New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) is blasting President Biden on immigration as his city struggles to handle an influx of asylum seekers, escalating tensions that could prove to be a hassle for both of them heading into reelection years.
Adams, up for reelection in 2025, has been sounding the alarm since last spring over what his office reports is a surge of more than 110,000 asylum seekers into the nation’s most populous city — and he’s repeatedly criticized the Biden administration and Republicans, while calling on the federal government for help.
“It’s never good for either party when prominent leaders of the same party are in such broad disagreement. And the problem is that, so far, it’s just relationship toxicity and pointing fingers,” Democratic strategist Jon Reinish said. “Nobody looks good here.”
Adams kicked off a four-day trip across the border to Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia on Friday, with plans to “give an honest assessment” of the situation in New York and stress that the city is “at capacity.”
“We can’t sit back and just, you know, continue to expect that [we are] going to get the relief that we deserve. We want help from the federal government. We’re going to need help from the state,” Adams said Tuesday.
“I think the president has done a great job. We’ve stood side by side around crime, we stood side by his side around environmental issues, but on this issue, I believe the White House is wrong,” Adams told Semafor on Wednesday, adding that cities shouldn’t be left to “carry the weight” of a national problem.
Still, strategists say Adams’s public critiques — while potentially irksome to deal with — don’t endanger Biden’s reelection bid in the Democratic stronghold state.
New York-based Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf argued that Biden and his reelection bid can’t be hurt nationally by the migrant crisis any more than they’ve been — and his approval among New York voters is solid enough that Adams’s blasts won’t bring him down.
A Siena College poll last month found Biden’s favorability was on the uptick in New York, at 50 percent among the state’s voters. He also led Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, in a hypothetical 2024 match-up.
“No matter the disagreement we may appear to have amongst each other as Democrats, they do not compare in any way, shape or form to the magnitude of the disagreement or the disconnect we have with Republicans,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright.
Adams and Biden ultimately have common goals on the issue of immigration, Seawright noted, more than Democrats and Republicans do. He pushed back against any perception that Biden is “ignoring” Adams’s alarm.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stressed at a briefing this week that Biden “has provided record amount of support” and funding to deal with the situation at the border, and argued “Republicans do the opposite.”
At the same time, Adams has also faced criticism over his tough rhetoric on immigration, as his administration grapples with the influx and looks to deter new arrivals.
“Instead of repeating failed ‘do not come’ messaging, he could work with other mayors and Biden to ensure people seeking asylum are received with safety and dignity,” Ari Sawyer, Mexico-based border researcher for Human Rights Watch, said in response to Adams’s international trip this week.
As he publicly knocks the White House and travels abroad on the issue, Adams likely wants “the world to know he’s fighting for NYC,” Seawright said.
Strategists say Adams is likely spurred to vocally break with his party’s leader on this issue to advocate for his New York City constituents, who are feeling the strain of the influx of asylum-seekers on the city.
“The mayor has no choice. If he doesn’t do what he’s doing, his constituency will look at him as if he has three heads,” Sheinkopf said.
Adams has to champion his constituents, Sheinkopf said, or risk empowering possible challengers when he’s up for reelection in 2025.
“So, will it create problems with him and the administration, and Democrats nationally? The answer is yes. Does it matter to Adams? It might, but the more important thing is getting reelected,” Sheinkopf said.
Adams isn’t the only Democrat who’s been putting pressure on the White House over incoming migrants.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, a Biden campaign surrogate, said in a letter to the administration this week that “the federal government’s lack of intervention and coordination [on] the border has created an untenable situation” in his state.
Dealing with both Republican and some Democratic criticism could be vexing for Biden and his team during his campaign.
“It should be recognized that no matter what President Biden does, Republicans will not recognize any productive developments, and they certainly won’t recognize any solutions. They have seen blood in the water on this issue, and they’re just going to continue to hammer him,” Reinish said.
Democrats are looking to win back control of the House in 2024, and they’re eyeing a number of Republican seats in the Empire State after notable losses in last year’s midterms.
Republican New York Reps. George Santos, Mike Lawler and Anthony D’Esposito are among the members of Congress seen as endangered in next year’s elections. Democrats should keep a close eye, Reinish said, on how the migrant crisis in New York City spills over into the suburbs.
New York City is one of several Democratic-led cities that have been targeted over the last year by Republican governors of southern-border states protesting the Biden administration’s immigration policies by sending migrants north.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said at the end of September that the Lone Star State alone had bused more than 15,800 migrants north to New York City, bashing Biden as “to blame for this crisis.”
The president last year torched the GOP governors for using the migrants as “props” for “political stunts” amid contention over the border.
Immigration’s increasingly direct impact on Democrat-led areas such as New York City could make the topic more important for voters in those places when it comes time to cast their ballots.
“Previously, I would say that voters in Democratic-rich areas like New York and Chicago were not voting on this issue. It was considered an issue that took place far away from them, or something that one could take a more values-based or philosophical issue on,” Reinish said.
“But if it’s affecting you … if your mayor and your council are very stressed all of a sudden about budgets and taxpayer dollars, the issue then comes home to roost for you.”
Meanwhile, Republicans could use critiques from Adams and other Democrats dealing with immigration to try and “drive a wedge” within the party, Seawright suggested.
“That’s why you see Republican governors sending migrants to Democratic states and cities in order to create conflict among the Democratic ecosystem,” Seawright said. “They know that a united Democratic front presents long-term danger politically.”
As Democrats head into 2024, there’s merit, Seawright said, to living “by the philosophy of yelling in the places we agree, and whispering in the places we disagree. And whispering doesn’t have to be in public. Sometimes that can be in private.”