Democrats embrace tougher border enforcement, seeing Trump’s demolition of deal as a ‘gift’

The Senate’s border proposal was one of the toughest bipartisan bills to emerge on the issue in decades. Yet it quickly collapsed when Republicans — galvanized by Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee — rejected the compromise as insufficient.

Now Democrats see an opening.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called Trump’s rejection of the border legislation “a gift” for Democrats and said they plan to “constantly over the next year” remind voters that it was Republicans who torpedoed the deal. And he says the strategy has already paid dividends, with Democrat Tom Suozzi, who campaigned on tougher border enforcement, winning a special election this week in New York, flipping a House seat away from Republicans.

Schumer said the race in his home state of New York “says something very significant — that border is no longer the province of Republicans.”

That calculation is already having far-reaching effects, transforming the way President Joe Biden and Democrats talk about one of the biggest issues in this year’s elections and shaping the policy debate over immigration.

It’s a strategy with significant political risk. Republicans have campaigned on border security for years, and public frustration is running high with the record number of illegal U.S. border crossings. While arrests for illegal border crossings dipped by half in January, they reached 249,735 in December, the highest monthly tally on record. Cities, including many run by Democratic mayors, are straining under an influx of migrants.

Republicans pin the historic number of illegal border crossings directly on Biden and argue that the Senate legislation would not have been enough to curb it. They say Democrats are only trying to excuse away their own failures.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said earlier this month that the influx of migrants “burdening my state and a lot of the major cities around the country is unsustainable and has proven to be a political liability for President Biden, so they want to try to act like they’re doing something about it for a fig leaf.”

Democrats, trying to cling to a thin Senate majority and retake the House, are undeterred. They see the spectacular collapse of the bill as a cautionary tale for voters and another way to tie GOP candidates to Trump, especially in swing races.

“Republicans aren’t willing to stand up and solve issues,” said Rep. Suzan Delbene, a Washington Democrat who chairs the party’s House campaign committee. “They are led by the most extreme members of their party and when Donald Trump says he doesn’t want to move something, they all fall in line.”