Flipping the script: Biden promises to hit Trump 'every day' over southern border – USA TODAY
WASHINGTON ― President Joe Biden is hoping to make Republicans pay for their decision to torpedo a border security plan they demanded in the first place.
In poll after poll, voters see Democrats in general and Biden in particular as weak on immigration and security at the U.S.-Mexico border. After the number of migrant border-crossings reached an all-time high last year, Congressional Republicans looked poised to capitalize on the situation.
They held up funding for Ukraine’s defense against Russia, in exchange for tougher border restrictions. They figured they had the president painted into a corner.
But in a stunning policy shift, the White House and Senate Democrats conceded and agreed to the most sweeping changes to immigration law in a generation.
Then this week, Republicans − at the urging of Donald Trump − scuttled the bipartisan border deal, four months in the making.
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Now, Biden, moving from defense to offense, hopes to turn that legislative failure into a win for his reelection campaign.
“Every day between now and November, the American people are going to know that the only reason the border is not secure is Donald Trump and his MAGA Republican friends,” Biden said Tuesday in remarks from the White House.
The Biden campaign and Democratic allies hope independent voters will see that Biden was willing to reach across the aisle to reach a compromise, while Trump missed an opportunity to solve what he has long described as a national crisis.
“I think it goes beyond neutralizing the (border) issue; I think that Biden is taking control of the issue by really calling Republicans’ bluff,” said Democratic pollster Matt Barreto, who advised Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign on Latino issue. “He’s saying I’m ready to act. Now Republicans are on the defensive. They have to explain why they don’t want to take action on the border. And so far, I haven’t heard any good rationale.”
Trump, the frontrunner to win the Republican nomination, has long pushed hardline border policies, promising to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and now campaigning on the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants.
Republicans, who for years have hammered Democrats as soft on border security, are overwhelmingly viewed more favorably on the issue. An NBC poll this week found more voters view Trump, by 57% to 22%, as the better candidate than Biden to secure the border and control immigration.
During negotiations for the $118 billion bill, most of which was destined for Ukraine and Israel, Biden embraced new, tougher rhetoric on the border. He called on Congress to give him the power to “shut down the border” to tackle what he started calling “the border crisis.” He acknowledged the border is not secure.
After the bill’s failure Biden said he “never thought I’d see something like I’m seeing now.” Speaking Wednesday to supporters at a New York fundraiser, he accused congressional Republicans of “walking away because they’ve got Donald Trump calling and threatening them.”
Republicans scoffed at Biden’s finger-pointing over the border, which they were quick to note has seen record numbers of migrants during Biden’s presidency. Congressional Republicans who opposed the bill said it didn’t go far enough, insisting on passage of their hardline immigration bill, H.R.2., which the Republican-controlled House approved last year.
“Understand that this border crisis is deliberate. Joe Biden caused it. He caused it by his own unilateral decisions,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told reporters, adding that the purpose of the bipartisan border bill was to “give political camouflage for Democrats running in November.”
Cruz said the the bill wasn’t intended to secure the border but rather “let every Democrat running for office say, ‘Gosh, I wanted to secure the border. But those mean Republicans wouldn’t let me.'”
“This is all about talking points to deceive the voters,” Cruz said. “It’s an utter lie.”
But Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who helped lead negotiations in the Senate, has reinforced Biden’s main point: that election politics − and Trump wanting to deny Biden a win − got in the way of long-discussed progress on the brooder.
In a speech from the Senate floor, Lankford said he heard fellow conservatives say “it’s the wrong time to solve the problem” or “let the presidential election solve this problem.”
“In fact, I had a popular commentator four weeks ago that I talked to that told me flat out, before they knew any contents of the bill … ‘If you try to move a bill that solves the border crisis during this presidential year, I will do whatever I can to destroy you,'” Lankford said. “By the way, they have been faithful to their promise.”
A National Public Radio/Marist University poll this week found immigration currently ranks as the third most important issue for voters, trailing only the preservation of democracy and inflation. Only 29% approve of Biden’s handling of immigration, compared to 60% who disapprove. By a 41% to 29% margin, voters said Republicans do a better job than Democrats of dealing with immigration.
“I know most Democrats think the failure of this bill will hurt Republicans, but I don’t think it will,” former Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., an outspoken Trump critic, wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “The polling on the border is baked in. Trump is a demagogue & an insurrectionist, but voters overwhelmingly believe he is better on the border than Biden. That’s bcuz Biden ignored the border for 3yrs. And I don’t think what happens now changes that.”
Biden also faces a risk by campaigning on stronger border enforcement, with such rhetoric potentially turning off progressive voters − already upset by his unwavering support for Israel in its war against Gaza − along with immigrant advocates, and some Latino voters.
“I think it is, quite frankly, appalling that he has done this pivot to the far right, all in the hopes that this tough-on-immigration political approach will yield some results,” said Kica Matos, president of the National Immigration Law Center. “What he is offering is deterrence. And we know that deterrence doesn’t work. We know it because Trump tried it.”
Said Matos: “I find it both puzzling and concerning that he is alienating his base, including immigrants and Latinas.”
But Barreto, who oversaw Hispanic research and focus groups for Biden’s 2020 campaign, said he believes the potential for blowback is minimal because, unlike Trump, Biden is “not advocating for mean-spirited, nasty policies.”
“Almost nobody in America is against a well-managed and well-funded border patrol,” Barreto said, including Latino voters, who he said oppose draconian measures like razor wire or tear-gassing at the border but support “fair and orderly” immigration.
Barreto said the longer Republicans dig in against the proposed border measures, the more it will become a winning issue for Biden. And if Congress does eventually pass a border deal, Biden will be the one who will get credit for pushing it through, he said.
“I think it’s really smart,” Barreto said. “I think as polls go on − if he stays on the message of reminding the American people that he is ready for the deal, that he is ready for action − then Republicans are going to look like the ones who are weak on this issue.”
Reach Joey Garrison on X, formerly Twitter, @joeygarrison.