The border’s political value is crushing talks on policy

A dizzying week in Washington and Austin has the GOP rallying around Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) as he pledges not to back down in his escalating standoff with the Biden administration over border enforcement, while former President Trump has been working to tank a bipartisan border deal.

Abbott and Trump are marshaling Republican broadsides against President Biden on his most vulnerable issue, but while the Texas governor’s flirting with constitutional crisis is drawing near-unanimous GOP cheers, Trump’s blunt attempt to derail funding talks threatens to divide the party.

The two leaders’ approaches have laid bare the GOP strategy of campaigning on a broken border, even if it means defying Supreme Court orders or tanking a Senate deal with a number of Republican immigration priorities.

“I think the border is a very important issue for Donald Trump,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters Thursday.

“And the fact that he would communicate to Republican senators and congresspeople that he doesn’t want us to solve the border problem because he wants to blame Biden for it is really appalling.”

Trump’s efforts to keep the border chaotic for his own political benefit deflated an already-shaky deal crafted through months of negotiations among Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.).

Since news of the Trump-mandated Republican walk-off broke midweek, some GOP leaders including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have tried to rescue the deal, which reportedly includes concessions Democrats were unlikely to cede under any other circumstances.

The left shed few tears for Murphy, Lankford and Sinema’s presumably lost man-hours — the talks had been panned both over the leaked tidbits of substance and for the way they were carried out.

“I’ve been closely involved in many bills for over 20 years and this is the worst process I’ve ever seen for any bill- this border bill has not been vetted by any relevant committee. Members outside the group have no idea what’s in it. No people of color involved. Gross,” posted Kerri Talbot, executive director of the Immigration Hub, earlier this month.

But Democratic opponents of the deal stayed mum as it unraveled, ceding the stage to Republican opponents eager to crush any deal that falls short of H.R.2, the House GOP-passed border policy bill that Democrats have called dead on arrival in the Senate.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) returned the favor Friday.

“I wanted to provide a brief update regarding the supplemental and the border, since the Senate appears unable to reach any agreement. If rumors about the contents of the draft proposal are true, it would have been dead on arrival in the House anyway,” wrote Johnson in a letter to his colleagues.

To Democrats, it’s Republicans who are causing chaos at the border: They accuse them of spending years turning down immigration packages as well as funding to surge resources to the border.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) pointed to that history, blasting the GOP for road blocking border fixes while inviting parents of children killed by fentanyl and gang violence to testify before Congress.

“If you came looking for an audience that is serious and wants you to take up this issue, I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place. I’m afraid that when it comes to immigration solutions, too many of my colleagues would rather have the issue than the fix,” Swalwell told two mothers in a hearing last week to weigh impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over the border.

“This is where they seek fame, rather than a fix. And what you’re going to find here is that if we were to solve this crisis, this committee wouldn’t have anything to talk about. And that’s more important to the Speaker of this House and that’s more important to the person that too many of them rely upon when they make decisions, which is the former president.”

Trump’s congressional interference, however, was somewhat overshadowed by Abbott’s saber-rattling.

The governor’s vague pledges about Texas’s “sovereign interest in protecting their borders” from an “invasion” in the wake of a Supreme Court loss, drew hurrahs from Trump and offers of National Guard support from GOP Govs. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Ron DeSantis of Florida, Glenn Youngkin of Virginia and Brian Kemp of Georgia.

The Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for the Border Patrol to cut razor wire installed by Texas that the Border Patrol said was impeding it from doing its job while presenting a risk to agents and migrants alike.

But Abbott’s intransigence even after that loss raises questions about what’s next in the simmering battle between Texas and the federal government, which has already seen lawsuits over the state’s placement of buoys in the Rio Grande and blocking federal access to a park where federal officials had previously been processing migrants.

Abbott didn’t lay out any specific next steps but pointed to the Constitution’s nods to states’ rights as “the supreme law of the land,” arguing Texas law enforcement is “acting on that authority.”

Though Texas and the federal government disagree on a range of issues and interpretations of law, Abbott’s constitutional argument for the state to take immigration enforcement into its own hands – including through the use of the Texas National Guard – boils down to whether the arrival of migrants is indeed an “invasion.”

“I think the Ukrainians can give us a pretty good definition of what invasion is right now,” said David Leopold, legal adviser to America’s Voice, a progressive immigration advocacy group.

Democrats including Texas Rep. Joaquín Castro have called on Biden to federalize the Texas National Guard, a move reminiscent of actions taken by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy against Southern states that refused to do away with segregation in the 1950s and 1960s.

That idea was widely panned in right-wing media this week, including by Abbott himself.

Asked on Friday by Tucker Carlson how he would react to federalization of the National Guard, Abbott said it would be “a boneheaded move” by Biden, “a total disaster.”

He added that Texas is prepared to continue building border barriers and “expand our denial of illegal entry into the state” with Texas Department of Public Safety officers, other law enforcement agencies and National Guard troops from other states.

Stitt, the governor of Oklahoma, told “Fox and Friends'” Steve Doocy “the only possible explanation” for Democrats’ actions “is they’re wanting to nationalize and get a bunch of voters in, that they think it’s going to swing elections.”

“That’s the only logical explanation, and it’s absolutely illogical to think that we have leaders that are more focused on the next election instead of doing what’s right for America.”

Under current immigration and naturalization laws, it is impossible for migrants arriving at the border today to vote in the next federal election, and a majority of those migrants are likely not eligible for any form of permanent residency in the United States, much less for naturalization.

Yet Stitt’s false claim exemplifies the chasm between different perspectives on border and immigration policy – differences that are at the heart of Texas’s claim that it must supplant the federal government in enforcing the immigration policies its leaders expect from the Biden administration.

But immigration policy has been ruled by the Supreme Court to be exclusively the realm of the federal government.

“If every state decides on its own what its immigration policy is, who comes in, who doesn’t come in, who’s documented, who’s not, who’s expelled, who’s not, then the ‘united’ part of the United States is rendered meaningless. Because you don’t have a United States, you have just 50 different countries,” said Leopold.

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