What to Know in Washington: Biden’s Immigration Bill to Change

The two bills the House passed last week were just the beginning of Democrats’ push to overhaul the immigration system, but political hurdles have slowed their next step in the effort before it even hits the uphill climb in the Senate.

House Democrats are gearing up to move a comprehensive measure championed by President Joe Biden, who proposed a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. The bill was introduced last month by Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) and has support from both wings of the party.

It’s not on a fast track to the floor, however, as moderate members are seeking changes to the bill before signing on. In the House, every Democratic vote is critical thanks to the party’s slim majority, in which even a few dissenting members could sink it.

And senators from both parties are pessimistic about any immigration bill’s chances of overcoming a 60-vote filibuster, particularly as the administration deals with a surge of migrants from Central America coming across the U.S. border. Emily Wilkins, Genevieve Douglas and Shaun Courtney have more on the outlook for the effort.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
U.S. Border Patrol agents detain undocumented immigrants next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence on March 17.

Biden to Visit U.S.-Mexico Border ‘At Some Point’: Biden said yesterday he plans to visit the U.S.-Mexico border “at some point” for a first-hand look at conditions as the entry of migrants seeking refugee status in the U.S. rises sharply. The comment, made to reporters at the White House, came after Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he’s not worried about setting a precedent on open borders by allowing thousands of unaccompanied minors to enter the country.

“At some point I will, yes,” Biden said about a border visit. Asked if he wanted to see first-hand what’s happening at overcrowded migrant processing centers, he added, “I know what’s going on in those facilities.”

The president’s schedule for the coming week, released by the White House, shows no plans for a border visit through Thursday.

The influx of crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border has become a political liability for the two-month-old Biden administration, which reversed many of former President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies. Republicans blame Biden’s approach for encouraging a new wave of migrants while the administration says Trump left behind an inhumane and inadequate system that can’t keep up. Read more from Billy House.

Democrats’ Agenda

Democrats Inch Toward Possible Filibuster Move: The fatal shootings in Atlanta last week have led one of the Senate’s long-standing supporters of the filibuster rule to say she is now open to discussing potential changes to that process. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is framing her potential shift as a back-up plan if a bipartisan deal can’t be struck on legislation passed by the House to improve background checks for gun purchases and to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Read more from Billy House and Steven T. Dennis.

  • On Friday, Biden called on Congress to send him new legislation on hate crimes and for Americans to “change our hearts” to combat racially motivated attacks on Asian people following the murders of eight people in shootings this week in the Atlanta area. Biden asked lawmakers to send him the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act to sign, which would boost government reporting of the crimes and make its information more accessible to Asian Americans. Read more from Jordan Fabian.

Biden Urged to Defend Voting Rights: Biden faces growing pressure from his party’s left to wage an all-out defense of voting rights, as Republican-held statehouses pursue restrictions that would fall heaviest on Black voters who helped Democrats win the White House and both chambers of Congress. Some activists said Biden should reshuffle his priorities and set aside work on a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure and economic recovery plan to focus on fighting efforts to making voting more difficult. Read more from Mario Parker.

Biden Determined to Tax Rich: Biden’s economic team at the White House is determined to make good on his campaign pledge to raise taxes on the rich, emboldened by mounting data showing how well America’s wealthy did financially during the pandemic. With Republican and business-lobby opposition to the administration’s tax plans stiffening, Democrats need to decide how ambitious to be in trying to revamp the tax code in what’s almost-certain to be a go-it-alone bill. Interviews with senior officials show there’s rising confidence at the White House that evidence of widening inequality will translate into broad popular support for a tax-the-wealthy strategy. Read more from Nancy Cook.

Also Happening on the Hill

Leaders Mull $2 Billion for Capitol Security: Congressional leaders are putting together a $2 billion special funding bill to strengthen security at the Capitol in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack, according to multiple people familiar with the plan. The discussions and drafting of the bill are not yet finished, and the total is approximate and subject to change, said two officials familiar with the talks. There is no set timing for release of the proposal and a vote on the funds. Read more from Billy House.

House to Confront Tech CEOs Over Online Spread of False Info: The chief executives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter are set to testify before Congress this week, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle prepare to press the companies over the spread of false information that contributed to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol attacks. Two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees will hold a joint hearing Thursday focused on the growth of misinformation and disinformation shared on big tech platforms. The hearing will give lawmakers an opportunity to air their grievances, and discuss legislative efforts targeting the broad liability shield that protect the companies from the legal ramifications of dangerous content on their platforms. Read more from Rebecca Kern.

Letlow Wins Race to Succeed Late Husband: The widow of a congressman-elect who died from Covid-19 complications before he could take office won a special election to replace him in Congress, just hours after former President Donald Trump endorsed Juila Letlow. A second special election in Louisiana, to fill the seat vacated by White House adviser Cedric Richmond, will go to a run-off in April. Read more from Billy House.

  • A university official with a Ph.D. in communication, Letlow gave thought to running someday for political office as she campaigned in 2020 with her husband Luke Letlow. His unexpected death in late December required Julia Letlow to make a decision about becoming a political candidate much sooner and faster than she ever anticipated. Greg Giroux has more on Letlow.

Tom Reed Won’t Seek Re-election: Rep. Tom Reed won’t seek re-election to the House, the New York Republican said in a statement last night in which he apologized to a lobbyist who accused him of touching her inappropriately. Reed said his behavior on a political trip in 2017 was “unprofessional” and “wrong,” adding that it occurred at a time when he was struggling with alcohol addiction. The lawmaker, seen recently as a potential challenger to embattled Governor Andrew Cuomo — who faces his own allegations of improper conduct — won’t run for governor either. Read more from Steven T. Dennis, Billy House and Derek Wallbank.

Around the Administration

Farmworker Clash Heads to Top Court: For almost a half century, labor organizers in California have had a unusual right: Under a state regulation, they can walk onto the premises of an agricultural business and recruit workers to join a union. The regulation is now before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that critics are looking to turn into a blockbuster decision strengthening property rights and curbing regulatory power. The court will hear arguments today on a constitutional challenge to a 1975 rule that grew out of the efforts of Cesar Chavez to give farm workers collective bargaining rights. Read more from Greg Stohr.

Digital Dollar Momentum Worries Wall Street: Banks, credit card companies and digital payments processors are nervously watching the push to create an electronic alternative to the paper bills Americans carry in their wallets, or what some call a digital dollar and others call a Fedcoin. As soon as July, officials at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which have been developing prototypes for a digital dollar platform, plan to unveil their research, said James Cunha, who leads the project for the Boston Fed. Read more from Joe Light.

U.S. Considers Climate Benchmark for Wall Street: The Biden administration is considering ways to push the global finance industry to consistently account for carbon dioxide emissions and green investments, people familiar with the matter said. The Department of the Treasury is working on measures to improve companies’ environmental impact disclosure, according to the people. Read more from Jessica Shankleman, Saleha Mohsin and Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

Austin Visits Afghanistan as Troop Deadline Nears: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan yesterday and said the Central Asian nation’s violence remains high as Biden weighs the future of the U.S. troop presence. Biden is under pressure to decide whether to abide by an Afghan peace accord reached during Trump’s final year that seeks to bring home the 2,500 U.S. troops now stationed there by May 1, a deadline Biden has said “could happen” but would be “tough” to meet. Read more from Peter Martin and Henry Meyer.

U.S.-China Talk Without Clear Path Forward: U.S. and Chinese officials traded acrimony and accusations over two days of talks in Anchorage, Alaska, that both sides hope will clear the air. Now the real work begins. While Americans portrayed the talks as a good chance to exchange views, they left Alaska without any clear path forward on issues from tariffs and human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong to cyber attacks and the long roster of Chinese corporations at risk of being delisted from U.S. exchanges. Read more from Nick Wadhams.

U.S. Seeks Stronger Defense Ties With India: The U.S. sought to further strengthen defense cooperation with India as part of Biden’s push to develop closer ties with Asian partners amid widening differences with China. Secretary Austin held talks with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh in New Delhi on Saturday to discuss opportunities to elevate the U.S.-India defense partnership through regional security cooperation, military interactions and defense trade. Read more from Sudhi Ranjan Sen and Archana Chaudhary.

U.K. Talks Can Build on Trump Plan: Trade talks with the U.S. will seek to build on “well-channeled lines” established during discussions with the Trump White House while seeking to incorporate new priorities favored by Biden, the U.K.’s envoy to Washington said. Read more from David Wainer.

Khamenei Says No Rush on Nuclear Deal: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country was in “no hurry” to revive the nuclear deal and warned the U.S. its current policy toward the Islamic Republic was doomed to fail unless sanctions are totally removed. Read more from Arsalan Shahla and Golnar Motevalli.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com