House border battle fractures alliances

Political Notebook

Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, sparred with a popular colleague Friday as a bill to fund border migrant camps deepened divides among House Democrats.

Intense debate has surrounded a $733 billion defense bill, which would include money for military operations along the southern border. Many Democrats — including the well-known freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — backed amendments that would bar the money from use in military immigration operations.

President Donald Trump’s administration has ramped up military operations in the Southwest, sending troops to the Mexican border and using bases to hold captured migrants.

Conservative immigration hardliners like Joyce went on the offensive against efforts to contain the military presence, accusing colleagues like Ocasio-Cortez of supporting what they call “open borders.”

Joyce called an amendment to stop military immigration operations “dangerous and … disrespectful to the hardworking men and women of the Border Patrol.” The agency — which is not part of the military — manages a sprawling network of border posts and migrant camps.

Joyce also criticized Ocasio-Cortez for her stated belief that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees border and immigration agencies, should be dismantled.

“Who’s going to be left to stop the drug traffickers and the cartel members who continue to infiltrate our country in record numbers?” he said of the department, which was formed in 2002.

Ocasio-Cortez responded to Joyce on the House floor.

“I think it is important that we clarify that in order to have a humane immigration system, we do not require militarization or cruelty to children,” she said, according to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. “Asking that children not be caged and asking that human beings’ rights — human rights — be respected does not mean ‘open borders.'”

The military funding bill caused deeper rancor among Democrats themselves, who remained divided over the use of military resources to enforce immigration law. While a majority of House Democrats joined Ocasio-Cortez and other outspoken progressives in opposing military border spending, a large enough minority joined Republicans to sink their amendments.

Pennsylvania’s delegation was among those divided, with several state Democrats joining Republicans to fund the border operations. Rep. Susan Wild, D-7th District, Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17th District, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, and Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th District, all joined with the GOP in a 179-241 vote that killed Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment.

The spending bill eventually passed, with both Ocasio-Cortez and Joyce voting against it. Republicans opposed the final bill, which would also bar Trump from ordering an attack on Iran without congressional approval.

Even though the bill passed, it seems certain to leave bruises among congressional Democrats. Aides to high-ranking Democrats have traded barbs with progressive representatives and activists over the bill for past week, with quiet sniping giving way to open anger by the weekend.

With debate over migrant camps raging and the GOP calling border crossings a “crisis,” it seems unlikely the divides will be healed anytime soon.

Trump praises

new GOP heads

Trump and his allies weighed in on the new leadership of the Pennsylvania GOP, where a scandal and shakeup threatened to mar 2020 election planning.

On Friday, Trump praised Lawrence Tabas and Bernadette “Bernie” Comfort, two GOP leaders who had vied for the party’s top spot. The job was open since former GOP chair Val DiGiorgio resigned in the wake of a sexual harassment allegation.

“We have a GREAT TEAM in Pennsylvania!” Trump wrote Friday on Twitter. “I’m proud to say that our good friends Lawrence Tabas & Bernadette “Bernie” Comfort will now be working together to run the PA GOP. … We must have, & do, great UNITY in PA!”

Tabas is set to take over the party, while Comfort will run Trump’s re-election effort in the state.

Some of Trump’s allies had openly backed Comfort’s bid to head the party. Comfort faced a new claim last week that she did not act on allegations against DiGiorgio.

Pennsylvania could be a key battleground for Trump, who won the state in a shock victory in 2016. Polls show he faces another uphill battle in 2020, with his net approval ratings here consistently in the negative.

Activists press AG

over prosecution

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro signaled his support Friday for repealing a little-noticed law that would strip power from the state’s most progressive district attorney.

Responding to protesters at a Philadelphia conference, Shapiro said he didn’t ask for a new law — passed nearly unanimously and signed by Gov. Tom Wolf — that hands certain prosecutorial powers from the Philadelphia district attorney to the state attorney general.

While local lawmakers all backed the bill and just a handful voted against it at any point, HB 1614 generated controversy after news website The Intercept drew attention to its text.

The bill, originally a less controversial program to help municipal police work with state investigators, was amended to give the state attorney general power to prosecute some gun crimes in Philadelphia.

While seemingly a minor change, it would represent an unprecedented move to take responsibility from Larry Krasner, a prosecutor famous for his progressive views on crime and incarceration. Many career prosecutors and police officials have criticized Krasner, whose victory inspired similar electoral efforts by criminal-justice reformers in other cities.

The bill’s passage — and the ensuing activist pressure over it — underscores the growing battle in many states between liberal city governments and more conservative state legislatures. City-level efforts to reform Pennsylvania gun laws, for example, have faced tough opposition both in courtrooms and in Harrisburg.