Karine Jean-Pierre ducks question on Kamala Harris border help as migrant rush looms
WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre passed the buck Monday when asked what “migration czar” Vice President Kamala Harris had done recently to address the continued humanitarian crisis at the US -Mexico border.
“[Is] there any update from this side of the White House on what she’s doing and what she will continue to do as we’re expecting an influx at the border?” asked Washington Post reporter Tyler Pager.
Jean-Pierre replied: “[President Biden] appreciates the partnership that he has with the vice president. You’re right, that has been her charge to work in a diplomatic way in finding the root causes of migration. I don’t have anything to lay out specifically on what that work looks like. But again, we appreciate her partnership and I would probably refer you to her office on anything specific on the work that she’s doing.”
The less-than-ringing endorsement came as the administration’s chief spokesperson faced a barrage of questions on Biden’s management of illegal immigration as the looming potential end of the Title 42 COVID-19 expulsion policy threatens to cause the crisis to worsen further.
Harris insisted in a “Meet The Press” interview Sept. 11 that the “border is secure,” but struggled to explain herself when asked by moderator Chuck Todd if she was “confident” in that claim.
“We have a secure border in that that is a priority for any nation, including ours and our administration,” Harris insisted. “But there are still a lot of problems that we are trying to fix given the deterioration that happened over the last four years.”
The veep was tapped by Biden in March 2021 to address the so-called “root causes” of migration, but she has faced criticism from members of both parties for her apparent reluctance to take ownership of the crisis.
Late last year, CNN reported that Harris allies resented Biden for making her the point person on migration while he set about reversing former President Donald Trump’s hard-line border policies.
Harris spokeswoman Kirsten Allen told The Post late Monday that the VP’s focus has been promoting private-sector investment in Central America.
“The Vice President continues to lead implementation of the US Strategy to Address Root Causes of Migration from Central America. As part of that, she has convened private sector representatives through the Call to Action, a public-private partnership which has generated more than $3.2 billion in investments to provide economic opportunities in those countries,” Allen said in an email.
“She continues to engage with government leaders and the private sector on these efforts, including through her meeting with [Mexico] President [Andrés Manuel] Lopez Obrador (readout),” Allen added. “Last week, National Security Advisor to the Vice President convened a strategy session to discuss next steps in this partnership.”
Meanwhile, Biden has avoided visiting the US-Mexico border despite record-breaking migration — with arrests reaching a record-breaking nearly 2.4 million in fiscal 2022, which ended Sept. 30 — up from 1.7 million in fiscal 2021, fewer than 500,000 in 2020 and nearly 1 million in 2019.
“Does the president have any plans to go to the border? is now a good time to go?” one reporter asked Jean-Pierre after Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said last week that the president should visit the area.
“The president’s focus right now is to come up with solutions,” Jean-Pierre said. “His focus is on making sure that we have the resources to manage the challenges that we’re seeing at the border. And right now, as you know, we have a budget request in front of Congress. And again, if congressional Republicans are serious about dealing with the challenges that we’re seeing at the border, they will assist.”
The reporter pressed, “but given what we’re seeing at the border —”
“I just answered the question,” Jean-Pierre interjected. “I just said — we’ve litigated that back and forth here for the past two weeks or so. The president’s focus right now is to make sure that we have resources to manage what’s happening right now.”
Jean-Pierre seemed to be referring to a Nov. 30 briefing at which she claimed “[Biden has] been there. He’s been to the border,” despite just one cited drive-by by Biden over the course of his five-decade political career.
The president flew to Arizona on Dec. 6 to give a 16-minute speech at a computer-chips factory, but said he could not visit the nearby US-Mexico border because he had “more important things” to do.
“Why go to a border state and not visit the border?” a reporter asked Biden on the White House lawn as he departed for Arizona.
“Because there are more important things going on,” the president replied. “They are going to invest billions of dollars in a new enterprise in the state.”
A border stop would have required a Marine One helicopter flight of about 45 minutes from Phoenix — roughly the same distance as between the White House and Biden’s Wilmington, Delaware, home, where he regularly returns for weekends.
“I guess I should go down [to the border],” Biden said at a CNN town hall in October 2021. “But the whole point of it is I haven’t had a whole hell of a lot of time to get down.”
The White House has provided reporters with just one example of Biden visiting the border. According to an account by the Washington Post that was circulated by Biden staffers, Biden “briefly drove past the border” after landing at El Paso’s airport in 2008 for an event in Mesilla, NM Biden’s motorcade took “a route that for a few minutes hugs the border of the United States and Mexico.”
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