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Biden and Trump head to the border for dueling visits Thursday

President Biden and former president Donald Trump are both traveling to Texas border towns on Thursday, creating an unusual spectacle of dueling visits in which the prospective 2024 presidential rivals are expected to vociferously blame each other for chaos at the border.

Biden will visit Brownsville, making his second trip to the border since becoming president. His trip is part of a recent effort to take initiative on the issue of illegal immigration, which polls suggest has been politically damaging for him.

Trump, the leading Republican presidential contender, will visit Eagle Pass, a city that has become a symbol of Republican defiance against Biden’s handling of immigration. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, seized a park in Eagle Pass earlier this year, shutting out U.S. Border Patrol agents who had long used it as a staging point.

Biden’s visit underscores his political vulnerability after enduring sustained Republican attacks over record levels of migrants at the border. Biden recently embraced a tough bipartisan Senate proposal on immigration, saying he would use its provisions to shut down the border if crossings reached a certain level.

Republicans, who had demanded that border enforcement measures be added to a foreign aid package, blocked the measure after opposition from Trump, who said he feared its passage would help Biden address a political liability.

Frustrated by Congress’s inaction, Biden has been considering executive actions that could limit unauthorized migration and restrict the asylum process, according to administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

It is not clear if Biden’s border visit — along with his potential executive actions and newly fiery rhetoric — can change the political dynamic on immigration. But the White House hopes a tougher stance can at a minimum blunt Republicans’ advantage on the issue.

A White House official said Biden on Thursday will “discuss the urgent need to pass the Senate bipartisan border security agreement” and “reiterate his calls for congressional Republicans to stop playing politics and to provide the funding needed for additional U.S. Border Patrol agents, more asylum officers” and other resources.

The president also will meet Thursday with Border Patrol agents, law enforcement officials and local political leaders, the official said. The Senate border compromise would have funded the hiring of thousands of Border Patrol and asylum officers, as well as increased detention capacity.

Trump and other Republicans have made it clear they will resist any effort by Biden to deflect the political damage caused by periodic scenes of chaos at the border over the past three years.

In a statement Monday, Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt attacked Biden for his border visit, saying he “had three years to visit the border and fix the crisis he created” and suggesting that the president was only traveling there for political reasons.

“Now Biden’s handlers are sending him there on the same day as President Trump’s publicly reported trip, not because they actually want to solve the problem, but because they know Biden is losing terribly,” Leavitt said. “Biden’s last-minute, insincere attempt to chase President Trump to the border won’t cut it — Americans know Biden is single-handedly responsible for the worst immigration crisis in history and the ensuing Biden Migrant Crime Crisis affecting every community in our Country.”

The president’s actions, less than a month after he said he had “done all I can do” to secure the border unilaterally, reflect how the surge in migration continues to vex his administration. Biden in recent weeks has signaled a new willingness to take aggressive actions that have long been anathema to many Democrats.

Administration officials said last week that no final decisions had been made on possible executive actions and that it remained possible that Biden ultimately would not take such measures.

In December, record numbers of migrants surged to the border, though illegal border crossings have fallen 50 percent since then.

Trump, who attracted support for his first presidential run in 2016 in part with his harsh rhetoric on immigration, including a promise to build a border wall, is now seeking to put the issue at the center of his current campaign as well.

The former president often has used dehumanizing language to describe undocumented immigrants, suggesting they have launched an “invasion” of the United States and accusing them of “poisoning the blood of the country,” language that has drawn comparisons with Nazi rhetoric.

Trump has taken credit for killing the Senate border compromise, which was hammered out by a bipartisan group of senators over a period of weeks. GOP lawmakers abandoned the deal after Trump said that such a measure “would be another Gift to the Radical Left Democrats.”

Polls show a majority of voters are unhappy with Biden’s handling of border issues.

A Monmouth University poll this month found that 71 percent of Americans disapproved of Biden’s handling of immigration while 26 percent approved. Disapproval of the president’s handling of immigration was 13 points higher than disapproval of his overall job performance, at 58 percent.

The same poll found 61 percent saying illegal immigration is a “very serious problem,” up from 46 percent in 2019 and 45 percent in 2015. While concern about the issue varies sharply by party, the level of concern was up among Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Biden, who at a fundraiser last week said the “border is in chaos,” has continued to hammer Republicans for tanking the bipartisan legislation, which would have provided more funding for border enforcement and given the president new authority to restrict migration.

The White House has touted the conservative Border Patrol union’s support for the bill and has continued to call on Republicans to pass the legislation, though its prospects seem dim. Without the benefit of additional funding in the legislation, White House aides say any executive order by Biden would have limited impact.

“Congressional Republicans chose to put partisan politics ahead of our national security, rejected what border agents have said they need, and then gave themselves a two-week vacation,” White House spokesman Angelo Fernández Hernández said in a statement Thursday, referring to a recent congressional recess.

“No executive action, no matter how aggressive, can deliver the significant policy reforms and additional resources Congress can provide and that Republicans rejected,” he added.

At the same time, Biden is facing pressure from progressives in his party unhappy about his apparent shift to the right on immigration.

“Doing Trump impressions isn’t how we beat Trump,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) posted last week on X, formerly known as Twitter, pointing to reports that Biden planned to use powers championed by Trump to block migrants from entering the country. “Seeking asylum is a legal right of all people. In the face of authoritarian threat, we should not buckle on our principles — we should commit to them.”

Trump, however, continued his onslaught against both Biden and undocumented immigrants.

“When I am your President, we will immediately Seal the Border, Stop the Invasion, and on Day One, we will begin the largest deportation operation of illegal CRIMINALS in American History!” he posted on Truth Social.

In that post, Trump referenced the recent killing of Laken Hope Riley, an Augusta University nursing student whose body was found on the University of Georgia campus. Jose Ibarra, who crossed the border illegally, has been taken into custody.

“Crooked Joe Biden’s INVASION is destroying our country and killing our citizens!” Trump wrote. “The horrible murder of 22-year-old Laken Riley at the University of Georgia should have NEVER happened!”

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson said Ibarra was arrested in September 2022 “after unlawfully entering the United States near El Paso, Texas,” and was “paroled and released for further processing.”

Nick Miroff and Scott Clement contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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