Democrats Eyeing 2020 Split on Spending Bill Over Immigration

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Democrats eyeing the presidency in 2020 cast split votes on the government spending bill passed by Congress, reflecting disputes within the party over immigration enforcement.

California’s Kamala Harris, Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand and New Jersey’s Cory Booker — all of whom have announced they’re seeking the party’s presidential nomination — were among the 16 senators who voted against the legislation that keeps the government open and provides more money for border control and deportations.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who announced her bid on Sunday, joined two senators weighing nomination runs, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, in the majority that passed the legislation.

The main dividing line was over additional funding for the two agencies within the Homeland Security Department that are on the front lines of the immigration debate: Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"This funding bill gives ICE and CBP hundreds of millions of additional dollars with little oversight or appropriate guardrails," Booker said in a statement.

Chris Harris, a spokesman for Harris, said she voted against it because of "concerns’’ about DHS funding and the increasing capacity of detention facilities that allow the president to hold children, families and individuals who have not committed any crimes.

Election Issue

President Donald Trump’s fight with Democrats over a border wall makes immigration a central issue in the 2020 presidential campaign. Trump on Friday said he’s going to use emergency authority to shift taxpayer money toward wall construction after he got only $1.375 billion for fencing in the spending bill passed by Congress.

“The only reason we’re up here talking about this is because of the election, because they want to try and win an election which it looks like they’re not going to be able to do,” Trump said at the White House.

While Democrats are largely unified in opposition to Trump’s immigration policies, there is a debate within the party between those who want to "abolish ICE" and others who are wary of giving Republicans a tool to attack the party as supportive of "open borders." Left-leaning activists and their allies have increasingly criticized ICE as abusive and out-of-control, fueled by Trump’s family separation policy for certain asylum-seekers and reports of people dying in ICE custody.

Helping drive the debate are the four first-term House liberals popular with the progressive base. Democrats Ayanna Pressley of Boston, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City, Rashida Tlaib of Detroit and Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis issued a statement vowing to oppose the spending deal, arguing against any increase in funding for immigration enforcement.

As pro-immigrant sentiments grow within the Democratic Party, and with Hispanic voters slated to be influential in the primaries, some candidates are championing their cause.

Gillibrand said in a statement that she voted against the bill because "the increased funding for ICE in this bill comes with no accountability and will give the president the ability to continue his inhumane policies."

Other senators, like Sanders, who voted for the funding measure sought to convey solidarity with workers who suffered from the previous shutdown.

"While I have concerns about aspects of this bill, I will vote for it because I cannot turn my back on the 2 million federal employees and private contract workers who would be forced, again, to work without pay," Sanders said. "I am also concerned about the millions of people who would be denied access to government services."

Brown, for his part, backed the bill and focused his fire on Trump’s emergency declaration, describing the border barrier as a "vanity project" and saying it’d be "reckless and irresponsible" to build it with military funds.

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