Ahead of Joint Session Speech, GOP Rep Pans Biden’s ‘Foreign Policy Blunder’ at the Border

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A family of migrants cross the Rio Bravo River to turn themselves in to U.S Border Patrol agents to request asylum in El Paso, Texas, seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, March 30, 2021. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee called President Joe Biden’s handling of the border “the biggest failure of this administration.”

During an interview with National Review on Wednesday evening ahead of Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress, Representative Michael McCaul, the Texas Republican who serves as the committee’s ranking member, discussed his expectations for the speech and reflected on the president’s handling of foreign affairs in his first 100 days in office.

Essentially, it’s been a mixed bag. Although he accused the White House of taking the “partisan route” on COVID relief, infrastructure, and, now, a healthcare-and-education plan announced this morning, he praised the administration’s efforts to engage Congress on foreign policy. “Secretary Blinken and Jake Sullivan sort of day one reached out. They’ve been in very close communication about what they’re doing,” he said, also giving the administration credit for rallying U.S. allies in Europe to confront China and for trying to have “a tough meeting with China in Alaska.”

He was more critical of the White House’s refusal to impose sanctions on entities involved in the Russia-backed Nord Stream 2 pipeline and on its efforts to reenter the Iran nuclear deal: “We really warned them not to lift these sanctions before they get concessions from the Iranians.”

But the Texas Republican reserved his harshest criticism for the Biden administration’s revocation of Trump-era migration agreements with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

“I call it a foreign policy blunder because from day one, the president rescinded the Remain in Mexico policy and the Asylum Cooperation Agreements, which, regardless of what you think about Trump — and I think that’s why he rescinded them is just because it had Trump’s name on it — these policies were actually working,” he said.

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The Biden administration revoked the agreements in February, arguing that they put asylum seekers in danger as they awaited rulings on their claims. Instead, top officials have advocated an approach to addressing “the root causes” of migration, an initiative headed by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Under those agreements, migrants who appeared at the Southern border to declare asylum could be asked to stay in Mexico or wait in a Northern Triangle country as their claims were processed. Proponents of the policies said that they effectively deterred potential asylum seekers with weak claims from making the dangerous journey to the border. During an interview with National Review in March, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that implementing Remain in Mexico “was to turn off the magnet.”

McCaul attributes the recent influx of migrants at the Southern border to the decision to do away with the agreements. “It’s not a seasonal thing as the Democrats will tell you. It’s direct cause and effect and the reversal of policy,” he said. “It was self-inflicted.”

“I don’t think the president’s going to talk about that much tonight because obviously it’s where he polls the worst, and they don’t want to go to the border because the optics are so bad.”

Going forward, McCaul expects further opportunities for cooperation between Hill Republicans and the administration on China, particularly on securing America’s supply chains and on responding to the Uyghur genocide.

He also expressed concern about a New York Times report that U.S. climate envoy John Kerry disclosed information about Israeli strikes on targets in Syria to Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, though he stopped short of calling for the former U.S. secretary of state to step down.

“I find that odd, that he would meet with an adversary nation’s foreign minister and cultivate a relationship, even after he’s out of office, much less divulge allegedly classified information regarding Israel’s activities,” he said.

“So not the best record. We will be watching that one very closely.”

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