Democrats frustrated with Biden border order

Good morning, Early Birds. Today is the annual White House picnic for members of Congress and their guests to enjoy an afternoon on the South Lawn. We’d love to hear Republican lawmakers’ conversations with President Biden in an election year. Send tips (and picnic gossip) to Thanks for waking up with us.

In today’s edition … Campaign highlights Republicans opposed to Trump … House members’ $5 million in expenses scrutinized … but first …

Biden’s border executive order targets independent voters’ support

President Biden is expected to announce an executive order today to strictly limit the number of crossings at the southern border with Mexico.

Ahead of the first presidential debate this month, the action is the administration’s latest and most aggressive to show voters that, absent congressional measures, Biden is making decisive moves to slow the influx of migrants. (We previewed this two weeks ago.)

The administration has discussed executive action ever since House and Senate Republicans rejected a bipartisan border security bill in February. It mimics a central part of that bill, capping migrant requests for asylum at an expected level of 2,500 per day, according to our colleagues Nick Miroff and Toluse Olorunnipa.

Biden’s action is a form of political outreach to independent voters, who polls suggest trust former president Donald Trump and Republicans more on the border. But it’s frustrating Democratic members who say Biden is ignoring the law and caving to Republican rhetoric.

The White House has been doing outreach to Democratic members. Administration officials held a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus two weeks ago to walk lawmakers through the executive order, and White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients has been calling individual members of Congress to update them on the plan.

One of those members is Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She said she has told Zients — both on the phone Sunday and previously — that the path the president is taking is “very, very disappointing.”

  • “We should be distinguishing ourselves from Donald Trump on immigration,” Jayapal said. “We should be offering the contrast.”

Jayapal and other Democrats we spoke to said that Biden is ignoring U.S. law that requires granting asylum to people with a credible fear in their home countries and that the real challenge is a lack of legal paths to immigration, which is why people are relying on the asylum system.

  • “I do not think that shutting down the border, quote unquote, is a remedy that will get us to where we need to be on immigration reform,” said Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Tex.).

Frustrated Democrats acknowledged that Biden is trying to appeal to independent voters, but they worry he is alienating the base voters who elected him.

Even Rep. Hillary Scholten (D-Mich.), an immigration lawyer who represents a swing district, says she is uncomfortable with Biden’s expected action.

  • “I understand that the Biden administration feels like they need to do something,” she said. “It’s heart-wrenching to see that this is the something that they are choosing, knowing full well that this is not going to come close to solving the problem that we are experiencing.”

Critics of the plan are pushing the administration to follow up with humanitarian-focused executive orders that provide work permits for immigrant caregivers and their spouses and to help “dreamers,” people who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), who was sharply critical of the bipartisan Senate immigration bill, argued Democrats who back Biden’s executive order are also misreading the politics.

“While some people point to how well an orderly and secure border polls, what polls even better is support for dreamers and farmworkers and other essential workers who happen to be undocumented,” Padilla said. “What polls the best is a combination of the policies taken together.”

But not all Democrats are critical.

“I think it’s the right direction,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is running for reelection in a state Trump won by eight points, told reporters of Biden’s executive order. “I want to see more.”

After being encouraged by Trump to reject the bipartisan border security bill, Republicans said Biden didn’t need Congress because he could accomplish much of it through executive order.

Now, most say Biden’s action is clearly a political ploy even as some acknowledge that his message of blaming congressional Republicans for inaction and taking credit could be effective.

  • “I think he’s simply making a political decision,” said Rep. Marcus Molinaro (R-N.Y.), who represents a district Biden won in 2020. “But it certainly is a bit disingenuous.”
  • “I think they are making a political calculation right now. I get it,” said Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.), whose district runs along the Mexico border. “I also think they’re counting on the courts to stop whatever they’re doing.”

Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) plan to hold a news conference this morning to outline what they call the executive order’s flaws.

Biden’s executive order is almost certain to trigger immediate lawsuits, touching off a fight that will last months and probably reach the Supreme Court, according to immigration policy experts.

Thomas Warrick, a former Department of Homeland Security official who’s now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said he expected the courts to respond by staying the order, temporarily preventing it from taking effect.

“Groups that are going to be challenging this executive order will be able to make the case that there is a class of people who will suffer irreparable harm if the order is enforced right away,” he said.

Executive actions on the border are not new, as Congress has been unwilling or unable to pass immigration reform and border security bills for decades. Trump signed more than 470 executive orders during his term, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Heading into his reelection campaign in June 2012, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to give legal status to dreamers. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was an attempt to fulfill a campaign promise and shore up Hispanic support despite Congress’s unwillingness to provide relief to the children of undocumented immigrants.

A huge thanks to our colleagues Marianna Sotomayor and Mariana Alfaro for their help reporting.

Rep. Rob Menendez (D-N.J.), a freshman who represents a safe Democratic seat, is facing a primary challenger from Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla. We’re watching whether Menendez’s last name — his father, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), is on trial on corruption charges — helps make the race close. (Rob Menendez has not been implicated in the allegations against his father.)

Tim Sheehy, the former Navy SEAL backed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is expected to easily win today’s Republican Senate primary in Montana. He would take on Sen. Jon Tester, one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats, in November.

As part of their push on reproductive rights, which we covered yesterday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is holding a hearing on “How Abortion Bans Have Created a Health Care Nightmare Across America.”

They’ll hear from abortion patient Madysyn Anderson; Dr. Nisha Verma; and Allison Linton, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, where abortion is legal until 22 weeks of pregnancy but requires multiple medical visits, an ultrasound and counseling first.

“Think about how much power that gives not just politicians, but any man who knows he can get a woman pregnant — and force her to stay pregnant — so he can have control over her, or even get revenge, for the rest of her life,” Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) will say in her opening statement.

On the floor: The House is scheduled to vote on a bill to sanction the International Criminal Court today over its move to seek war crimes indictments against Israeli leaders. The White House strongly rejected the bill, which is led by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.). It would impose sanctions on the ICC, its judge and staffers. “There are more effective ways to defend Israel, preserve U.S. positions on the ICC, and promote international justice and accountability,” the administration’s statement said. We’re watching to see how many House Democrats vote for the measure after the strong statement of opposition from the White House.

Attorney General Merrick Garland will testify before the House Judiciary Committee as the chamber is sitting on a vote to hold him in contempt for not providing audio and video recordings from an investigation into Biden’s classified documents case.

And two former speakers — Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and former congressman Kevin McCarthy — are expected to show up this morning at an event the select committee examining the U.S. relationship with China is holding commemorating the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) is expected to go, too.

Campaign highlights Republicans opposed to Trump

Republican Voters Against Trump have launched a six-figure billboard campaign in four swing states featuring Republican voters who won’t vote for Trump.

“I’m a former Trump voter. I won’t vote for a convicted felon,” the billboards say, with photos and names of the one- or two-time Trump voters.

The billboards will appear in battleground states around urban areas, including Phoenix; Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing, Mich.; Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Pa.; and Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wis. Trump was convicted of 34 counts of falsifying business records to conceal a hush money payment to an adult-film actress last week.

It’s part of a $50 million campaign to highlight former Trump voters who no longer support him. It’s similar to a 2020 campaign by Republican Voters Against Trump.

House members’ $5 million in expenses scrutinized

Members of the House of Representatives received $5.2 million or more in food and lodging reimbursements from a taxpayer-funded program that does not require receipts, our colleagues Jacqueline Alemany, Clara Ence Morse and Liz Goodwin report.

Supporters say the program — which was launched last year with bipartisan support — is necessary to help members of Congress afford the cost of living in both D.C. and their home district. Critics argue that the program lacks accountability.

  • “Clearly it becomes very difficult to tell whether or not it’s a legitimate payment and whether it’s proper,” said Craig Holman, lobbyist for Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) was the top spender out of the 319 members who participated in the program, with Gaetz receiving almost $30,000 for housing and $10,000 for food last year.

  • “In 2023, Rep. Gaetz dedicated significant time to his work on the Weaponization Subcommittee, requiring his presence to be in Washington, D.C., on days often when there were no votes, which incurred additional reimbursement expenses to conduct depositions,” a spokesperson for Gaetz said.

Several members of Congress who own homes in D.C. have participated in the program, including Reps. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who expensed $3,000 and $2,838 for lodging, respectively.

Two former members of Mace’s staff say she told employees to request the maximum reimbursement each day the House was in session, an allegation Mace denies.

Farm bill delay likely as September deadline approaches

Congress is considering delaying the renewal of a law that ties crop subsidies with food aid for impoverished Americans, our colleague Jacob Bogage reports.

The law usually receives bipartisan support when it comes up for renewal, but with a Sept. 30 deadline, the Republican majority in the House is working on a version of the bill that would reduce spending on low-income food aid, a no-go for Democrats.

  • “Lawmakers say the probable outcome is a stalemate that would force a temporary extension of existing policies,” Jacob reports.

Experts say the law must be updated to reflect changing economic tides. The last time it was rewritten was in 2018, before a variety of factors slowed supply chains and inflation increased drastically, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

  • “The world today is drastically different than it was when the current law was put into place,” said Sam Kieffer, vice president of public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation.

An extension that would allow for a longer-term fix to be addressed after the general election is already being discussed, though not everyone is on board with a year-long extension like Congress passed last year.

Rep. Tracey Mann (R-Kan.) argued that a five-year bill is necessary during a House Agriculture Committee meeting in late May.

  • “Farm bills are felt in every corner of America, in every field and pasture, in every grocery store and agribusiness,” Mann said. “The legislation we pass today will have ripple effects for years to come.”

Ashley’s right. (We especially love the ones at Supra.)

Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on X: @LACaldwellDC and @theodoricmeyer.

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