February 7, 2024 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

All of a sudden, Biden is the border hawk, not Trump

Trump got outplayed and doesn’t seem to know it.

CSPAN via screenshot.
CSPAN via screenshot.

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Late last month, the president said he would “shut down” the US-Mexican border if the Congress passed a bipartisan immigration bill that is currently languishing in the Senate.

That was a shock. 

When it comes to congressional negotiations over border policy and immigration reform, there’s usually a formula. It “was always a swap,” wrote the Times’ Jonathan Weisman. “The GOP got border security; Democrats got a pathway to citizenship or legalization.” That’s been the case three times since the 2000s. Each time, the formula failed.

This time, however, the Democrats changed course. They dropped their usual demand for legalization, as they “prepared to give away the store,” Weisman said. The new bill became a “border security-only bill” that sacrificed “all leverage for legalization.” Then, on January 26, the president added more uncharacteristic behavior. He said that he’d “shut down” the border if the Congress gave him the power to do it.

The president snatched the border as a campaign issue out of Donald Trump’s hands. He snatched it and Trump doesn’t seem to know it’s been snatched. In the end, Biden is good at politics. Trump isn’t.

The question was why. 

After last night, we know why. 

The president snatched the border as a campaign issue out of Donald Trump’s hands. He snatched it and Trump doesn’t seem to know it’s been snatched. In the end, Biden is good at politics. Trump isn’t.

The Republicans in the Senate are running away from legislation that they say would toughen deportation policy and reform asylum laws. They are running after having said that they wanted it, indeed, after having said that it’s a matter of national security and protecting our way of life. The Democrats were ready to compromise. This was the GOP’s best shot. Then Trump stepped in and said nah nah nah.

“I understand the former president is desperately trying to stop this bill, because he’s not interested in solving the border problem,” Biden said. “He wants a political issue to run against me. They’ve all but said that, across the board. No one really denies that, that I’m aware of.”

He called their bluff. That’s what happened. They said the border was in “crisis.” They said migrants were “invading.” Some of them even agreed with Donald Trump when he said migrants are “poisoning the blood” of the country. They didn’t mean it. They didn’t mean any of it. 

Biden knew they didn’t mean it and he proved they didn’t mean it. He and the Senate Democrats dropped their usual demands for a pathway to citizenship and they moved to the right, because they knew Trump wouldn’t permit his party to take away an issue so important to his campaign that it could hardly be called a campaign without it. 

As Bloomberg’s Jonathan Tamari wrote last night: “Not long ago, if you had Mitch McConnell, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board and the United States Chamber of Commerce all endorsing a deal negotiated by a conservative Oklahoma senator, it would be a slam dunk with GOP senators. Those folks aren’t running the show anymore.”

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But Trump isn’t running the show either.

Yesterday, while Biden’s gave remarks at the White House on stalled Senate talks, CNN’s Manu Raju said Biden “pointedly blames Donald Trump for the expected defeat of the bipartisan border bill. [That happened today.] He blames Trump for wanting to make this a campaign issue and says ‘he’d rather weaponize’ the border than solve it. He calls on the GOP to show ‘some spine’ and stand up to Trump.”

Punch Bowl News’ Max Cohen said the president said “if the border bill fails [and it did], he’ll remind American voters every day until the election that the reason the border isn’t secure is because of Trump.”

All of a sudden, Biden is the border hawk! As long as the Republicans refuse to walk the walk, I expect that’s not going to change. Trump is left looking like he wants to complain more than act. All this makes the push by House Republicans to impeach the secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, seem especially weak. GOP Senator Kevin Cramer said as much: “What’s rich to me is the speaker says the [border] bill in the Senate is … dead on arrival. And then they proceed impeaching a cabinet secretary, which is obviously dead on arrival.”

Biden outplayed him. He will continue to, because in the end, Trump just isn’t good at politics. He’s been running the same campaign for years. He can’t or won’t adjust to circumstances. Another politician might change course when things go sideways. Not Trump! He blames others, especially enemies, rather than take responsibility for failures. And because of that, he’s almost certainly and completely oblivious to the fact that his greatest campaign issue has just been snatched.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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