Analysis: The Immigration War at Home

The news cycle for the Maryland angle on the immigration crisis along the Mexican border lasted about four minutes. U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) traveled to detention facilities in south Texas on Sunday with fellow lawmakers. State Democrats early this week denounced the Trump administration, and by extension, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R). But by late Tuesday morning, Hogan may have diffused the situation. He announced that he was recalling the state’s four National Guard officers stationed at the New Mexico-Mexico border to protest the Trump administration policy of separating children from their parents if they had crossed the border illegally. “Until this policy of separating children from their families has been rescinded, Maryland will not deploy any National Guard resources to the border,” Hogan said in a tweet. “Earlier this morning, I ordered our 4 crewmembers and helicopter to immediately return from where they were stationed in New Mexico.”   Evidently, a fast-moving national story moved even faster at the state level. State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno at a news conference in front of the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup Tuesday, denouncing President Trump’s immigration policies. Note the children’s shoes in front of the podium. Photo by Josh Kurtz  But even in this age of dizzyingly short news cycles and even shorter voter attention spans, the Trump administration’s border policies have the potential to be one of the most transcendent issues of the election cycle, with searing, unforgettable images and abundant political peril for national Republicans. The question is whether any of that peril extends to Maryland’s seemingly bulletproof governor. On Twitter Tuesday evening, national political analyst Stuart Rothenberg retweeted Hogan’s tweet about the National Guard, and observed, “Another reason why Republican Hogan might well be re-elected in a very Democratic state.” (Rothenberg, a Maryland resident, subsequently tweeted, “The Trump Administration’s handling of the border crisis/separating of parents and children reminds me of the Bush Administration’s response to Katrina. We know what happened in 2006.”) Hogan campaign spokesman Douglass V. Mayer insisted there was no political calculation over the governor’s decision to pull Maryland troops. “The governor makes the decisions he thinks is right, and damn the torpedoes,” he said. Hogan’s camp used the immigration crisis – and the political paralysis over the issue in Washington, D.C. – to take another swipe at members of Congress and contrast the political climate on Capitol Hill to what the governor likes to describe as a more bipartisan atmosphere in Annapolis. “Sadly, one of the reasons we continue to have these kinds of problems is that politicians in Washington can’t set politics aside for even the briefest moment to do what’s right,” Mayer said. The Maryland Democratic Party and one of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., suggested that Hogan was reacting to their calls for the governor to strongly denounce what was happening at the U.S.-Mexico border. “He needed political pressure to act,” Maryland Democratic Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews said in a statement. Hogan associates said the governor’s order to send the state’s National Guard officers home was issued verbally, before the state Democratic Party’s morning news release and Madaleno’s news conference on the topic in front of the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup. That’s a “Rashomon”-like tick-tock that seems pretty insignificant given the crisis tearing apart immigrant families. But much as Hogan succeeds in inoculating himself from President Trump and the Republican Congress on issue after issue, this one feels a little different – not necessarily because of anything Hogan has said or done (or didn’t do), but because this is an emotional subject that is easy for average voters to understand. Nationally, two-thirds of Americans oppose the Trump border policy, and it’s easy for voters to see that this is the work of a Republican administration. This isn’t obscure tax reform, or complicated health care policy, or the latest in the series of unfathomable budget showdowns on Capitol Hill. If this issue remains so raw in the months ahead – and it could – swing voters, unreliable Democratic voters and new voters could all be reminded of the things they don’t like about the GOP. Then, even unique Republicans like Hogan, with a brand separate and distinct from the national GOP, could suffer. Another Democratic candidate for governor, former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous, may attempt to stoke the issue again on Wednesday afternoon, when he holds a get-out-the-vote rally with U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) in Langley Park, the Prince George’s County community with the densest Central American immigrant population in the state. Democrats’ attempts to directly link Hogan to Trump at every turn have been clumsy at best. But when the top priority for 48 percent of Maryland Democrats, according to a recent poll, is removing Trump from office, it’s a tactic they can’t completely abandon, either. With the Democratic primary for governor in its final days, Madaleno seems to have found a balance between taking swings at Trump while reminding voters that Hogan is a member of the same political party. Madaleno and a handful of state legislators on Tuesday used the Howard County jail as a backdrop for their news conference denouncing Trump’s immigration policies because it is one of three county lockups in Maryland – Worcester and Frederick counties are the others – where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sends incarcerated immigrants. Some of the legislators’ rhetoric about the moral imperative for Hogan to strongly denounce Trump had a very short self-life, given his tweet minutes later about pulling Maryland’s troops off the border. But the moment was not without benefit for Madaleno, who is quick to remind voters that his record and proposals are diametrically opposed from Trump’s. And he advances the argument that with Trump in the White House, Maryland needs a full-throated opponent to his policies to serve as governor, not someone like Hogan who is constantly walking a political tightrope, no matter how skillfully. “Everyone can talk about that,” Madaleno said of his Democratic primary opponents. “I’ve got a record on this. I’ve fought for Planned Parenthood when federal funding was in jeopardy. I’ve fought the NRA. I’ve fought the policies of [U.S. Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos. I don’t just talk the talk. I walk the walk.” Whether that’s enough to propel him into the top tier of Democratic candidates along with Jealous and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III between now and the June 26 primary is hard to say; it also doesn’t erase questions about whether, in a two-way race, Madaleno hurts Baker or Jealous more. But Madaleno remains optimistic. “I think it’s still wide open,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “To me, you’ve had higher-profile candidates out there, but the public hasn’t embraced them, and I offer something different.” [email protected]

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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