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White House looks to undercut GOP arguments ahead of border security hearing

<i>Kevin Lamarque/Reuters</i><br/>White House spokesman Ian Sams speaks to reporters in front of the West Wing of the White House in Washington
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Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
White House spokesman Ian Sams speaks to reporters in front of the West Wing of the White House in Washington

By Jeremy Diamond and Priscilla Alvarez, CNN

The White House tried to flip the script on border security politics, accusing House Republicans of “staging political stunts” and undermining border security ahead of a House Oversight Committee hearing Tuesday that probed the Biden administration’s handling of the US southern border.

In a memo obtained by CNN, the White House counsel’s office spokesman Ian Sams credited a series of new immigration and border security actions by the administration with reducing southern border crossings last month and slammed House Republicans for voting against the omnibus spending bill last year that included billions of dollars in border security funding and accused them of “pushing an agenda that would make border security worse.”

“It is clear that House Republicans are more interested in staging political stunts than on rolling up their sleeves to work with President Biden and Democrats in Congress on legislation to strengthen border security and fix our immigration system that has needed repair for decades,” Sams wrote in the memo. “But beyond their refusal to work constructively to pursue concrete solutions, they and their allies in the states are actually pushing an agenda that would make things worse at the border.”

The memo was distributed Tuesday morning to Democrats on Capitol Hill and other allies, just hours before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee held a hearing with two chief patrol agents of the US Border Patrol.

The committee’s chairman, Rep. James Comer, a Kentucky Republican, has accused the Biden administration of igniting “the worst border crisis in American history.”

“Starting on day one in office, President Biden and his administration rolled back deterrent focused policies, halted the construction of the border wall, gutted interior enforcement, pushed amnesty for illegal immigrants — all of which have made it difficult for US Border Patrol agents to secure the border,” Comer said in a statement announcing Tuesday’s hearing, vowing to hold the administration accountable.

Southern border crossings have hit record levels under Biden, making the issue a key political vulnerability that the newly empowered House Republican majority is eager to exploit. But Biden administration officials saw progress last month as daily migrant encounters dropped by more than half on the heels of new policies enacted by the administration.

During that hearing, Republicans slammed the Biden administration over its handling of the US southern border, claiming that the administration is to blame for the uptick in fentanyl being smuggled into the country and doubling down on their intentions to investigate.

“We will investigate. We will reveal the truth. And we will force accountability,” said Republican Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana.

The back and forth between Republicans and Democrats over fentanyl in the over three-hour hearing underscored the highly political nature of the border, including over drug smuggling.

GOP lawmakers repeatedly cited so-called “gotaways” — migrants who evade capture — arguing that the thousands of known “gotaways” are evidence of what lawmakers described as an “open border” policy despite the Department of Homeland Security continuing to rely on a Trump-era border restriction that allows authorities to turn migrants away.

Democratic lawmakers on the committee, meanwhile, frequently cited data that shows fentanyl primarily comes in and is stopped at ports of entry. Republicans pushed back, saying that it’s unclear how many individuals may be carrying drugs into the United States.

“All we’re doing in this hearing is politicizing another issue in this country that doesn’t need to be politicized. We all agree that fentanyl is a problem,” said Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Florida.

DHS has said it’s false that migrants seeking asylum between ports of entry are bringing fentanyl, which is instead often smuggled via vehicles through ports of entry.

The White House is also putting the spotlight back on GOP state officials who are suing to end Biden administration immigration policies, including most recently a lawsuit by 20 Republican-led states to block the expansion of a program that will allow up to 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Haiti to enter the US each month. Ending those policies “would lead to more unlawful border crossings,” the White House said.

“Why won’t House Republicans stand up to Republican state attorneys general who are trying to create more unlawful border crossings by ending President Biden’s new measures for border enforcement and safe, orderly migration?” Sams asked in the memo.

“House Republicans should join the President in pursuing real solutions, not political stunts — and they should answer for their opposition to funding for border security and their refusal to stand up to Republican officials trying to create more unlawful border crossings,” he added.

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