Sen. Mark Kelly: I didn't hear Biden's plan to deal with the border crisis

Caroline Brehman/Pool via AP

As Ed pointed out this morning, Biden’s speech last night barely mentioned the border. But it wasn’t only Republicans who noticed. At least one Democratic Senator highlighted what was clearly missing from last night’s speech: A plan to deal with the current crisis. Here’s the last paragraph of Sen. Mark Kelly’s statement on the speech.

While I share President Biden’s urgency in fixing our broken immigration system, what I didn’t hear tonight was a plan to address the immediate crisis at the border, and I will continue holding this administration accountable to deliver the resources and staffing necessary for a humane, orderly process as we work to improve border security, support local economies, and fix our immigration system.

Over at the Washington Post, Aaron Blake argues there’s a pretty clear reason why Biden avoided the topic. Polls show it’s his most significant vulnerability at the moment. He cites two recent polls showing Biden is underwater on the topic of the border. First up is a CNN poll released yesterday.

As with other polls, it showed that immigration is one of Biden’s worst issues right now. While he received strong marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic (66 percent approval) and was in overall positive territory on most things, just 41 percent approved of his handling of immigration, while 53 percent disapproved.

And that might actually undersell how bad an issue the border is for him right now.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll asked what people thought of Biden’s handling of the immigration situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, and Americans disapproved 53 percent to 37 percent. A Quinnipiac University poll earlier this month asked even more specifically about Biden’s handling of the issue. In that case, just 29 percent approved of Biden’s handling of it, while 55 percent disapproved. Only 58 percent of Democrats approved, and independents broke against Biden 64 percent to 22 percent…

Perhaps reinforcing Kelly’s point, the CNN poll also showed that a vast majority of Americans, 78 percent, believe the situation on the border is a “crisis,” while 19 percent don’t. And 65 percent disapproved of how the U.S. government was treating border-crossers, compared with 29 percent who felt otherwise.

In other words, this is Biden’s weakest issue by far and people just aren’t buying the White House spin about this being a challenge instead of a crisis.

Trying to avoiding a potential pitfall is understandable but Sen. Kelly’s statement points toward a more worrisome possibility. What if Biden’s not addressing this because he really has nothing to offer? Think about it for a moment. What exactly would he say if about this if he’s not even prepared to call it a crisis? You have to wonder if he and his speechwriters looked at the problem of how to address this without admitting they’ve been downplaying it for weeks and at some point they just decided there was no way out of the box they’d put themselves in.

And that’s clearly a bit worrisome to Post author Aaron Blake who takes Sen. Kelly’s statement as a friendly warning not to let this issue fester.

The administration has demonstrated a reluctance to play into the narrative that this is truly a crisis, and its allies have tried a little too hard to suggest that this is merely the normal course of things.

For Biden, the true problem here would be in allowing the situation to fester too long — especially when he has so many other ambitious things he wants to do…

First, note that the link about Biden’s allies trying too hard to deny the crisis goes to a piece admitting this is an “unusual surge.” But what Blake should have linked to was the piece the Post published arguing this was just seasonal variation. That’s the piece Biden was relying on when he claimed the crisis was nothing special, at least one of the authors of the piece thought so at the time. In other words, the Post played a direct role in spreading the false narrative Blake now admits was Biden allies trying too hard. Funny he doesn’t mention that.

The problem for Biden is that not talking about the crisis won’t make it go away. On the contrary, as the vaccine gradually pushes the coronavirus panic off the front page and the border surge continues through the summer, this crisis could become bigger both in real terms and in terms of the attention it gets from the media. Last night was Biden’s chance to take this problem head on and he whiffed. Right now it may be just one member of his party saying it out loud but you can bet there were others who are thinking it this morning and they’re rightly worried about what that means.