The vice president finally dropped by El Paso Friday morning for a four-hour tour, after months of resisting such a visit.
She might have been able to shrug off Republican mockery that she hadn’t visited the border despite having been name border czarina in March. But after the debacle of her Guatemala–Mexico trip and once Lester Holt and other operatives in the legacy media started asking her embarrassing questions, and she responded with her characteristically clumsy and embarrassing answers, some kind of photo-op at the border was inevitable. And the timing was forced by former President Trump’s planned visit to the border next week — he’ll still have fun skewering her when he visits next Wednesday, but if she hadn’t gone today, the skewers would have cut deeper.
South Texas is the epicenter of the border disaster created by her administration, so there was no chance she’d show her face there, especially since Representative Henry Cuellar from that part of the border has been the most outspoken Democratic critic of the Biden-Harris administration’s border policies. And most of the rest of Texas’s border, and all of New Mexico’s, is represented by Republicans. So a layover in friendlier El Paso, on her way home to spend the weekend in L.A., made sense. She was accompanied on her jaunt by the local congresswoman, Representative Veronica Escobar, who has defended the administration’s border policies and claimed on television, with a straight face, that “this is not something that happened as a result of Joe Biden becoming president.”
Harris’s itinerary was what you’d expect — the port of entry, a Border Patrol facility, a sit-down with teenage migrant girls, a roundtable with anti-border activists. But her repeated insistence that it had been her plan all along to visit the border was silly, as was her claim that “We inherited a tough situation. . . . In five months we’ve made progress,” unless your idea of progress is to maximize the number of illegal aliens permanently settling in the United States.
Will her having popped by the border satisfy critics? After all, Republicans have spent months slamming Harris for not visiting one of her chief areas of responsibility. Administration defenders will now try to characterize further criticism as unfounded — “Okay, she’s visited the border, now what do you want?”
But there was a reason the vice president resisted being seen at the border, or even being identified with the illegal immigration issue at all. As hard as it is to believe, the Biden-Harris administration was taken by surprise by the border surge that it caused, just like Jimmy Carter in 1980, when the Mariel Boatlift exploded in response to his comments. But unlike President Carter, who hadn’t run on immigration and so had the political leeway to shut down the boatlift when it started to become a political liability, the current administration has no such flexibility. Its immigration policy amounts to Orange Man Bad, so doing something like restoring Trump’s Remain in Mexico program, the single most effective measure in clamping down on the use of asylum as a vehicle for illegal immigration, is foreclosed to it. The three policies the Biden-Harris folks are hoping will slow the border surge, and thus contain the political damage, just aren’t likely to work. That means the problem isn’t going away. The numbers may well dip as the brutal summer heat makes it harder to travel, but they’ll just bounce back; after all, people are now coming from all over the world and, having invested the money to travel from Romania, Mauritania, or Uzbekistan, they’re not going to just give up unless U.S. policy fundamentally changes.
So Harris’s visit to the border isn’t the end of her immigration problem — it’s just the beginning. Whether she likes it or not, her stopover in El Paso definitively establishes her as the administration point person on border issues. The visit ensures that she has, in the words of the L.A. Times report, “becom[e] more closely tied to one of the Biden administration’s diciest political problems.” It doesn’t bode well for her political future.