Jan 4, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Biden's run to the border

Biden and McConnell

Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

President Biden's first trip to the border marks a public — and perilous — step toward addressing an immediate humanitarian emergency and long-term political dilemma ahead of his likely re-election campaign.

Why it matters: Republicans have relentlessly hammered Biden over the border crisis, citing a lack of a visit as evidence he's unserious about the issue. Moderate and border-district Democrats have been clamoring for Biden to find a better policy response to the untenable situation.

What we're watching: The visit to the El Paso area, tacked on before Biden heads to Mexico for the North American Leaders' Summit, presents both optical risk and political opportunity.

  • “I’m glad that he’s finally visiting the border,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), whose district abuts Mexico, told Axios. “I hope he talks to some of the border community leaders and our CBP [Custom and Border Protection] officers so he can get an understanding of what’s happening at the border.”
  • “Maybe he should learn what’s happening down there,” Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) told Axios. "Maybe he can do something. Maybe straighten the mess out and give us the help that we need."

Driving the news: Biden announced his intent to visit the border after a bipartisan event in Kentucky with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as House Republicans were engaged in open fratricide back in Washington.

  • "That’s my intention, we’re working out the details now,” Biden told reporters before boarding Air Force One. He also plans to give a speech Thursday on border security and immigration.
  • For a president who ran on uniting the country before campaigning against “ultra-MAGA” Republicans in the midterms, the day presented the very split screen the White House wants to present all year: Republicans attacking their own and the president staying above the fray.

The big picture: Last month, the Supreme Court forced the Biden administration to continue the controversial pandemic-era border policy Title 42, which allowed for the immediate expulsion of some migrants, while legal challenges unfold.

  • The decision may have been a political reprieve for Biden, but it didn’t offer any resolution for the thousands of migrants crossing every day, at times straining local and federal resources.
  • Republicans have made the crisis a top campaign issue, blaming the porous border for crime and opioid deaths and overdoses.

Go deeper: Officials have been discussing a potential new parole program for Nicaraguans, Cubans and Haitians, as well as a new rule that would severely limit migrants' ability to qualify for asylum at the southern border, Axios has reported.

  • Persuading Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to increase security on his own southern border to interdict migrants from Central America — a likely topic at the summit — is one potential solution.
  • But any potential legislative solution will require Republican support, which is unlikely to spring from a GOP that cannot even organize itself.
  • "It's a challenge," said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.). "Nobody's been able to do anything on immigration for too long.
  • "And it's an issue that Republicans and Democrats should be able to come together on and address, because it's a national security and an economic security issue."
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