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Mike Johnson stands by opposition to Senate immigration deal and Biden’s border policy in first floor speech as speaker

<i>Francis Chung/POLITICO/AP</i><br/>
Francis Chung/POLITICO/AP

By Clare Foran, Priscilla Alvarez and Kristin Wilson, CNN

House Speaker Mike Johnson railed against the Senate’s bipartisan immigration deal Wednesday during his first floor speech as speaker, intensifying the clash between the two chambers as he continues to lay the groundwork for the House to reject the deal even though final text of an agreement has yet to be released.

He also implied President Joe Biden has powers to help combat illegal immigration that he’s not utilizing, though in at least some cases courts have opposed similar efforts in the past.

“From what we’ve heard, this so-called deal does not include transformational policy changes needed to actually stop the border catastrophe,” Johnson said.

As Johnson ramps up his pushback to the Senate deal, the speaker argued that Biden must do more to address the border crisis on his own using executive authority and accused Biden and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas of having “designed this catastrophe.”

At one point, Johnson said that Biden has “falsely claimed” that he needs Congress to pass a new law to allow him to “close the southern border.”

However, former President Donald Trump tried to close the US southern border to asylum seekers crossing the border unlawfully while in office, invoking provisions in immigration law, but was blocked by the courts.

In 2018, Trump tried to use an authority that Johnson has cited — 212f, which gives the president broad authority to implement immigration restrictions — to clamp down on border crossings. But ultimately, a federal appeals court ruled that the authority conflicts with asylum law and the 212f authority doesn’t override it.

The case — known as East Bay Sanctuary Covenant v. Trump — serves as an example of why the president is limited in his ability to shut down the border. The emerging border deal, while there’s no text yet, could overhaul that and implement strict limits that have not been previously enshrined into law.

The federal government has also been limited in regard to immigration enforcement resources. The US, for example, has never been able to detain all border crossers in part because of there isn’t enough detention space.

During his speech, Johnson said that some undocumented immigrants are “are given a piece of paper that says ‘we’ll see you in a decade’ – it’s absurd.”

Migrants who are released from government custody go through immigration proceedings where an immigration judge decides whether they are allowed to remain in the United States or be removed. But the immigration court system is so overwhelmed and backlogged, some migrants may not get a court date until years in the future. One immigration attorney told CNN they’ve seen dates as far as out as 2027.

Johnson’s inaugural floor speech was a low-key affair in the House chamber, with about 30 people sitting for his remarks and a half dozen members drifting in and out during his speech.

Magic minutes by House speakers have taken on a note of endurance in recent years, with Nancy Pelosi extending her minute into an eight-hour-and-seven-minute long on protecting the DREAM Act. Not to be outdone, her successor, Kevin McCarthy bested her time by an additional 25 minutes in a floor speech about the Build Back Better bill.

Johnson’s criticism of the immigration deal comes as Trump ramps up his own attacks on the deal as he campaigns for the White House. Earlier on Wednesday, Sen. James Lankford, the top GOP negotiator for the border deal, pushed back against Trump and criticized “mischaracterizations” over the emerging deal. Lankford also rejected characterizations that the deal would allow a flood of migrants to enter the US week, saying the restrictions are far more onerous, and he said that the border would be effectively shut down when illegal crossings reach a certain threshold.

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