Biden challenges House GOP to solve border crisis — or ‘keep playing politics’

President Joe Biden urged Congress to pass the bipartisan border deal unveiled Sunday night by Senate negotiators, ramping up the pressure on House Republicans who have repeatedly cast doubt on the bipartisan effort.

“Working with my administration, the United States Senate has done the hard work it takes to reach a bipartisan agreement. Now, House Republicans have to decide. Do they want to solve the problem? Or do they want to keep playing politics with the border?” Biden said in a lengthy statement.

The president’s response came not long after senators released the long-awaited $118 billion deal that would unleash stricter border and immigration policies, while sending billions of dollars to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan as well as the southern border. The bill’s introduction kicks off a sprint as the White House and negotiators work to sell the deal to Republicans and progressives before it heads for a procedural vote in the Senate scheduled for Wednesday.

The president said the agreement released Sunday includes some of the “toughest and fairest set of border reforms in decades,” and ones that he “strongly” supports. Biden asked Congress to pass the deal quickly — placing the fate of the deal in their hands. And he once again dared Republicans to reject the deal as it faces a make-or-break moment amid GOP fissures in both chambers.

“I’ve made my decision. I’m ready to solve the problem. I’m ready to secure the border. And so are the American people,” the president said. “I know we have our divisions at home but we cannot let partisan politics get in the way of our responsibilities as a great nation. I refuse to let that happen.”

The border has long been a challenging issue for the Biden White House. The president has seen record crossings since taking office in 2021, further straining a southern border already weighed down by irregular migration and an overwhelmed asylum processing system. Border Patrol agents reported a record 302,034 encounters with migrants over the southern border in December, according to figures released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

In addition, the fast-approaching 2024 election has piled on the pressure for Biden to take action on the border — to address the crisis but to also win the messaging battle on an issue Republicans frequently used to rally their base. Former President Donald Trump, Biden’s likely 2024 opponent, is sure to continue his efforts to combust a deal, adding another layer to efforts to sell the border legislation.

The legislation includes an authority that would effectively “close” the border if the number of migrant crossings reach a certain number over a certain period of time, although a limited number of people would still be allowed to apply for asylum at ports of entry.

Biden suggested publicly late last month that he’d be open to such an authority, vowing to “shut down the border” as soon as the bill was passed.

“I urge Congress to come together and swiftly pass this bipartisan agreement,” Biden said in Sunday night’s statement. “Get it to my desk so I can sign it into law immediately.”

Given the White House’s work with Senate Republicans on the legislation, Biden administration officials have focused their attention on Speaker Mike Johnson, casting him and House Republicans as the barrier to securing the border.

During the Senate talks, the Biden administration has tried to flip the long-held view — one borne out in public polling — that Republicans are better trusted on the issues of immigration and protecting the border. The administration argues the House GOP has blocked all of the president’s efforts to secure the border.

“Despite arguing for 6 straight years that presidents need new legal authority to secure the border, and despite claiming to agree with President Biden on the need for hiring more Border Patrol agents and deploying new fentanyl detection equipment, Speaker Johnson is now the chief impediment to all 3,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates wrote in a strategy memo released last week.

Johnson’s camp has blamed Biden for reversing Trump-era border regulations that led to an uptick in migrants crossing the border.

“In a desperate attempt to shift blame for a crisis their policies have induced, they have argued it’s a funding problem,” wrote Johnson spokesperson Raj Shah in a memo last month. “Clearly, they have no facts to back up their claim.”

The bill raises “credible fear” standards for migrants; if they are able to pass the more challenging and faster screening, the migrants would be released after full adjudication of their cases and be allowed to work immediately. The legislation would also provide 50,000 visas a year — a mix of family and employment visas, and include the Fend Off Fentanyl Act and the Afghan Adjustment Act.

A major sticking point in talks was the president’s humanitarian parole authority, which the administration uses to accept up to 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela each month. The legislation would not affect this program, which has been central to the administration’s border management strategy, including an agreement with Mexico to also accept 30,000 migrants a month from those four countries.

But the administration would no longer be able to offer parole grants to incentivize migrants to use the online app CBP One, which would curtail the president’s authority to allow more undocumented immigrants into the country.

“This agreement on border security and immigration does not include everything we have fought for over the past three years — and we will continue to fight for these priorities — but it shows: we can make the border more secure while preserving legal immigration, consistent with our values as a nation,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement.