GOP looks to squeeze Democrats on border


Republicans are ramping up their efforts to squeeze President Biden and congressional Democrats on the border surge, sensing a political opening heading into 2022.

After enduring four years of criticism over Trump policies, GOP lawmakers are now attempting to flip the script. They’re forcing Democrats to block immigration bills on the floor, targeting members up for reelection and taking well-publicized trips to the southern border.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) lashed out at Democrats from the Senate floor Thursday, saying the border “crisis … continues to escalate.”

“And what about Democrats here in Congress? Are the House Democrats rising to the occasion with solutions? Not exactly. They prioritized passing another amnesty bill. They doubled down on the wrong direction and the wrong incentives,” McConnell said, referring to House-passed bills that would create a path to citizenship for long-term agricultural workers and immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.

The GOP strategy is taking shape as the Biden administration comes under increasing criticism, including from some Democrats, over the surge at the border that’s sparking concerns about a humanitarian crisis.

The latest figures show the federal government is in custody of more than 15,000 unaccompanied minors who made the dangerous journey from parts of Central America and Mexico to seek refuge in the U.S.

Thousands of children and teenagers have been kept in Customs and Border Protection cells for longer than the legally allowed 72 hours because there is not enough housing available to handle the influx of migrants.

Biden, during his first White House press conference on Thursday, said he was taking steps to ensure children are not detained beyond 72 hours, including coordinating with the Defense Department to open up military facilities like Fort Bliss, on the border between Texas and New Mexico, where he said 5,000 beds would be available starting this week.

That’s unlikely to do much to quell GOP criticisms.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of nearly 20 GOP senators who will hold a press conference near the border on Friday afternoon, called Biden’s remarks “hard to watch” and accused him of spreading “misinformation.”

“It’s clear he does not have the situational awareness he needs to understand what is going on at the border or how to fix it,” Graham tweeted.

McConnell’s speech on Thursday was just the latest attempt by Republicans to shine a spotlight on the border this week, as they seek to build political pressure on Democrats.

In a sign that Republicans are looking to make the border a campaign issue next year, the Senate GOP’s campaign arm blasted out a release accusing Democrats of being “in denial.”

"If you look at open borders, it's not what the public wants. I mean, if you look at where we're headed, we're gonna have a hell of a ‘22 because the Biden policies are not where America is. They want to open schools. They want closed borders," Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, separately told reporters.

Republicans forced Democrats to block five immigration-related bills on the Senate floor on Wednesday, even though none of them had any chance of passing by unanimous consent, a fact acknowledged by Republicans.

But the floor maneuvering allowed Republicans to make at least one Democratic senator go on the record against a bill each time and fueled GOP talking points with McConnell knocking Democrats for taking “the route of obstruction.”

Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) offered bills that would detain immigrants charged with a crime involving serious bodily harm and set a mandatory minimum sentence for immigrants who reenter the country illegally, respectively.

When Sen. Ben Ray Luj├ín (D-N.M.) objected to passage of his bill, saying it “seems to be a continuance of the harmful proposals from the Trump administration,” Cruz turned to a broadside against Biden and tied it back to the border surge.

“President Biden's political decisions have produced a crisis and a crisis that is growing,” he said. “The actions of today's Democratic Party is extreme and out of touch and out of touch with the American people who we were elected to represent.” 

In another instance, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) tried to pass a bill to overhaul the country’s asylum rules. That measure was also blocked.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and majority whip, acknowledged that Congress needed to act on immigration but warned against Lee’s bill.

“We have the authority. We have the opportunity. ... Making this sort of request on the floor, I know, is symbolic. But I have to say that it's not the symbolism we should follow,” he said.

The verbal fireworks come amid talk of Congress trying, again, to pass long-stalled immigration reform.

Biden has offered a comprehensive framework that would provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million immigrants in the country illegally. But that proposal doesn’t have the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate. It has also stalled in the House as Democratic leaders try to shore up support within their caucus.

Durbin, instead, has focused his efforts on trying to pass protections for “Dreamers” — immigrants brought into the country illegally as children who meet certain requirements.

Durbin noted he met with a bipartisan group this week but cautioned that the talks were preliminary and that they met to “open the conversation.”

“Trying to pass this bill by unanimous consent is not the way to approach this very complex problem. We need to roll up our sleeves and say let’s as senators on a bipartisan basis do it,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), asked what Congress would do in response to the border surge, demurred, while noting he supports comprehensive reform.

“This House has sent us other bills, and we're going to meet and figure out the best way forward where we can get the most done,” he said.

But lawmakers face an uphill slog to getting an immigration bill through Congress amid deeply entrenched, inflamed tensions that intensified over the past four years.

Former President Trump made hard-line immigration policies a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign and subsequent administration, pushing the GOP further to the right on the issue.

Graham, long viewed as a prime negotiating partner on immigration, rolled out legislation this week that would place strict limits on asylum that face little chance of getting Democratic support. Asked about Biden’s decision to make Vice President Harris the point person on immigration, Graham appeared skeptical the administration was ready to take a position he and other Republicans would accept.

“I'll help her, but they own it,” Graham said.

“I'll gladly work with her to do things that will turn the problem around,” he added. “Does she have the ability to do that politically? Does she have the will? ... Does she see the problem the way I do?”

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