Biden, not Congress, responsible for action on immigration, U.S. House speaker asserts

McConnell says negotiators are close to reaching a bipartisan immigration deal

By: - January 31, 2024 2:45 pm

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, gives his first floor speech since being elected to the leadership role. (Screenshot from U.S. House livestream)

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson on Wednesday used his first floor speech since taking hold of the gavel more than three months ago to call for immediate action to address undocumented immigration and border security, saying it’s a “moral” responsibility.

The Louisiana Republican, however, argued the task should fall to the White House, not Congress.

“While there may be some who think that it’s not a good time to act, I disagree,” Johnson said. “Good policy — like a strong border and securing our nation and defending our sovereignty — is always good politics.”

“It’s the right thing to do, it’s the moral thing, it’s the constitutional thing to do, it’s the common sense thing to do,” Johnson added. “I cannot for the life of me understand why the president won’t agree with that.”

Former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, repeatedly has urged Republicans in Congress to end negotiations on any bipartisan immigration deal, though so far senators attempting to strike a deal have continued their work.

Mitch McConnell (Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Wednesday afternoon that negotiators were “close” to reaching a deal.

Johnson, during his 30-minute speech on the House floor, called the volume of undocumented immigrants entering the country a “crisis” before picking apart ongoing bipartisan negotiations in the Senate, where lawmakers have been working for months to find agreement on changes to immigration and border policy.

Johnson repeatedly called on President Joe Biden to use executive authority to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants entering the country by reinstating Trump-era policies.

Migrants claiming asylum and seeking to enter the United States should have to remain in Mexico until their hearing, he said.

The Department of Homeland Security, which includes Customs and Border Protection as well as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, has essentially become a shuttle service for the drug cartels, Johnson said.

“The Department of Homeland Security has effectively become a taxi driver to just help traffickers complete the last few miles of their human smuggling operation,” Johnson said. “It’s all absolute madness and it is dismantling the safety of our communities.”

But still, Johnson said the crisis must be addressed through the president’s executive authority, not Congress’ lawmaking powers.

“President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas have designed this catastrophe,” Johnson said, referring to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the subject of an impeachment drive by House Republicans. “And now, rather than accept any accountability or responsibility for what they have clearly done, President Biden wants to somehow shift the blame to Congress.”

The situation, he said, is “absolutely laughable.”

Johnson — who has elicited frustration from several Republican colleagues who do believe Congress has a role to play in immigration policy — said Biden must take executive action if he wants House Republicans to possibly move to the negotiating table.

“My counter is this, if President Biden wants us to believe he’s serious about protecting national security, he needs to demonstrate good faith and take immediate action to secure that border,” Johnson said. “If he wants our House Republican Conference to view him as a good faith negotiator, he can start with the stroke of a pen, but he’s got to do it quickly.”

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Jennifer Shutt
Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.

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