Schumer, Jeffries’ quiet approach to migrant crisis divides NY Democrats

Schumer and Jeffries’ decision to backchannel with the White House for expanded work authorization and more federal emergency funds speaks to the politically volatile nature of the problem. The Senate majority leader and his House minority counterpart want to avoid inflaming a debate that Republicans are using to push moderates into their column on the 2024 ballot.

Their quiet cajoling contrasts with how Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, fellow Democrats, have used their bully pulpits to demand help from Washington. The response also raises concerns among Democrats in suburban swing districts to feel they’ve been left alone to assume political risks in a state that’s key to retaking the House.

“Getting federal assistance would be a lot easier if the two most powerful Democrats in Congress were out front fighting for their home state,” said a Democratic adviser familiar with the dynamics. The adviser was granted anonymity to reveal the internal party discussions.

A few weeks after Schumer was visiting the fair in Syracuse, Jeffries was missing from a congressional delegation tour of a migrant center in Manhattan.

His congressional colleagues defended his absence.

“Oh, he is a part of this!” Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman insisted at the September event. “He was with me in Washington, when we met with [Homeland Security] Secretary Mayorkas and Mayor Adams to push the administration for more resources. So the leader is an essential part of this.”

Recent polls are an indication of why events like the Manhattan tour weren’t on Jeffries’ schedule. A Siena College Research Institute survey found more New Yorkers view migrants as a “burden” than a “benefit.”

Republicans are well aware of those voter sentiments. The migrant crisis will be a top line of attack for them heading into next year’s elections. They’re eager to link Jeffries to the problem as he’s leading efforts to help Democrats win back House seats.

“Hakeem Jeffries and extreme House Democrats caused New York’s migrant crisis,” National Republican Campaign Committee spokesperson Savannah Viar charged in a statement. “His refusal to offer any actual solutions, other than hiding behind his lackeys screeching inaudibly at press conferences, is why they’re destined for doom on the ballot.”

Schumer and Jeffries have had success by quietly brokering meetings and lobbying those close to the president, according to five people familiar with the efforts. And it comes as they are dealing with threats of a government shutdown and House GOP leadership turmoil.

In mid-September, Biden expanded temporary protected status, or TPS, for Venezuelans. The designation made nearly 10,000 migrants in New York City eligible to apply for work permits.

Schumer called the TPS change “welcome news” in Senate floor remarks after the announcement.

“I wrote to Secretaries Blinken and Mayorkas in July that country conditions in Venezuela clearly met the criteria for TPS, so this is a good step forward,” he said.

In addition, the senior senator had multiple conversations with White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients on TPS, noting that Venezuelan nationals make up the bulk of the new arrivals to the city, according to one of the people familiar with the talks.

Schumer also helped set up the meeting that he, Jeffries, Adams and other New York representatives held in late July in Washington with Mayorkas, according to two people familiar with the planning.

Jeffries played a key role as well, with the closed-door gathering taking place in his Capitol Hill office.

Schumer’s representatives highlighted that achievement.

“The record is very clear that Senator Schumer has been working at the highest levels, delivering funds for New York, securing the significant Biden administration decision on TPS for Venezuelans and fighting for more,” his spokesperson Angelo Roefaro said in a statement.

“And do not forget, it was Senator Schumer who already passed bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate with wide bipartisan support, only to see it die in a GOP House,” Roefaro added of the effort 10 years ago.

A spokesperson for Jeffries said the congressmember’s remarks — which put a kitchen table spin on work authorization — speak for themselves.

“What’s most important is that we successfully implement the opportunity for individuals to temporarily work while their asylum applications are being processed, because that will benefit the American taxpayer,” Jeffries told Capitol Hill reporters after the TPS announcement.

Still, some allies of the mayor are angry that Schumer and Jeffries haven’t been more forceful with the Biden administration.

“Obviously, it’s politically thorny, but you’d hope they’d step up some more. They’ve been totally absent,” said a Democratic city official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks.

“The only thing we’re getting is the lion’s share of asylum-seekers; we’re not getting the lion’s share of funding,” the official added, calling the $140 million in federal funding allocated for New York’s support of migrants “pennies” in a crisis Adams has estimated will cost $12 billion.

Hochul and Adams have publicly commended Schumer and Jeffries, despite some behind-the-scenes frustrations with their approach.

Adams’ technique — ripping the White House and the leader of his party for destroying the city by not providing enough migrant aid — has hurt his relationship with Washington leaders.

The mayor, who once called himself the Biden of Brooklyn, now has a deeply broken relationship with the president.

But Biden has also done more in recent days as Adams traveled to Latin and South America to press his case for fewer migrants and more federal help. On Thursday, the Biden administration announced the United States will again start deporting migrants to Venezuela and will resume construction in Texas of the Trump administration’s proposed border wall.

And the fact that the Schumer and Jeffries have been spared Adams’ wrath is proof that they are indeed advocating for the city — if only through back doors and with the gridlock in Washington over funding.

“They’re 100 percent supporting the city,” Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York business group, said in an interview. “But they are not in a position to deliver the kind of funding that the situation requires because there’s not a budget provision to cover billions of dollars for a humanitarian crisis as opposed to a natural disaster.”

While Republican City Council Member Joe Borelli slammed Schumer for not bringing a House bill on border security to the Senate floor, he acknowledged the political realities the leader faces on funding.

“He has no leverage on appropriations because he doesn’t have the votes in the Senate,” Borelli added.

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