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Updated Jan 4, 2024, 7:06am EST
politics

Republicans are unified on the border — for now

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) speaks at a press conference during a visit to a border town where migrants are arriving from Mexico to seek asylum, in Eagle Pass, Texas, U.S. January 3, 2024. REUTERS/Kaylee Greenlee Beal
REUTERS/Kaylee Greenlee Beal
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The Scene

EAGLE PASS, Texas — Republicans came to the U.S.-Mexico border Wednesday with a unified message of passing the House-backed border bill and possibly impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“House Resolution 2 was our bill, and the time to act on it is yesterday,” Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said at a press conference Wednesday accompanied by dozens of Republican lawmakers. Even as members addressed reporters, a group of people crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico just feet away from where lawmakers were standing.

“One thing is absolutely clear: America is at a breaking point with record levels of illegal immigration. And today, we got a firsthand look at the damage and the chaos the border catastrophe is causing in all of our communities,” Johnson said.

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The field trip to the border came the same day Homeland Security Chair Mark Green, R-Tenn. announced he would move forward with impeachment hearings against Mayorkas over the administration’s border policies.

“The greatest domestic threat to the national security and the safety of the American people is Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas,” Green told reporters.

The House is still waiting its turn to negotiate over immigration policy. Senate Republicans and Democrats are currently discussing their own border reform bill to attach to a $105 billion national security package the White House has requested, in part, to provide additional military funding to Ukraine.

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Kadia’s view

The messaging from Republicans frustrated with illegal crossings and asylum-seekers hasn’t changed much since last year. But their visit comes as the House stands at a crossroads — one in which they might actually have a chance to extract significant policy changes from Biden. Any deal that emerges from the Senate will inevitably be derided by many conservatives (and Donald Trump) as insufficient, setting up potentially difficult choices for Johnson and his conference soon.

In that context, the visit was a show of unity heading into the next phase. Lawmakers stuck to their calls for H.R. 2, even as there were some hints of flexibility further down the line. “I think the principles of H.R. 2 are what matters,” said Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y.

And notably, even Republicans in competitive districts openly backed impeaching Mayorkas. That included Molinaro, who said he planned to tell his constituents about the “total collapse in the system” at the border, and fellow New York Rep. Mike Lawler, who also faces a tough race in November.

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“If the impeachment came to the floor for Secretary Mayorkas, I would absolutely vote for it,” Lawler told Semafor. “He has absolutely failed in his obligations to the American people.”

Rep. John James, R-Mich. said he came to Congress to “do the right thing” and plans to make the case for a tougher line on the border based on “truth and morality” in his swing district.

“If someone wants to say they didn’t send me to Congress to hold somebody accountable who is failing to enforce the policies that are enacted by Congress… then they can come take the job,” James said.

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Room for Disagreement

While lawmakers were at the border, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended Mayorkas from the press podium, calling the impeachment plans “baseless” and adding that Republican lawmakers are “wasting their time on impeachment proceedings that make no sense.”

The White House has accused Republicans of politicizing the border by refusing to approve their requests for billions in additional funding to hire thousands of additional border patrol agents and asylum officers.

They got a boost on Wednesday from Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, who suggested the conference was reluctant to give the president a political win by agreeing to new border security measures.

“Let me tell you, I’m not willing to do too damn much right now to help a Democrat and to help Joe Biden’s approval rating,” Nehls told CNN. “I will not help the Democrats try to improve this man’s dismal approval ratings. I’m not going to do it. Why would I? Chuck Schumer has had H.R. 2 on his desk since July. And he did nothing with it.”

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