President Biden backed Vice President Kamala Harris Thursday ahead of her trip to the US-Mexico border, telling reporters his besieged second-in-command has “done a great job so far” on the issue despite waiting more than three months to visit the beleaguered region.
“The reason why it’s important that she go down,” Biden added as he left a White House event on infrastructure, “[is] she’s now set up the criteria, having spoken with the president of Mexico and Guatemala [and] visited the region, to know what we need to do.”
Harris is scheduled to visit El Paso Friday alongside Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Lawmakers from both parties have implored Harris to visit the region since Biden tapped her to deal with the “root causes” of the migration crisis back in March.
Following the announcement of Harris’ visit, Republican lawmakers accused the White House of sending her to an area that has been less affected by the crisis than the Rio Grande Valley, approximately 800 miles southeast of El Paso.
“She’s going where the height of the problem isn’t,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told Fox News Wednesday.
“Kamala, you need to go to McAllen. Kamala, you need to go to the Donna tent facility, which is the tent city your administration has built that is massively over capacity, that has kids in cages,” Cruz added. “You need to look at the children in cages that you and Joe Biden put there in a way that is endangering their safety and subjecting them to abuse and sexual assault.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), whose district covers part of the Rio Grande Valley, told Fox News Thursday that Harris’ advisers had likely opted for a “politically safer” trip by going to El Paso.
“I’m sure her planners told her that if you’re going to go down to the border, go to something that’s safer to go to, that is, politically safer,” Cuellar said. “The epicenter is down there in the Lower Rio Grande, the lower part of my district down there. If you look at the numbers that are down there compared to El Paso, you’re not going to get a true picture of what’s happening.”
Cuellar added that despite inviting Harris to visit the border many times, he only heard of her visit through the news media.
“Yesterday, I got a call from one of my Border Patrol friends [who said], ‘Hey, why is she going over there? We got about 140 percent higher crossings over here, and this is where the activity’s at.’ And I couldn’t answer him,” Cuellar said. “Even if she goes to El Paso, which is a first step, she’s got to spend time with landowners, with stakeholders, with cities and county officials, and I hope she sits down with our brave men and women in green and in blue, our Border Patrol agents, so they don’t just get a pat on the back, but they actually get some reinforcement and some support down there.”
The White House has also been forced to answer questions about whether Harris’ border visit was scheduled in response to a planned June 30 trip to the region by former President Donald Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
“We made an assessment within our government about when it was an appropriate time for her to go to the border,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in response to questioning from Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy.
The border issue was the main focus of Harris’ first overseas trip, to Guatemala and Mexico, earlier this month. While there, she dismissed NBC News’ Lester Holt when he noted she hadn’t visited the border.
“And I haven’t been to Europe,” Harris responded with a laugh, before adding, “I don’t understand the point you’re making.”
On the same trip, Harris shrugged off a reporter’s question about the prospect of a border visit by saying it would amount to nothing more than “grand gestures.”