House GOP Raises the Stakes: ‘Shut the Border Down or Shut the Government Down’
While the rest of Congress is soaking up the last few days of holiday recess, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) decided to cut his vacation short, opting instead to take 60 House Republicans on a detour to the southern border before Congress resumes next week. If the goal was to remind them what they’re fighting for in the standoff on immigration with Joe Biden, it succeeded.
With December’s record-breaking migrant crossings as a backdrop, this “show of force,” as many are calling it, aims to put more pressure on the White House to negotiate on reforms in real faith. “Life along the border is turned upside down,” host Congressman Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) told reporters, “and that’s exactly what the speaker and my colleagues are going to see.”
The trip comes as a growing chorus of Democratic leaders plead with Biden to act. From big cities like Denver to small communities like 15,000-population Whitewater, Wisconsin, even liberal politicians say they’re at “a breaking point.” “…[T]here’s just not enough work or housing in the city to support this ongoing [flood],” Mile High City mayor Mike Johnston admitted from his sanctuary city. “… [W]e know we can’t keep growing at this pace,” he warned. “When I took the oath of office six months ago, we had about 400 migrants in shelter[s]. We have more than ten times that number right now. We’ve brought 35,000 through this year.”
Republicans, who know they have the upper hand tying border reforms to less-popular Ukraine aid, are dangling even more drastic measures before the president after seeing Eagle Pass — including a government shutdown. “No more money for this bureaucracy of his government until you’ve brought this border under control,” border state Representative Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) insisted. “Shut the border down or shut the government down.”
That extreme approach might get a warmer reception than Democrats think, given the latest polling. Incredibly, the new Associated Press-NORC numbers show that the emergency at the border has supplanted the economy and inflation in voters’ top concerns. Thirty-five percent now list immigration and the border wall as their biggest worry — up eight points from last month. Making matters worse for this president, only a handful of Americans — 32% — trust Biden to make “wise decisions about immigration policy.”
Speaker Johnson is hoping to change that, telling reporters on the ground in Texas that if the president wants a supplemental bill with aid for Ukraine and national security, “it better begin with defending America’s national security. We want to get the border closed and secured first.”
That commitment was on display Wednesday, Gonzales insisted, in the mere size of the GOP delegation. Convincing 60 members of Congress to go on a border trip “two days after New Year’s … is a small miracle,” he said. And as Johnson pointed out, it was a diverse bunch. “We have everybody from California to Maryland, from Michigan to Florida,” he explained at the group’s afternoon press conference. “We represent over half the U.S. states because every state in America is now a border state. We’ve seen that on vivid display today.”
Frankly, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) pointed out, this is rapidly becoming a bipartisan issue. From the airport, where he was boarding a plane to Eagle Pass Tuesday, the Alabama congressman told “Washington Watch” that the urgency “is across the party lines.” “This is not just a Republican thing or Democrat issue,” he insisted to Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. “… Democrats are hearing from their constituents, just as Republicans are. And obviously, we want a system where people can come freely into the United States of America, but we want it in a situation where people [come] legally. And that’s what we’re trying to do here. … [H]opefully, this will call some media attention to it, and we can try to put some pressure on the Democrats to come together and find some solution[s].”
This situation is “unsustainable,” Perkins agreed, pointing to the soft target America is becoming by not adequately vetting the people crossing the border. “I understand that people want to come here to the United States of America,” Aderholt said, “but we’re in a situation right now where we have to make sure that the people [who] are coming here are coming for the right reason. When they come here illegally … you don’t know why they’re coming. Some of them may be coming because of good reasons, and they’re just trying to provide for their family. But at the same time, there’s a lot of folks that also may be coming illegally that are trying to do harm to the United States. … And that’s what we’ve got to put a stop to. … It’s the people that would want to come for nefarious reasons that we want to keep out.”
Already, House Republicans are showing their sincerity, scheduling its first impeachment hearing on Biden’s embattled Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The fireworks kick off January 10, when the debate over how to couple massive border reforms with overseas aid will be well underway. A fuller investigation may be on the horizon if the president continues to play coy about the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants disappearing into every corner of our country.
“I very much think that Speaker Johnson will move forward on this [impeachment of Secretary Mayorkas] if the Biden administration doesn’t act responsibly,” Aderholt cautioned. As he should, his colleague Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) argued. “For three years, the Biden admin has fed the American people lies.”
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.