How Biden’s border trip came about

By | February 27, 2024

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden had been considering a trip to the southern border for weeks as a way to boost his efforts to remind Americans that Republicans had derailed a bipartisan border deal that he was prepared to sign into law, two senior administration officials said.

The timing of Biden’s second visit to the border since taking office — a week before he is scheduled to deliver the State of the Union address — is an effort by the White House to maximize the trip’s political impact, the officials said.

And now, officials said, Thursday’s trip is an opportunity to draw a more direct contrast between the immigration agendas of Biden and his likely 2024 opponent, former President Donald Trump, who will visit the border on the same day.

“We welcome that split screen,” said one of the officials, who also said Trump’s trip had no impact on the timing of Biden’s trip.

Biden’s handling of the border poses a significant political vulnerability as he faces a tough reelection race. An NBC News poll in January found that 57% of registered voters said Trump could better secure the border, while 22% said the same for Biden.

The Biden administration is under increasing pressure to take action to address the migrant crisis, including from Democratic governors and mayors, who have been raising the issue with the White House for months and did so emphatically in meetings with the president last week.

Immigration was by far the most dominant topic of discussion Friday as governors met with Biden, according to an attendee and a White House official familiar with the meeting. Democratic governors in particular have pressed Biden and other administration officials on the issue at multiple meetings, with some of them encouraging the president to take executive action even if it could trigger legal challenges, the participant and White House official said House.

Administration officials have been actively discussing in recent weeks what executive action Biden could take at the border, NBC News reports.

No action has been finalized, administration officials said, and it is unclear whether any unilateral action will be announced Thursday when Biden heads to the border. Another possibility is for Biden to announce executive actions on the border during his State of the Union address on March 7, officials said.

A person familiar with the administration’s discussions about the border said the president is not currently considering declaring the situation at the border a national emergency.

Biden has attended near-daily meetings at the border in recent weeks and has directed his team to find solutions that don’t involve Congress, administration officials said.

He has said publicly that the current immigration system is “broken.” And in early February, after Senate Republicans scuttled a bipartisan border deal that their Republican colleagues had helped negotiate, Biden vowed to be “absolutely clear” with voters about “why it failed,” pledging that message before to bring the elections to the country in November. .

“Every day between now and November, the American people will know that the only reason the border is not secure is because of Donald Trump and his MAGA Republican friends,” Biden said at the time.

The president last traveled to the southern border in January 2023, when he spent about four hours on the ground in El Paso, Texas.

He will visit Brownsville, Texas, on Thursday, while Trump plans to deliver his speech Thursday afternoon in Eagle Pass, about 330 miles away.

A White House official said a visit to Brownsville will give the president an opportunity to highlight another sector of the border and its different dynamics.

Trump’s team criticized Biden’s upcoming trip as a weak attempt to address the border crisis.

“Biden’s last-minute, disingenuous attempt to rush President Trump to the border will not be enough,” Trump spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said in a statement Monday.

When Biden spoke to governors last week at a closed-door meeting at the White House, one participant said it was clear the president believes the politics of the issue have shifted more in Democrats’ favor in the weeks since the bipartisan immigration deal failed.

Biden took questions on the subject from several governors, including the late Greg Gianforte of Montana, a Republican, according to an attendee and a White House official familiar with the meeting.

Gianforte was holding a folder containing a letter from Republican governors expressing concerns about the migrant crisis, the sources said. Biden left the stage, walked over to where Gianforte was standing, grabbed the folder and looked at its contents as he answered the governor’s question.

While Biden had largely provided written answers to the governors’ questions, his answer in this case was more comprehensive and out-of-the-box, the attendees and the White House official said. They said the president listed a range of factors that had contributed to the problem and how he was working to address them — noting that this was difficult without Republican support.

When he visits the border on Thursday, Biden will meet with U.S. Border Patrol agents, law enforcement and local leaders, according to the White House. White House officials did not rule out the possibility of a meeting between the president and migrants.

“He will discuss the urgent need to pass the bipartisan border security treaty in the Senate, the toughest and fairest set of reforms to secure the border in decades,” a White House official said.

Biden is expected to call on Republicans in Congress to “stop playing politics” and provide additional funding for more Border Patrol agents, asylum officers and fentanyl detection technology, the official said.

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