New York City Mayor Eric Adams’s confrontation with the Biden administration over immigration threatens to spill over to the 2024 campaign, causing a major headache for the president at a time when he needs Democrats to rally around him.
Adams has been quick to bash the administration’s immigration policies when faced with the unprecedented influx of migrants coming into New York City, leaving many Democrats worried that his combative approach could steer voters away from Biden in key areas of the city’s suburbs — home to districts that are essential to Democrats looking to flip the House.
“The situation in [New York] is a liability for Biden. It threatens to excite the Republican base, and dampen the Democratic base,” a former Democratic campaign official said.
The approximately 100,000 migrants who have arrived in New York City over the last year have led Adams to contend that the issue would “destroy” his city.
The New York-Washington rift has also underscored Democratic demands on immigration.
“Work permits. I think that that’s the most immediate need,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), who on Friday, along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), led a group of 13 House Democrats from border districts and migrant-receiving cities to neighborhoods impacted by the influx of migrants.
Many Democrats see executive actions to expand the number of migrants who can legally work in the United States as the antidote to the public headbutting between Adams and the administration.
They’ve called on Biden to expand Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a program that allows foreign nationals to live and work in the United States if repatriation presents a risk.
Biden administration officials are wary of expanding TPS too quickly and tying up the entire program in litigation, mirroring court action that prevented the Trump administration from dramatically shrinking TPS.
Yet TPS and other measures to make more work permits available could ease the strain on shelter space ahead of winter, and ahead of key elections in the state.
But Adams seems unconcerned about elections and laser focused on the city’s fiscal state.
“The mayor’s a straight shooter and I think more often than not, he’s more focused on his job as mayor rather than his word choice. Would it be helpful if he were a bit more tactful? Absolutely,” said one former New York politician.
Adams hasn’t spoken with Biden since earlier this year, but he told WABC on Tuesday that he spoke recently to Biden’s chief of staff, Jeff Zients.
Former New York Rep. Joe Crowley (D), who was the No. 4 in Democratic leadership, argued the communications breakdown between the mayor’s office and the White House might not be as dire as it seems.
“There certainly has been some kind of a breakdown if you see the mayor acting the way he has, and it’s understandable because there is a crisis and concern about the safety of these individuals as well,” he said. “But, there’s more behind the scenes than what’s happening on the front pages of newspapers between the state, city and the fed.”
The tension comes as Democrats see winning back seats in New York lost in 2022 as a pathway towards winning back the House. They’re targeting the seats in districts Biden won in 2020, like those held by Republican Reps. George Santos, Anthony D’Esposito and Mike Lawler.
The seat held by Santos, who is facing personal and legal troubles, is in a district Biden won by 10 points. Biden won D’Esposito’s district, one of the wealthiest districts in New York and the country, by 14 points, and he won Lawler’s district by more than 20 points.
Losing these seats again would be a huge blow to the president and to Democrats, who are eager to paint the 2022 New York losses as a temporary setback.
“I do think that this issue right now is primarily a New York City issue. It’s kind of splintered a little bit out into the hinterlands here, so to speak,” Crowley said of the immigration issue.
When asked about concerns over a potential redo of the midterms, Crowley pointed to different political conditions next year.
“I do think there are other factors that will come into play, certainly. I don’t think anyone can rely on a slam dunk,” the former congressman said. “But, people who don’t vote in off-year elections come out in bigger numbers in the presidential election years.”
The White House is downplaying the situation, pointing to steps they’ve already taken to support New York’s handling of the migrant influx.
The administration provided New York with more than $140 million this fiscal year. The Education Department last week identified hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds that could be available to New York and the Transportation Department in June for leasing space at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where they could provide shelter for asylum-seekers, a senior administration official said.
Additionally, the official said the National Park Service and local officials are working to finalize a lease for portions of Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field to serve as shelter. And, starting this week, 50 federal staff members arrived in New York to educate people on the immigration system and how to apply for work permits.
When asked if Adams is being hyperbolic with his rhetoric, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre replied, “Look at that for yourselves. What I can speak to is the engagement that we have made, we have had with New York, whether state or local.”
Meanwhile, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has been more open to working with the White House on immigration issues. She came to Washington last month to discuss New York — a meeting that Biden didn’t personally attend.
Vice President Harris stood alongside Adams, as well as Hochul, at the National September 11th Memorial in New York City on Monday. Meanwhile, Biden was criticized for not going to New York City on the anniversary. He was traveling back from Asia and stopped at a military base in Alaska to mark the day.
But some New York Democrats are looking beyond intraparty niceties and toward policy-driven resolutions.
“If we do the right thing, like work permits and TPS, yes. I think that we put the immigration issue aside, and then we can concentrate on some of the tough issues impacting communities,” said Espaillat, when asked whether Democrats could go on the offensive in contested New York districts.
Espaillat said Democrats need to wipe the thornier side of immigration — in New York, that’s fiscal burdens — off the table to campaign on other policy wins.
“So, for us to talk about health care, and how we were able to get insulin to $35 a pop, and how we’re able now to negotiate down the prices of other prescription drugs — lifesavers for many seniors and others. For us to talk about that, we’ve got to make sure that there’s oxygen in the room for people to be able to listen.”