campaign is sending out on immigration at the same time.
“It is deeply problematic that a year away from the election, we hear that they’re considering these policies that cannot be described other than … ending asylum as we know it,” she said.
Written by Priscilla Alvarez and Camila DeChalus
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