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Biden admin rushes to recalculate border message as GOP allies flee

So much for the cool competency of experience, part deux. Joe Biden came into office proclaiming his desire to push forward on comprehensive immigration reform, offering it as his first detailed legislative plan. Biden challenged Republicans to work with him even though his proposal offered nothing on border security, which the GOP warned would send signals for an illegal immigration free-for-all.

Two months later, the Biden administration now wants to offer a “more aggressive” message about the border, while the GOP reminds everyone who created this crisis in the first place. Reuters still hasn’t figured that much out:

The U.S. government will be “more aggressive” in telling migrants not to come to the United States, a top U.S. official said on Thursday, after earlier warnings failed to stem the flow of thousands of Central Americans to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The message isn’t, ‘Don’t come now,’ it’s, ‘Don’t come in this way, ever,’” Roberta Jacobson, the White House’s southern border coordinator, told Reuters in an interview. “The way to come to the United States is through legal pathways.” …

Biden’s promise to end former President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies has been complicated by a recent spike in the number of migrants crossing the border illegally.

It hasn’t been complicated by the spike in illegal immigration. Biden’s rhetoric incentivized that spike. Why else would the administration suddenly see the need to make their messaging “more aggressive” in discouraging the surges toward the border? They had been broadly hinting that the crossings would be much more likely to succeed at some point in the near future.

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake points out the difference in messaging. Before this shift, the new administration wasn’t telling people to enter legally, but just to wait to make illegal entries:

Exactly. Either Mayorkas and Biden are idiots who don’t comprehend the word “now,” or they intended on incentivizing surges at a point when it worked more to their favor. It blew up in their faces by happening before they were prepared to use it in negotiations, essentially vindicating Republicans that warned about the potential incentives in Biden’s proposal. Now they’re forced to use the same facilities for children that the previous two administrations used, raising the “kids in cages” issue all over again.

The press and activists are noticing this time, too, especially the fact that the Biden administration won’t let them see those cages:

The White House has faced tough questions all week from frustrated reporters complaining about how ride-alongs at similar facilities that were commonplace during the Trump administration are now being denied by the Department of Homeland Security.

There have been no public photos taken inside the buildings where thousands of children are being kept, though the White House said Wednesday that President Biden has seen pictures taken by an envoy that toured the facilities and later debriefed him.

Photos of detained children sparked outrage under former President Trump, prompting Democrats and activists to accuse him of implementing an inhumane and cruel immigration policy that put “kids in cages.”

The White House says it is committed to transparency, but has so far declined to share pictures or expand access to reporters hoping to view firsthand the overcapacity centers.

With all of this backfire, Biden now has made it impossible for Republicans to work with him, even while nibbling at the margins. Politico reports that Lindsey Graham, one of the key Gang of Eight members in 2013 on a comprehensive immigration package, had planned to move forward on a new version of the DREAM Act. Until Biden fixes the border, all bets are off:

Lindsey Graham introduced a bipartisan immigration bill 43 days ago. But if it came up on the Senate floor today, he wouldn’t support it.

“God, no,” the South Carolina Republican senator scoffed in an interview. “I’m not in support of legalizing one person until you’re in control of the border.” …

“Many of us support giving a path to citizenship” to that population of mostly younger immigrants, said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the only Republican to support Biden’s Health and Human Services nominee on Thursday. “But now the border is such a disaster that I don’t see how you can do just a bill to deal with Dreamers.”

Republicans blame their lack of enthusiasm almost solely on the worsening situation on the southern border as illegal crossings increase amid a surge in unaccompanied minors. And as long as the Senate has a 60-vote threshold to pass most bills, the GOP disinterest in Biden’s policies is enough to put a deep chill on immigration reform in the 50-50 Senate.

Biden won’t get anywhere on immigration issues if both Collins and Graham are off his team. They won’t get Marco Rubio unless and until robust border-security provisions and enforcement are restored; Rubio got burned by his Gang of Eight work in 2016, and won’t make that mistake again. Even the soon-to-be-retired caucus won’t lift a finger while Biden’s making hash of border control.

That’s why the White House has suddenly adopted the word “crisis” and wants to make its messaging “more aggressive.” The contrast between Biden’s policies and those of Donald Trump has become too quickly apparent for Biden’s political fortunes. They need more space before attempting to manipulate the next crisis to their advantage, but this fumble might have put an end to that strategy altogether. If Biden wants comprehensive immigration reform now — or any immigration policy improvements — he’ll have to start dealing with Republicans on their terms.