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How Biden’s border trip came together

In World
February 27, 2024

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

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

And now, the officials said, the trip Thursday 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 travel had no bearing on the timing of Biden’s trip.

Biden’s handling of the border is a sizable political vulnerability as he faces a tough re-election race. An NBC News poll in January found that 57% of registered voters said Trump would handle securing the border better, while 22% said the same for Biden.

The Biden administration has been 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 pointedly during meetings with the president last week.

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

Administration officials have been actively discussing in recent weeks about what executive action Biden could take on the border, NBC News has reported.

No measures have been finalized, administration officials said, and it’s unclear whether any unilateral action will be announced on Thursday when Biden goes to the border. Another possibility is Biden announcing 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 been in near daily meetings on the border over the past few weeks and has directed his team to produce solutions that don’t involve Congress, according to administration officials.

Publicly he’s said the current immigration system is “broken.” And in early February, after Senate Republicans scuttled a bipartisan border deal their GOP colleagues had helped negotiate, Biden vowed to be “absolutely clear” with voters about “why it failed,” promising to take that message to the country ahead of the November election.

“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 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 is scheduled to visit Brownsville, Texas, on Thursday, while Trump is planning to deliver remarks in Eagle Pass on Thursday afternoon, about 330 miles away.

A White House official said visiting Brownsville presents an opportunity for the president to spotlight a different 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, insincere attempt to chase President Trump to the border won’t cut it,” Trump spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said in a statement Monday.

Last week, when Biden spoke to governors in a closed-door meeting at the White House, one attendee said it was clear the president believes the politics of the issue had changed more in Democrats favor in the weeks since the bipartisan immigration deal failed.

Biden took questions on the topic from several governors, including at the end from Montana’s Greg Gianforte, a Republican, according to one attendee and one White House official familiar with the meeting.

Gianforte was holding a manila folder with a letter from Republican governors that cited their concerns about the migrant crisis, the sources said. Biden left the podium, walked over to where Gianforte was standing, took the folder and reviewed its contents as he responded the governor’s question.

While Biden had largely given scripted responses to the governors’ questions, his answer in this instance was more expansive and off-the-cuff, the attendee and White House official said. They said the president cited a range of factors that had contributed to the problem and how he was working to address them — noting it was difficult without support from Republicans.

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

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

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

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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