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Speaker Johnson: Possible Biden actions on border amount to ‘election year gimmicks’

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Thursday said reports that President Biden is considering using his executive authority to address the situation at the southern border amount to “election year gimmicks.”

Multiple outlets reported on Wednesday that Biden — after weeks of the White House saying the president had done all he could unilaterally on the border — is looking at potential action to restrict migrants’ ability to seek asylum in the U.S.

Johnson has been hammering Biden for months to use his executive authority to improve the circumstances at the border, including a December letter that urged him to “immediately take executive actions available to you under existing immigration laws to stem the record tide of illegal immigration.”

In the wake of this week’s reports saying Biden is eyeing potential actions, Johnson questioned his efforts.

“Now, in an election year, after the president has surrendered the border to cartels and smugglers, after tens of thousands of Americans have tragically lost their lives due to fentanyl poisoning, after countless unaccompanied minors and young people have been subjected to human trafficking, and after millions of illegal aliens have been scattered by the Biden administration throughout our country — the President suddenly seems interested in trying to make a change using the legal authority that he claimed until recently didn’t exist,” Johnson said in a statement.

“Americans have lost faith in this President and won’t be fooled by election year gimmicks that don’t actually secure the border. Nor will they forget that the President created this catastrophe and, until now, has refused to use his executive power to fix it,” he added.

The Speaker said Biden “can show he’s serious” about taking action by “reinstituting the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy and ending his administration’s abuse of the parole system, along with other critical reforms.”

The Biden administration is looking at “a series of policy options” to deal with the situation at the border and hasn’t made a final decision, an administration official told The Hill.

Since the start of the administration, the White House has evaluated what actions could be taken, the official said, adding there haven’t been any final decisions regarding what additional executive actions, if any, could be taken.

The question of how to address the situation at the southern border has dominated much of Johnson’s Speakership tenure, pitting him against Biden and the Senate.

Conservatives have implored Biden to use his executive authority to address the situation at the southern border, but the president and White House officials on multiple occasions said Biden had exhausted his options.

Last month, for example, Biden told reporters before departing on Marine One “I’ve done all I can do” on the border, telling Congress to “just give me the power.”

“I’ve asked from the very day I got into office. Give me the Border Patrol. Give me the people — give me the people, the judges. Give me the people who can stop this and make it work right,” he said.

The battle over the situation at the border hit a fever pitch earlier this month when Johnson declared the Senate’s bipartisan border agreement — which Biden endorsed — “dead on arrival” in the House, which led to its demise.

Johnson and conservatives for months demanded that any aid for Ukraine be paired with border security policy, which launched bipartisan border talks in the Senate that ultimately led to the agreement. But conservatives, at the urging of former President Trump, said the package did not go far enough, torpedoing its chances of reaching Biden’s desk.

The deal, which was endorsed by the U.S. Border Patrol union, included provisions to raise standards for asylum screening, ended the practice known as “catch and release” and provided a new authority to close the border to most migrants when crossings reached a set threshold.

White House spokesperson Andrew Bates referenced Johnson’s rejection of the Senate agreement in a Thursday statement that hit back at the Speaker, accusing him of “playing politics with the wellbeing of American families.”

“The only consistent theme in Speaker Johnson’s wildly fluctuating excuses for opposing bipartisan border security legislation — and for continuing to side with fentanyl-traffickers instead of the Border Patrol — is that he is playing politics with the wellbeing of American families,” he said.

“For 6 straight years, Speaker Johnson demanded border security legislation, only for House Republicans to balk as soon as they saw the strongest bipartisan border deal in modern history and kill it, explicitly citing Donald Trump’s concerns that making America safer would diminish his campaign,” he added.

Bates called on Johnson to bring the Senate border bill to the floor and echoed the president’s criticism that the House left for recess with unfinished business.

“We continue to call on Speaker Johnson and House Republicans to return from their vacation and pass the bipartisan border security bill,” he said.

The increased rhetoric from Johnson and the White House comes amid polls that show immigration is top of mind to voters with the 2024 presidential election underway. In a Harvard CAPS-Harris poll released last month, 35 percent of respondents said immigration was their top concern, followed by inflation at 32 percent.

Alex Gangitano contributed.

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