Sinema takes on Schumer, Jeffries and the White House over the border
Category: News & PoliticsVia: vic-eldred • one month ago • 17 comments
When the Biden administration doled out millions in border relief money recently, it gave more to New York — the home of Congress' two top Democratic leaders — than to Arizona.
And now the Copper State's most famous former Democrat is calling out her old party's leaders.
Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is on the warpath over what she and border-state Democrats decry as Arizona's disproportionately small share of an $800 million pot aimed at alleviating overcrowded migrant holding facilities. She's not alone in crying foul about Arizona getting short shrift when compared to the Empire State — her potential 2024 opponent Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) is also speaking out on the imbroglio.
But only Sinema is aiming specific complaints at Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and the Biden administration.
Earlier this month in Yuma, Ariz., Sinema said she's "livid" about her state's treatment, singling out Schumer and Jeffries for steering border money to their state. She expanded on her ire in a lengthy interview with POLITICO, explaining that it's "important for people to know" why New York leapfrogged Arizona.
"It's fairly obvious. I don't know if you noticed, but the announcement about that $104 million came out first, in a joint press release from Schumer and Jeffries — not from the White House or from FEMA. The first news of it broke by their press release," Sinema said, referring to the amount of the pot granted to New York.
With a hint of sarcasm, she added: "Now, how did that happen?"
The funding dispute is complex and multi-faceted, pitting Sinema and her Democratic border-state colleagues against the clout that New York's two congressional Democratic leaders wield within the Biden administration. It also further bolsters the image Sinema has sought to build, that of an unorthodox legislator willing to oppose either party's leaders as she mulls whether to seek another term.
Sinema votes more frequently with Democrats than Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), but she left the party last year and does not attend its caucus meetings. That's created awkward questions about whether she will run again next fall in a three-way race against Gallego and whichever Republican wins the primary, potentially the polarizing pro-Trump Kari Lake.
New York sees the cash as critical to managing the high number of migrants that flock to the five boroughs, but its large disbursement of money could also complicate the path to approving more cash during this fall's government funding talks. The Biden administration requested more border money in its latest call for emergency spending, including $600 million for relieving crowding at shelter facilities.
"Now that a yeoman's amount of this funding has gone to the interior of the country, not to border communities, that lift to get another tranche of this funding — to get more of it approved — is even heavier than before," Sinema said in the interview. "To be clear: It was very heavy in December."
The administration received more funding requests than it could fulfill from border and interior communities. A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said that $75 million of the money remains and will be announced in the near future, but also said "only Congress can provide additional funding, which the administration has requested, and only Congress can fix our broken immigration system."
Sinema said she and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) worked behind the scenes in December to get Senate Republicans to sign off on roughly $800 million in border money that lawmakers in both parties assumed would flow to states on the front lines of migration. Many Republicans had opposed shelter funds for DHS, worried about giving the Biden administration extra money to carry out policies they don't support.
The two senators argued to colleagues, Sinema recalled, that "the communities that will suffer are the small border towns in South Texas and South Arizona" and the nonprofits and churches in those states. Cornyn declined to comment.
Ultimately, the Biden administration got to decide on the specifics of the border relief. And there was little grumbling when the first tranche of money came out earlier this year.
But when the second tranche came out and sent more than $100 million to New York, Sinema said she told officials at DHS and the White House: "This is outrageous, how is this even happening?'" In the interview, she called the decision "deeply, deeply wrong."
"This administration has been working from day one to build a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system and we've led the largest expansion of lawful pathways for immigration in decades," said a White House spokesperson. "We are committed to our continued partnership with border communities to ensure they can receive the support they need."
In their June press release, Schumer and Jeffries touted that they put the needs of New York City "front and center" and described the state's $104.6 million as "the largest share of the federal dollars released via the new Shelter Services Program we created." Neither top Democrat commented for this story.
Sinema joined five border-state Senate Democrats in June to condemn the administration's decision-making, creating an awkward internal debate that strains party unity.
"We secured this funding to relieve the burden on border communities and Customs and Border Protection facilities in our border states," Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) said in a statement. "The administration disregarded this when they awarded significantly more funding to New York City than overstretched border communities. This decision was wrong."
Sinema has not decided whether she will run for reelection; Gallego is running as a Democrat and focusing some of his political attacks on her more conservative politics. Even so, some topics transcend ideology: Gallego's been waging his own battle over the migration money and said in a statement he "will continue to fight to correct this injustice."
"FEMA's decision to divert resources away from Arizona is insulting to border communities who are on the front lines of the border crisis and bear the brunt of CBP decompression," Gallego said, citing statistics that show daily crossings in excess of 1,000 in Tucson.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams has suggested that his city, which under city law is legally required to offer shelter to migrants, could spend $12 billion on taking care of them. Democrats in the state believe that its status as an international destination for migrants places more pressure on its shelter system than is widely understood, according to a person familiar with the delegation's stance who addressed the sensitive topic on condition of anonymity. What's more, some Republican governors have sent migrants to big, Democrat-controlled cities.
Sinema did not deny that New York is struggling with its own overburdened facilities. Still, she countered that there's a big difference between the Big Apple and tiny towns on the Arizona and Texas border.
There seems to be a "lack of understanding of what the experience is like in border communities, and a willingness to shortchange the work that is happening in those communities without realizing the impact it has on the entire system," Sinema said. "That's very frustrating."