What to Know in Washington: Border Crisis Presses 2020 Democrats

President Donald Trump’s intensifying border crackdown promises to make immigration a central issue of the 2020 campaign, but the Democrats running to replace him haven’t yet offered voters a detailed vision beyond fierce opposition to his policies.

A new surge of migrants at the southern border is exposing divisions among Democratic presidential hopefuls about whether to stick with a six-year-old bipartisan vision for the immigration system or to make sharper changes such as decriminalizing undocumented migration.

Julián Castro is trying to break out of the bottom of the presidential pack by releasing the most detailed plan yet, which would remove criminal penalties for unlawful immigration and make it a civil violation. Front-runner Bernie Sanders has called for “fundamentally restructuring” immigration enforcement without defining what that means, while Beto O’Rourke is sticking with more modest ideas like passing the DREAM Act and prioritizing deportation of criminals.

More than any other issue, Trump used immigration in 2016 to galvanize a voting base of mostly older and white voters who are disenchanted with demographic and cultural changes in the country. With a re-election campaign in his sights, Trump is ramping up tension with threats to shut the U.S.-Mexico border and cut off aid to Central American countries where migrants are fleeing violence and instability. He’s also purging his Department of Homeland Security in order to get “tougher” on immigration enforcement.

Many Republicans view immigration as a winning issue for them in 2020, and some progressive activists are fretting that Democrats will be left flat-footed without offering voters a vision for dealing with a flood of migrants and a system that both sides long have acknowledged is dysfunctional. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Photographer: Christ Chavez/Getty Images
O’Rourke speaks during a rally in El Paso, Texas, in February.

Lawmakers Eye Halting Migrant Surge: In the Senate, Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and ranking member Gary Peters (D-Mich.) are looking into legislative proposals to stem the surge of undocumented migrants at the Southwest border, both men said in interviews after a hearing with immigration officials yesterday, Michaela Ross reports.

Johnson said several Democrats told him they agree something needs to be done to address the wave of apprehensions, which hit more than 92,600 in the month of March, up from 37,400 a year ago. “I don’t think anybody’s talking about a manufactured crisis still,” he said. “The administration simply can’t resolve this problem through executive action. They can’t.”

Homeland Deputy Resigns: The Homeland Security Department acting deputy secretary resigned yesterday, following her boss in a White House purge of U.S. immigration agencies. The departure of Claire Grady, who was undersecretary for management, clears the way for Kevin McAleenan, the current head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to take over as acting secretary of Homeland Security. Read more from Margaret Talev.

Happening on the Hill

Net Neutrality Vote: The House is weighing a bill that would restore Obama-era net neutrality protections, amid a partisan divide over how much power to give the Federal Communications Commission to police internet service providers. The measure would reinstate rules that banned ISPs like Verizon and Comcast from blocking or slowing traffic on their networks, and block the agency from scrapping them. The GOP-controlled agency rolled back the rules in 2017.

The House is likely to pass the measure today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters yesterday that the bill is “dead on arrival in the Senate.” The White House on Monday issued a veto threat against the bill. Read more from Jon Reid.

Wage Chief Nears Final Confirmation Vote: The Senate yesterday advanced Cheryl Stanton’s nomination to run the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. Lawmakers voted 53-47 to limit debate on the nomination of Stanton, a South Carolina wage and hour attorney, setting up a final confirmation vote today. Stanton, the former head of the South Carolina state employment agency, was nominated by Trump in 2017. She’s among several DOL nominees who’ve been awaiting Senate confirmation. Read more from Tyrone Richardson.

Pruitt Protege Confirmed: Patrick Wyrick, whose ties to former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt when they both served in Oklahoma state government generated controversy, was confirmed yesterday to the federal bench. The Senate voted 53 to 47 in approving Wyrick’s nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, which includes Oklahoma City. Earlier in the day, the chamber confirmed Daniel Domenico to the District of Colorado, 57 to 42. The twin confirmations are part of an accelerated push by the Republican-led Senate to approve Donald Trump’s trial court selections. David Steven Morales and Holly A. Brady are next on the list of judges to be considered this week. Read more from Patrick L. Gregory.

Thune Sees Tough Road for Cain: Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Senate Republican leadership and some individual members have warned the White House that Herman Cain could have a difficult time getting confirmed to the Federal Reserve Board if Trump nominates him. “I’m not saying that he couldn’t get there, but he starts off with some concerns and we’d have to confirm him with all Republican votes. There aren’t going to be Democratic votes for him,” Thune said. “That’s what he would be facing going into the process.” Read more from Laura Litvan and Nancy Ognanovich.

Adding $3 Billion in Relief for Flood, Tornado Victims: House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) unveiled a bill that would offer relief for Americans affected by recent natural disasters, a statement from her office says. The $17.2 billion emergency supplemental is meant to build on legislation the House passed in January (H.R. 268) and includes a further $3 billion to address “urgent needs following flooding in the Midwest and tornadoes in the South.” Read more from Kim Chipman.

Democrats Weigh Trump Tax Return Options: House Democrats are gearing up for a lengthy battle with the Trump administration as the deadline for turning over the president’s tax returns approaches. Lawmakers are mapping out steps they may take if, as expected, the Internal Revenue Service refuses to release the returns. The IRS has until end of today to hand the returns over, but members of Trump’s legal team and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney have urged the agency and the Treasury Department to deny the request. Treasur y Secretary Steven Mnuchin said April 9 at congressional hearings that the request is under review and the department “will follow the law.”

The IRS can expect a second chance from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) if it doesn’t meet the first deadline. An aide for Ways and Means Democrats told Bloomberg Tax that if that happens, Neal will likely send another letter with a new deadline by the end of this week. If the tax-writing panel gets a second refusal, however, it may have no choice but to turn to the legal system. Tools the committee could use include issuing a subpoena or filing a lawsuit based on tax code Section 6103—the 1924 law that gives Neal authority to request the president’s retu rns. Read more from Allyson Versprille.

Crapo With Trump on Fed Rate Cuts: Senate Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) said yesterday that he thinks the Federal Reserve should cut interest rates to boost growth, aligning him with Trump and his latest choices for the Fed board, Stephen Moore and Herman Cain. “I personally think that we’re at a point where they could be reduced a little bit now,” he said, Steven T. Dennis and Craig Torres report.

Green New Deal as Campaign Issue: To supporters it has always been the Green New Deal—or GND—a mass mobilization to address climate change by putting people to work reducing the nation’s climate footprint. But Republican opponents have offered their own shorthand. They’ve called it a “socialist” dystopian plan, one that’s “tantamount to genocide.” Name-calling serves a strategic purpose for Republicans, who, in eyeing the 2020 election, hope to use the Green New Deal to cement the idea that Democrats have swerved too far left a nd jeopardized control of the House after their 2018 takeover. Read more from Dean Scott.

What Else to Know Today

Moon Tries to Rekindle Korea Talks: A year ago, South Korean President Moon Jae-in was preparing to host Kim Jong Un on the southern side of their fortified border — a historic high-water mark that fueled talk of a Nobel Peace Prize. Now, he’s heading back to Washington, hoping a direct appeal to Trump can keep all that from slipping away. The South Korean leader is slated to visit the White House tomorrow in a bid to rescue talks thrown into doubt when Trump walked away from his Feb. 28 summit with Kim in Hanoi, saying North Kore a wasn’t making sufficient commitments to give up its nuclear weapons.

Moon needs a breakthrough fast. Not only would a return to provocations put Seoul back at risk, Moon has staked much of his presidency on a pledge to forge a lasting peace between South Korea’s closest ally and its increasingly well-armed rival. His approval rating fell to a record low of 41 percent last week, according to Gallup Korea, compared with 83 percent in the wake of his first meeting with Kim last April. Read more from Youkyung Lee.

U.S.-China Trade Talks: U.S. and Chinese negotiators are discussing adding a concession on cloud computing to their trade agreement that would give foreign companies greater access to the $12 billion Chinese market, people familiar with the talks said. Chinese officials called a meeting this week with representatives of companies including Microsoft, Apple and Amazon to talk about the proposal in detail, said one of the people. The discussions include possibly scrapping the requirement that providers of remote computin g services form joint ventures with local companies, another person said. Both asked not to be named discussing the private negotiations. Read more.

Trump’s Trade War: Trump is sending a clear message to the economic policy makers gathering in Washington for the IMF and World Bank’s spring meetings: My trade wars aren’t finished yet and a weakening global economy will just have to deal with it. With his latest threat to impose tariffs on $11 billion in imports from the European Union — from helicopters to Roquefort cheese — the president offered a vivid reminder that, even as he moves toward a deal with China to end their tariff wars, he has other relationship s he’s eager to rewrite. That’s not encouraging for global growth, with the International Monetary Fund and others pointing to the uncertainty over Trump’s assault on the global trading system as a damper on business investment and sentiment. Read more from Shawn Donnan.

Team May Review FBI Actions in Trump Probe: Attorney General William Barr has assembled a team to review any controversial counterintelligence decisions made by Justice Department and FBI officials, including actions taken during the probe of the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016, a person familiar with the matter said. This indicates that Barr is looking into allegations Republican lawmakers have been pursuing for more than a year — that the investigation into Trump and possible collusion with Russia was tainted at the start by anti-T rump bias in the FBI and Justice Department. Read more from Chris Strohm and Billy House.

Administration to Appeal Asylum Seekers Ruling: The White House said it intends to appeal a U.S. judge’s ruling that bars the Trump administration from forcing Central Americans seeking asylum from persecution to wait in Mexico for months or even years while their applications are being processed. “We intend to appeal, and we will take all necessary action to defend the Executive Branch’s lawful efforts to resolve the crisis at our southern border,” according to a statement from the White House.

Netanyahu Retains Grip on Power: Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu looks set to sail to a fifth term as prime minister after a bruising election campaign against a popular former military chief, his muscular brand of nationalism and global stature eclipsing doubts about his personal integrity.

Netanyahu’s Likud party and retired general Benny Gantz’s Blue and White bloc each won 35 of parliament’s 120 seats. But together with other right-wing and religious partners, a Netanyahu-led bloc secured 65 seats, according to a tally of 97 percent of votes, Israeli media reported. Shortly after polls closed, several of the prime minister’s current partners announced that they would recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that Netanyahu form the next government. Read more from Amy Teibel, Ivan Levingston and Yaacov Benmeleh.

Trump Talks to Saudi Prince on Middle East: Trump spoke by telephone with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, even as U.S. lawmakers, including some in his party, hold the ruler responsible for the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi last fall and have demanded tougher penalties against the kingdom. Trump “had a productive conversation” with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the White House said in a statement yesterday night. “They discussed Saudi Arabia’s critical role in ensuring Middle East stability, maintaining maximum pressure against Iran, and the importance of human rights issues.” Read more from John Harney.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brandon Lee at blee@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com

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