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Political Brew: Asylum seeker crisis, bigger state budget, and Trump town hall

NEWS CENTER Maine's political analysts weigh in on the major political issues of the week.

MAINE, USA — NEWS CENTER Maine political analysts, Republican Phil Harriman and Democrat Betsy Sweet, shared their takes on the major political issues in Maine and the country in the last week from the asylum seeker crisis to debt limit talks.

Asylum Seeker Crisis

In the last week, dozens of people seeking asylum claimed they were sent from Portland to Sanford for better resources and help. The city could not provide adequate support and they were bussed back to Portland. More than 1,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Portland this year and shelters are at capacity. Governor Janet Mills said the federal government needs to take action. 

ZACH: Betsy, I want to start with you. It appears Portland continues to shoulder the burden with no real permanent solution?

BETSY: Yeah, I think that one of the things that this points to is that we've got to have a statewide solution. We cannot leave it to municipalities like Portland or Sanford or anybody else to try and deal with this on their own. I know in the Legislature they're really trying to work on like, general assistance, and some of the other supports to make that happen, but I think we have to take this on as a statewide thing and we cannot just say, "Oh, you're on your own."

PHIL: Well, it just seems to me that when you just— Portland declared itself a sanctuary city, you're basically saying, "Come, come here, we want and we welcome you." And now they're saying, "We're at capacity." So I think the question becomes broadly, what are we as America going to do about this onslaught of people crossing the border that we can't handle in a timely and proper fashion?

Mills Additional Budget Proposal

Governor Janet Mills announced a new proposal this week to increase the state's two-year budget by at least $294 million. The change package would take advantage of a projected revenue surplus. Mills said it will go to address a number of key emergency issues like housing, homelessness, and food insecurity. 

ZACH: Betsy, Republicans have been calling for some tax relief. Is this the right move by Governor Mills?

BETSY: I think it's a great move by Governor Mills. I think we have some serious crises. I mean, the one you just talked about, the asylum seekers that we just talked about, but I think homelessness, housing and not just homelessness, housing for everybody, which is also addressed in this package, as well as some business incentives that are in there, as well as child care and food insecurity. Those are things that must be addressed. Spending a little bit of money back to everybody, you know, broadly in terms of tax relief, I don't think it's what is called for with this one-time money that which is what she's looking at. So I think it was a good move and hopefully will provide some relief.

PHIL: Well, this becomes more and more frustrating to me because going back to my time in serving in the Maine Senate, working alongside Betsy, we were having the same conversation about these issues and whether it's been the pandemic money that the governor had to spend or now with these projected new revenues, it's time for us to put these priorities in place and solve these problems.

Child Care Bills

Child care was a big topic at the State House in Augusta this week. It has been a big barrier to efforts to address the ongoing workforce shortage. One bill put forward by Senate President Tory Jackson, a Democrat, would increase stipends for childcare workers and expand eligibility for families to be able to take advantage of the childcare subsidy program.

ZACH: Phil, we're talking more money here, but will Republicans get on board?

PHIL: Well, I think so. This is an economic development opportunity. If you travel north and south on [I-295], if you look to the right, there's plenty of options for childcare. But if you look to the left, north, and west of the interstate, that's probably one of the most significant barriers for people to find economic opportunities to use child care.

BETSY: Yeah. And the only thing I would disagree with is you can look right, too, because there is no childcare anywhere because we've lost almost 20 percent of our childcare providers during the pandemic. They have not come back because they aren't able to pay enough workers to make it viable. The other piece of that bill is to lower income eligible or increase income eligibility so people can help with subsidies. When people are paying $1,000 a month in child care, that takes a big chunk out of people: low and middle-income families. So we've got to address this, and as you said, Phil, it's an economic issue, economic development issue. We're so short on workers. [If] we don't provide childcare, it's not going to happen.

New Portland City Manager 

On Monday, city councilors in Portland are expected to vote to appoint Danielle West to the city manager role permanently. West will be the first woman to hold the job and is already facing a number of large problems, including a shortage of city staff. 

BETSY: I mean, I think, congratulations to her and I do think she's shown that she's done a pretty good job as an interim. I think really the bottom line question, though is really the structure of...when we actually had an elected mayor and the roles between the mayor and the city manager, we haven't made that work yet. And I am hoping that she, and as Portland gets to figure that out better, this will actually work to address those very problems.

PHIL: I think the fact that she's been formally appointed puts everyone in city hall on notice that she has the support of the city council. That's going to go a long ways to helping her implement the decisions of the city council.

Title 42 Fallout

All eyes are on the southern border where thousands of migrants are crossing into the U.S. after Title 42 expired Friday. The COVID-19 era policy put in place under the Trump Administration in 202 allowed officials to quickly turn people away. President Joe Biden has sent additional troops to help agents on the ground. 

ZACH: Why weren't they ready?

BETSY: Well, I mean, I think that they have tried and they put a lot and one of the things that's a big thing that they put in place is to try and have people be able to apply online so that they can apply before they come, before they get here. You know, and I think, again, I think it speaks to the desperation of people, you know, and I think it's so hard. We have to look at why people are coming across. And I think we have to make the processing of asylum seekers and refugees much faster on this. And that's the part that we have never solved. I don't understand why that is taking, why we can't get a more efficient system that way, and maybe this online thing will help.

ZACH: But there are so many people?

PHIL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And on top of that, the administration, when they first took the oath of office, made it clear we're not putting up the border wall. We're going to be welcoming and they are coming in and continue to come in. Now that this regulation 42 is expired, we're going to see even more. And this is not fair to our border states. It's not fair to our citizens, and it's certainly not fair to the people who sacrificed life and limb to cross over the border. 

Trump Town Hall

Former President Donald Trump is making the same headlines yet again. He took part in a town hall in New Hampshire this week that was televised on CNN. It happened just days after a federal jury found him liable in a sexual assault and defamation case. The network was criticized for giving Trump the platform to continue to spew lines, including that the 2020 election was "stolen."

ZACH Phil, Do you this kind of thing will continue to rile up his base and will that be a path to victory?

PHIL: I don't know if his base could be riled up any more than it already is. And I don't know, understand the strategies behind being this antagonistic. I don't think it gets him the votes that he's going to need to win over independents and disaffected Democrats. I don't understand the strategy.

ZACH: Betsy, even New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, had some harsh words, calling Trump a "three-time loser." What does that mean for Republicans?

BETSY: Well, I mean, I don't understand it. I mean, he has his base and he continues to keep his base juiced up. But as you said, you know, he's a three-time loser. That does nothing to help with everybody who's not his base, which is not enough for him to win an election. So how do they do it? And I do think CNN has got to be called to task to say, "Why would you give this guy a half an hour, however long it was, of a campaign speech?" I mean, that was what he was doing, but, you know, from the Democratic perspective, knock yourself out. Go for it.

Debt Limit Talks

Debt limit talks continue in Washington, but the clock is ticking. Another meeting set for Friday with President Joe Biden and congressional leaders was called off and pushed to next week. Economists say failure to reach an agreement by June 1 would send the U.S. into a recession. 

ZACH: Is there any excuse for how slowly these negotiations are going? 

BETSY: Well, I mean, I think people negotiate hard things at the last minute. I mean, this is sort of how our politics works. But I think, you know, and Phil has said this before on this show, you know, the debt limit is about bills we've already incurred. It's not about, you know, what we are about to incur. That's a whole different thing. That's the budget that's coming up in September...I believe that they're going to come to some things. I think to put forward, like the House has done and maybe even what Biden has done, to put forward things that are already off the table, you know, is probably the first posturing. Now I think hopefully behind the scenes, they are going to figure out how to get to. Yes.

PHIL: This is a good example of the politicians putting their power in prestige ahead of "we the people." And in my estimation, it's been 100 days since Speaker McCarthy and President Biden sat down and spoke about this. The House has passed the bill. They do have a branch of government to be heard and dealt with. And for this to happen with is what, two weeks left to go before we may be in default? You know, I think the administration deserves as much criticism as the proposal that the Democrats have on the House.

Winners & Losers

PHIL: Okay. My loser this week is Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary. We should not have gotten to this place with our border crisis. It makes it look like we're putting fencing all dealers and child traffickers and cartels ahead of the security of our own country. The winners this week are the GOATS. The greatest of all time are our mothers, our mothers. And of course, if you're a New England Patriots fan, first game of the season, the New England Patriots are going to celebrate Tom Brady.

BETSY: My winner of the week is actually the budget is the taking this money that we have and giving it to some of these very, very impending crises or current crises of housing, childcare, food insecurity. So I think that's a winning, winning proposal to start. And the loser of the week, this is a very small number minority of Republicans who spent two and a half hours in the Legislature maligning school counselors and guidance counselors, accusing them of handing out transgender stuff willy-nilly... so much so that the speaker had to clear the gallery of children. And that has not happened since the late seventies when they were talking about gay and lesbian civil rights legislation. It is appalling. It's appalling. They've taken it to this level and they're my losers.

You can catch Political Brew every week Sunday morning on NEWS CENTER Maine's Weekend Morning Report.

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