Fresh off the first major legislative victory of his brief tenure so far in the White House, President Biden is taking to the road this week to showcase the passage of his $1.9 trillion COVID relief and spending package, which polls indicate is generally popular with most Americans.
But the president and his administration are facing competition for the media spotlight, as Republicans are zeroing in on the burgeoning crisis at the nation’s southern border, where an influx of migrants – including children – are crossing the border and overwhelming officials.
“It’s more than a crisis. This is a human heartbreak,” House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy spotlighted Monday as he and a delegation of fellow House Republicans stood in the desert along the southern border in El Paso, Texas.
While the number of migrants had been rising for months – since before Biden succeeded Donald Trump in the White House – February witnessed a surge. U.S. border agents apprehended more than 100,000 migrants last month, a nearly 30% increase from January.
Customs and Border Protection also took nearly 10,000 unaccompanied minors into custody last month, a 61% increase from January. The children and teens are arriving at a pace faster than officials can move them out of Border Patrol facilities and unite them with family members or other sponsors. As immigration lawyers cite the poor conditions, the Biden administration last weekend mobilized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with the processing of the unaccompanied minors.
Biden is facing incoming fire from the Democratic Party’s progressive left, which is increasingly frustrated with the slow progress so far by the president to deliver what he promised on the 2020 campaign trail – a more humane immigration system than the restrictive policies under the Trump administration.
While facing jabs from his own party, Biden’s also dealing with incoming fire from Republicans, who are using the issue to hammer the president.
“The sad part of all of this is it didn’t have to happen. This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration. There’s no other way to claim it than a Biden border crisis,” McCarthy stressed during his border tour.
The GOP has slammed Biden undoing some of Trump’s immigration policies – from halting border wall construction to relaxing the “Remain in Mexico” program, which forced those seeking asylum to stay in Mexico while waiting for their cases to be heard in the U.S.
Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas will lead a Senate GOP delegation to the border later this month, and a second delegation of House Republicans will also make the trek in two weeks.
The Republican National Committee is starting to train its fire on the president, charging that “Biden refuses to recognize the crisis” and claiming that the president’s “policies exacerbate a situation getting worse by the minute.”
And last week Trump blasted Biden, arguing in a statement that “our country is being destroyed at the Southern border.”
The recent media attention on the migrant influx along the southern border may be resonating.
A CNN poll conducted March 3-8 measured the president’s approval rating on seven crucial issues. Biden’s best rating was on combating the coronavirus – where he had 60% approval and 34% disapproval. His worst issue was immigration – where the president was underwater at 43%-49%.
Asked Tuesday by reporters if he had any plans to visit the southern border, the president answered “not yet.”
Immigration was a winning issue for Trump in 2016. His vows to “build the wall” contributed to his White House victory. Republicans appear to be using the Trump playbook as they try to win back the House and Senate majorities in next year’s midterm elections.
“The immigration issue energizes the Republican base. It has for the past decade and will continue to do so. It makes total sense that they’re going after Biden over this,” veteran Republican pollster and GOP presidential campaign veteran Neil Newhouse told Fox News. “It’s going to have legs into 2022 because the issues facing the country at the border are simply not easy to solve.”
Early last year, congressional Democrats and the party’s 2020 presidential contenders blasted then-President Trump for a wave of immigrants at the southerner border before the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Now, a little over a year later, Biden is in the hot seat.
“Turnaround’s fair game,” Newhouse noted. “The Trump administration got attacked for its handling of immigration and this is different, but no better, for the Biden administration.”