The White House is losing the immigration debate.
There hasn’t been any question that it has deserved to lose this debate from the beginning. But for the longest time, there wasn’t much focus on the border, except on the right. Now the negotiations between the White House and congressional Republicans over a package of immigration provisions and new funding for Ukraine have put the border at the center of the political discussion, and the White House is faring poorly.
In an interview on the show “CBS Mornings” the other day, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas sat through what must have been the roughest handling he’s ever encountered from the mainstream press. Co-host Tony Dokoupil challenged him on specific policy changes that Republicans are advocating, and when Mayorkas was evasive, told him, “Republicans want a stop to the flow — with very specific ideas. You’re not even talking about those ideas this morning.”
This was significant, not because Dokoupil is becoming an immigration restrictionist, but because a mainstream news anchor — on a morning show, no less — has absorbed the notion that GOP border hawks have constructive ideas on immigration worth considering. When is the last time that happened?
It turns out that when your policy has been to permit 4.5 million new illegal immigrants and counting to enter the U.S., straining communities around the country, your credibility takes a hit, and even sympathetic people begin to look for alternatives.
The insistence of White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre that President Joe Biden is either doing everything he can at the border, that he’s helpless because the immigration system is broken, or that [insert some other excuse here] was always tinny and unconvincing, but now is laughably implausible given the scale of the unspooling disaster.
She said a couple of weeks ago that the numbers at the border are “not usual,” even though December was another record for encounters. When reminded of this at a recent briefing, she denied she said it and emphasized that there are “ebbs and flows” at the border, raising the question of when the “ebbs” are going to happen.
A couple of things have turned the tide of the debate, besides the sheer numbers involved. One might be called the “Bill Melugin effect,” after the Fox News reporter who has delivered stunning images from the border day after day, even when the rest of the media wasn’t paying attention. It’s one thing to read the New York Times headline “‘We Are Not Equipped to Deal With This’: Migrant Surge Overwhelms U.S. Border”; it’s another to see it happening in real time and hear directly from the people involved.
The cries for help from Democratic mayors have also validated the idea that there is indeed a crisis and it comes with real costs. But, unwilling to stray too far from the party line, the mayors blame Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for sending migrants their way and plead for more resources rather than call on the Biden administration to exclude the illegal immigrants in the first place.
Finally, there’s the growing recognition that the chaos at the border is hurting Biden, and he needs to do something about it. “There’s no doubt that there’s been a shift on this partly because of the influx of these migrants in these big cities,” Democratic strategist David Axelrod told the Times. This reality puts the White House in the weaker position in the negotiations — it is the administration that most needs a change at the border to stop its political bleeding (and get the Ukraine funding it wants), while the status quo favors Republicans.
None of this means that the GOP will get what it wants. To ensure a meaningful change, it needs to limit Biden’s authority to release people into the country, and the details will matter. But the party has the upper hand, thanks to a Biden failure at the border that may, finally, be unsustainable.
(Rich Lowry is on Twitter @RichLowry)
(c) 2024 by King Features Syndicate