Republicans are turning the U.S.-Mexico border into something of an extension campus for the House of Representatives.
A two-week recess kicked off a flurry of hearings and visits to the border by multiple GOP-led House committees, with more in the works.
Republicans are looking to place blame on the Biden administration for drug trafficking, national security and the humanitarian crisis as migrant encounters at the southern border remain near record highs.
And they think being on location will help build up public disapproval of Democratic policies.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Thursday visited the border in Cochise County, Ariz., with four freshman House Republicans who flipped Democratic-held seats in 2022: Reps. Juan Ciscomani (Ariz.), Lori Chavez-DeRemer (Ore.), Jen Kiggans (Va.), and Derrick Van Orden (Wis.).
Speaking from the property of a rancher with the border fence in the background — the location found by GPS coordinates rather than an address — McCarthy said the GOP activity at the border is aimed at forcing Democrats to pay attention.
“The new majority in Congress, we’re gonna fight to fix this problem. No longer will the Democrats be able to ignore the issue and act like it’s not happening,” McCarthy said. “We will have hearings on the border. It’s the responsibility of all members to attend. Those who come to testify will come from both sides of the aisle.”
The House Energy and Commerce Committee investigations and health subcommittees held a joint field hearing in McAllen, Texas, on Wednesday, arguing President Biden’s border policies have contributed to a public health crisis with fentanyl deaths.
Next Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing near the border in Yuma, Ariz.
Members of the House Homeland Security Committee will go to El Paso, Texas, next week as part of a “border boot camp,” with a focus on educating freshman members on daily operations of Customs and Border Protection and the Texas Department of Public Safety, according to a committee source. It plans to hold a hearing at the border in March.
Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), the new chair of the Homeland Security Committee, wants to hire full-time staff members based on the U.S.-Mexico border. After being selected as chair last month, he told reporters that those staffers will be “sending us real time updates” on issues at the border.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee, which held a hearing in Washington about the border earlier this month, also plans to travel south for oversight activity in the future.
Border hawks are pleased to see Republicans there in person.
“It’s really common sense. It’s what leaders do. They go to the heart of the crisis, whether it’s a hurricane or tornado, a terrorist attack, it doesn’t matter,” Mark Morgan, the former chief operating officer and acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection during the Trump administration, told The Hill. “When you physically see it up close and personal, it changes your understanding. It changes your perspective.”
Morgan, who is now a visiting fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, talked about the emotional impact of seeing in person Border Patrol agents interact with migrants. And he criticized White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre for commenting last year that “it’s not like somebody walks over” the border.
“That is exactly what they do all day long,” Morgan said. “Had she spent 30 seconds at the border — 30 seconds — she would have seen … It would have changed her understanding; it would have changed her perception.”
But Democrats see the activities as little more than publicity stunts.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), whose district encompasses parts of Cochise County, paid his own visit to the border Thursday and criticized the tenor of Republicans’ focus on the border.
“I don’t see this thing as serious, what McCarthy’s doing, parachuting in, doing the photo-op, hanging out with the one rancher and Sheriff [Dannels], taking their word as Bible and moving on,” Grijalva told The Hill on Thursday.
Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels is a favorite witness on border issues for the GOP and a frequent guest on Fox News, but he has been accused by Democrats and immigration advocates of espousing an anti-immigrant agenda.
“I would have gone to the cities and the communities that are on the border. I would have him go and sit down with the people in Douglas, sit down with the people in Nogales, sit down with the people in San Luis and Somerton, sit down with the people in Naco, sit down with the people in Sasabe, sit down with the people that do business on that border, sit down with the families that have been there multi-generationally, sit down with them and talk about their needs and their perception of the border,” Grijalva said.
A White House spokesman on Wednesday dismissed McCarthy’s trip, saying “House Republicans should spend less time on partisan publicity stunts and more time working on solutions.”
And House Judiciary Committee Democrats will not attend next week’s hearing in Yuma.
Ranking member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Immigration Integrity, Security, and Enforcement subcommittee ranking member Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said in a joint statement Thursday that there was “no consultation” with Democrats on the hearing, and that many Democratic members had already committed to other congressional delegation trips.
They called it “a brazen act of political grandstanding,” adding, “as a result, Democrats, who have been to the border regularly the last few years, will not attend next week’s performative hearing. Additionally, Judiciary Democrats will conduct their own trip to the border next month where we will hear from the community and government officials on the ground.”
The House Judiciary GOP said in a tweet that was “FAKE NEWS,” and Republicans had been in consultation with Democrats for weeks about the trip — sharing a video of comments from Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in the committee’s first meeting to make the minority aware of a planned trip to the border that week.
“They’re just scared to face the harsh realities of the #BidenBorderCrisis,” the committee tweeted.
Also looming over the in-person border activities is the potential impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Those calling for his impeachment argue that he has not achieved “operational control.”
McCarthy has not committed to impeaching Mayorkas, saying that impeachment will not be “political.” But in November, he called on Mayorkas to resign or face House GOP investigations — warning that it could lead to impeachment.
But even as they try to draw attention to the border and take aim at Democrats, Republicans face internal disagreement over legislation to address immigration issues. GOP leaders had planned to quickly bring to the House floor a bill that would allow the Homeland Security secretary to turn away migrants in order to achieve “operational control” at the border.
Objections from moderates like Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) over the legislation being “anti-immigrant” derailed that plan.
Republicans are now working on border and immigration legislation that will go through a normal committee process.
“We’ve got a lot of ideas inside Congress. It’s different than the Congress before,” McCarthy said at the border Thursday. “We’re just not going to write the bill and put it onto the floor. We’re going to listen to the people that are on the border. We’re going to listen to border agents. We want the very best ideas.”
Rafael Bernal contributed.