Midterm elections: Immigration, Title 42 leave Democrats in ‘bad shape,’ campaign experts say

By Marisa Schultz

An already tough midterm year for Democrats is poised to get rougher when the Biden administration rescinds Title 42 next month, a move experts warn could lead to a rush of migrants seeking asylum in the United States.

In interviews with Fox News Digital, pollsters say ending the pandemic-era expulsions along the U.S.-Mexico border is another big problem for Democrats trying to cling onto their narrow majorities in the House and the Senate. 

“Democrats are in bad shape — some would say terrible shape — for the midterm elections,” Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told Fox News Digital. “The Title 42 controversy does nothing to help them and probably makes the outlook worse for Democrats.

“The dead giveaway is that moderate and endangered Democrats in Congress are raising hell and defecting from the Biden administration’s plans.”

What started off as a smattering of moderates is now building into a chorus of dissent of front-line Democrats who say the Biden administration should not rescind Title 42 as announced for May 23 until there is a plan to deal with a surge at the border. 

Immigrant men are taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border Dec. 7, 2021, in Yuma, Ariz.

Immigrant men are taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border Dec. 7, 2021, in Yuma, Ariz. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The Title 42 order was implemented in March 2020 under former President Donald Trump’s administration as a way to keep COVID-19 outside American borders. President Biden’s administration kept it in place amid warnings rescinding it could only worsen the border crisis. But the CDC recently announced that Title 42 expulsions will end May 23 because the public health order is “no longer necessary.”

Progressives lauded the move. But moderates and vulnerable members are split, facing down an already tough midterm landscape with high inflation and Biden’s low approval ratings. A worsening border crisis would only issue more pain. 

Citing an individual with knowledge of internal discussions, Axios reported Tuesday that the White House is mulling whether to continue with the repeal of Title 42 next month amid blowback from members of Biden’s own party.

“It puts them … in a very tricky spot. The moderate Democrats and the progressive Democrats are arguing right now over the best, kind of, midterm election strategy,” R Street Institute Senior Fellow for Governance James Wallner told Fox News Digital. 

“Progressives say we should go big even if that means we don’t succeed, and we should try to deliver on what we promised our voters. And the moderates are obviously not saying that,” Wallner added. “This is a policy disagreement between those two wings of the party, I think a very significant one.”

The growing numbers of Democratic senators breaking with the White House shows how “clearly concerned” they are about voter reaction, said David Winston, president of the Winston Group, which does survey research and strategy for Republicans.

“Survey data on this specific aspect of the immigration issue is limited, but what is out there shows that independents, a critical voter group, oppose ending Title 42 by a significant 20-point margin,” Winston told Fox News Digital.

While inflation is the bigger issue facing Democrats, Title 42 “is just one more problem for the president and his party that is going in the wrong direction,” Winston said. 

Sen. Mark Kelly hears from a CBP officer in Douglas, Ariz. 

Sen. Mark Kelly hears from a CBP officer in Douglas, Ariz.  (Office of Sen. Mark Kelly)

Democrats have joined with Republicans in crying hypocrisy – questioning why the Biden administration is asking for Congress to approve billions more in COVID-19 relief aid to address the ongoing pandemic while coronavirus is apparently no longer a concern at the U.S.-Mexico border.  

In the Senate, Democratic senators Mark Kelly of Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jon Tester of Montana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire already introduced legislation to extend Title 42 by an extra 60 days and require the Biden administration to submit a plan to Congress on how it will address the expected surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

In the House, Reps. Henry Cuellar of Texas, Jared Golden of Maine, Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Greg Stanton of Arizona, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire and Tom O’Halleran of Arizona introduced similar legislation.

And Democratic Senate candidates in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin have all distanced themselves from Biden’s border policy. 

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., speaks at a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the former vice president, at Northwestern High School in Flint, Mich., Oct. 31, 2020. 

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., speaks at a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the former vice president, at Northwestern High School in Flint, Mich., Oct. 31, 2020.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Even Sen. Gary Peters, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security committee as well as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Senate Democratic candidates are “right to raise questions” about the policy. 

“Unless we have a well-thought-out plan, I think it is something that should be revisited and perhaps delayed,” Peters, D-Mich., said, according to Politico.

Neil Newhouse, co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies, which does polling for Republicans, sees an opening here for the GOP to make more inroads with Latino/Hispanic voters — so much, in fact, that he’s conducting focus groups on immigration issues next week. 

“There’s no question that Latino/Hispanic voters are on the bubble in this election,” Newhouse told Fox News Digital. “They’re soft in their approval of the president. Republicans won a significant percentage of Hispanic voters in the last election.”

Democratic strategist James Carville said polling shows people generally like immigration, “what they don’t like is disorder.” Asylum seekers have always had a privileged place in the United States and in other countries, he said, and there are ways to test migrants coming into the U.S. for COVID-19.

“It’s just a mistake to think that immigration is automatically bad news for Democrats,” Carville told Fox News Digital. “I don’t buy it.”

That said, Carville said the midterms are “not going very well right now” for Democrats given inflation, and he hopes for a turnaround by late summer where wage gains outpace the rising costs. 

“If you have 5% inflation and 6.5% wage growth, that’s going to be more meaningful than how many people are trying to get in the country” Carville said. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) did not offer comment on how Title 42 will impact the midterm elections. But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Democrats are still seeking comprehensive immigration reform.

“We must continue to secure and effectively manage the U.S.- Mexico border while humanely processing those with valid claims to seek asylum in the United States,” Hoyer said in a statement to Fox News Digital. “Republicans’ record on immigration policies has done nothing to solve the immigration system backlog, and yet they continue to demagogue on this issue while Democrats in Congress are working to advance solutions that improve border management and reflect our values, including comprehensive immigration reform.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., responds to reporters at the Capitol in Washington Dec. 3, 2021.  

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., responds to reporters at the Capitol in Washington Dec. 3, 2021.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC) aim to tie Democrats to the border crisis between now and November and not allow Democrats who are distancing themselves from Biden off the hook, either. 

“Democrats are screwed either way,” Chris Hartline, NRSC communications director, told Fox News Digital. Their base thinks this is a racist, Trump-era policy, while the majority of Americans are worried about the existing border crisis which will only be exacerbated by rescinding Title 42.”

“Repealing Title 42 will lead to even more voters from border communities abandoning Democrats,” NRCC spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair added.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is poised to become the next House Speaker if Republicans retake the House, is leaning into the immigration issue. 

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“The House Democrat majority has cheered on President Biden’s open-border policies for more than a year, and the crisis at our southern border has only gotten worse,” McCarthy said in a statement to Fox News Digital. “The American people want and deserve secure borders. The president and Democrats in Congress should work to implement House Republicans’ solutions to keep American communities safe.”

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