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Resisting “detention beds” is a good issue for Dems


Kasie Hunt, an MSNBC anchor, yesterday tweeted: Democrats taking a risk with the stand over detention beds at the 11th hour The wall seems to have been largely neutralized as an issue, at least in Congress Beds arguably much more significant policy to debate But harder to message for Dems.

She made much the same point on the air.

I admit that when I first heard Democrats were raising the number of beds as an issue, in their negotiations with Republicans over wall funding, my first instinct was uneasiness. I could easily see Trump blaming Democrats for wanting to let criminals roam American streets. That’s a lie, of course, but I imagined him dredging up the age-old Republican smear of Democrats: soft on crime.

Then, yesterday morning, that’s exactly what he did on his twitter feed. “The Democrats do not want us to detain, or send back, criminal aliens! This is a brand new demand. Crazy!”

Pandering to his base, Trump once again stokes fear, racism and xenophobia among the low-information white people who see in him their Defender against brown-skinned rapists, murderers, drug fiends and human traffickers.

What are these “detention beds” at the heart of this latest brouhaha? They are essentially prison cells for undocumented people captured within U.S. borders and suspected of committing crimes. After all, you can’t arrest (detain) someone if there’s no place for them to sleep.

Democrats propose capping those beds at 16,500; their argument is that most of the “crimes” committed by undocumented people are visa overstays—hardly violent offenses. Instead, Democrats are asking the government to prioritize the detention of violent criminals. Only the worst would be put into detention.

Republicans predictably are howling. Democrats, they allege, want criminals to roam the streets and prey on our people! Democrats counter that all they’re saying is that this Republican administration has already caused so much damage to families and children, that capping the number of beds will force the regime to stop its cruelest practices.

And that’s where the debate now stands. Over the weekend, Trump’s BFF in the Senate, Lindsay Graham, told Fox “News” that Trump will never sign a bill that limits the number of detention beds, even if the bill gives him the $5.7 billion he wants for his wall (which, by the way, it won’t).

We’ll see.

But back to Kasie Hunt’s tweet. Is it risky for Democrats to take this line? Is it a hard message to explain to the American people?

Not at all. Polls show that Trump’s family separation policy is “very unpopular” among Americans, with 66% of voters–including 91 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents–opposed to the policy. It is not hard at all for Democrats to make the argument that “the more detention beds the regime has to lock up people, the more families will be separated, and the more children will be yanked from their mothers, caged, and traumatized for life.”

That’s a potent, easy argument to understand. Of course, Republicans and racists (the two terms are interchangeable) will continue to praise Trump for protecting them from Latino savages. But to get re-elected, Trump (if he’s still in office next year) will have to get votes from independents and Democrats. Those are two groups who are fairly adamantly opposed to family separation. Democrats are going to have a year to strengthen their arguments against an inhumane policy; television will afford plenty of opportunities for sympathetic Latino parents and children to tell the American public how horrible these Trumpian policies are; religious leaders will have lots of Sundays to remind their flocks that Jesus commands them to welcome the immigrant, not lock him up. In the heat of the 2020 presidential campaign, Republicans will have a harder and harder time explaining away Trump’s continuing lockup of children.

So, Kasie Hunt, your analysis is weak. I wonder where you got the concept that this “detention bed” issue is bad for Democrats. Did it just strike you out of the blue? Did you hear it on Fox or Limbaugh? However it came to you, let me assure you that Democrats own the moral high ground on this one. More detention beds = more imprisoned children! That’s the winning argument—winning, because it’s true. And if Trump causes another government shutdown over this, the way he caused the last one, nobody will be talking about “detention beds.” They’ll be talking about air traffic controllers not working, clerical workers not being able to pay their rent, Coast Guard men and women relying on food banks to survive. Those are indeed risky issues, but the risk isn’t on Democrats, it’s all on Trump.

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