Republican governors reject president’s border deal push

President Joe Biden implored governors to press their federal representatives to revive the bipartisan border deal that collapsed in Congress.

Republicans are rejecting his plea.

“The sales pitch was made,” North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said the next day at the National Governors Association’s winter conference. “I’m not sure any minds were changed.”

Biden told a bipartisan group of governors at the White House on Friday that he’s exploring what executive actions he can take to curb crossings at the southern border but that he’s running into potential legal roadblocks.

He also pressed governors to pressure their congressional delegations to resurrect the border bill that a bipartisan group of senators spent months negotiating only for it to implode within 48 hours of its release. And he criticized Republicans for tanking the deal amid opposition to it from former President Donald Trump.

Democratic governors quickly heeded Biden’s call.

“I hope that Republicans join Democrats in taking the border security seriously and saying let’s secure the border and control the flow of immigration, rather than have the chaos that we have now,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, whose state has been grappling with an influx of migrants to Denver, said in a brief interview at the NGA meeting.

“There’s an opportunity to call on Congress to take action,” he said.

But Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, who was among the dozen-plus Republican governors who visited the border crossing at Eagle Pass, Texas, earlier this month to criticize Biden’s handling of immigration issues, reiterated his argument that the border could be controlled through executive action.

“I was very disappointed in the meeting” with Biden and administration officials at the White House, Gianforte told reporters on Saturday. “There are many things that President Biden could do to secure the border and he’s refusing to act.”

Gianforte said he presented Biden with a copy of the 10-point border security plan that Republicans first submitted to his administration over two years ago. It called, among other things, to end catch and release.

Biden, Gianforte said, never responded to the initial letter. On Friday “he said he would read it,” Gianforte said, noting that he would take Biden at his word.

He added: “Joe Biden needs to do his job.”

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, piled on in a “Fox News Sunday” interview, calling on Biden to reinstate the “remain in Mexico policy,” a Trump-era program that requires asylum seekers to stay in that country while awaiting a hearing.

“Really, we heard just a few excuses,” Stitt said.

Biden did not specify to governors what executive actions he was looking to take, said Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican who chairs the National Governors Association. Cox told reporters that the president was “working with his attorneys, trying to understand what executive action would be upheld in the courts and would be constitutional.”

The president, Cox said, “seemed a little frustrated that he was not getting answers from attorneys that he felt he could take the kind of actions that he wanted to.”

POLITICO previously reported that ideas the Biden administration is discussing include using a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act to bar migrants from seeking asylum in between U.S. ports of entry and tying that directive to a certain number of illegal crossings.

Cox said “there is more that the president can do on the border” to enforce the laws already on the books.

Despite pushing for the president to take executive action on the border, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he wouldn’t support Biden’s proposal to restrict migrants’ ability to seek asylum after illegally crossing the border.

“No. Because if he were to grant asylum after migrants crossed the border illegally, that would be authorizing illegal immigration and that would cause chaos,” Abbott said during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He went on to echo Cox’s call for Biden to better enforce existing immigration laws.

Meanwhile, Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, cast doubt in a brief interview at NGA that Biden would be able to reduce the timeline for asylum cases to months instead of years — as he hopes to do by granting asylum officers new authority — without adding more immigration judges.

Even as Republican governors publicly fell back on partisan calls for Biden to take executive action to ease the border crisis, Andy Beshear, the Democratic governor of Kentucky, insisted to reporters that behind the White House’s closed doors there were “both Democrats and Republicans that want a solution and that don’t think that Congress can simply sit on the sidelines.”

Tim Walz, the Democratic governor of Minnesota, said if he was running as a Republican in a state where federal lawmakers wouldn’t vote for the border bill, “I would be nervous, because we’re going to beat the hell out of them for not doing this, because these are the fixes — and they don’t deny these are the fixes.”

Walz, at a roundtable hosted by the Democratic Governors Association, recounted how he had asked Republican governors at the White House meeting who would support the bill and what parts of it they disagreed with.

“There was no answer,” he said.

Still, Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper expressed hope that the legislation could still pass.

“We’ve seen a lot of big legislation over the decades sometimes spring back to life,” Cooper told reporters. “If Republican and Democratic governors got together and said this legislation is important for our national security and for people living in our states, it would be a powerful thing.”

Zach Montellaro and Kelly Garrity contributed to this report.

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