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Trump, Biden to visit Texas in competing border trips Thursday

Texas National Guard and Department of Public Safety presence at Shelby Park in Eagle Pass on Jan. 19, 2024.
Eddie Gaspar
The Texas Tribune
Texas National Guard and Department of Public Safety presence at Shelby Park in Eagle Pass on Jan. 19, 2024.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are separately heading to Texas border towns on Thursday in competing visits ahead of the March 5 primary.

Biden will meet with U.S. Border Patrol and local law enforcement in Brownsville, while Trump will be about 300 miles away in Eagle Pass. A White House official confirmed Biden’s travel plans Monday, after CNN reported Trump’s border visit last week. The New York Times was the first to report Biden’s travel.

The border has increasingly become a thorn in Democrats’ side, particularly as Biden gears up for reelection and the party aims to retake the U.S. House. Border security has consistently polled as a top priority among Texans, and Republican-led policies led by Gov. Greg Abbott to place barriers like concertina wire and buoys in the Rio Grande have proven popular among voters.

Trump’s campaign derided Biden’s visit as “chasing us to the border”. A campaign spokesperson said the trip “shows just how big of a problem this is for him.”

Biden is expected to use the trip to push for the passage of a bipartisan border security agreement drafted by a small group of senators earlier this year. The plan would tie border security measures to foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and allies in the Pacific. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Arizona; Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut; and James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, concocted the compromise.

The plan failed in the Senate after Trump publicly trashed the package. Republicans in quick turn denounced it as not going hard enough on the border. Sen. Ted Cruz said the deal would codify a “new catch-and-release policy” and would permit up to 5,000 illegal crossings per day. Sinema contested the characterization, saying the bill would require a shutdown of the border at 5,000 crossings, but that did not mean all other crossings would go unchecked.

Democrats said Republicans were cynically delaying improvements on the border to help Trump’s election prospects. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, said the package would never see the light of day in his chamber.

The White House called the package the “toughest and fairest set of reforms” in decades. The package would have increased funding for drug interdiction and other Border Patrol operations and was endorsed by U.S. Border Patrol Union.

Biden has considered taking similar action to shut down illegal border crossings by executive order, CNN reported last week. The Associated Press reported he does not plan to make an announcement on an executive order during his trip this week.

Republicans have repeatedly slammed Biden for not visiting the border more during his time in office. He visited El Paso in January of last year — his first visit to the border during his presidency. The trip was tacked on to a longer trip to Mexico for the North American Leaders’ Summit. It was his only other trip to the Texas border as president.

U.S. Reps. Veronica Escobar, who represents El Paso and is a campaign surrogate for Biden, and Vicente Gonzalez, whose district includes Brownsville, accompanied him for that trip. Gonzalez said he would accompany Biden on his trip Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, has helped bring national focus to Eagle Pass, hosting several congressional delegations in the city to discuss the rise in illegal crossings at the border under Biden’s administration. Gonzales’ office did not immediately say if he would be in the city for Trump’s visit. Congress will be in session on Thursday as it scrambles to stave off a partial government shutdown ahead of a Friday funding deadline.

Eagle Pass has also been a focal point in Texas’ legal standoff with the Biden administration on the state’s rights to enforce the border. Abbott installed concertina wire and other physical deterrents in the city to bar migrants. Federal agents criticized the move as interfering with their work, asserting border security is a uniquely federal responsibility.

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Biden administration, ruling that federal agents can remove Texas’ barriers. But Abbott has continued to use state resources to enforce the border in the city, including the creation of an 80-acre base for National Guard troops deployed under Operation Lone Star.

Disclosure: New York Times has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Matthew Choi | The Texas Tribune