Mayorkas fires at Capitol Hill as Biden privately weighs new border action: ‘Congress needs to get a spine’

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, flanked by U.S. President Joe Biden, speaks during the President’s visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas, U.S., February 29, 2024. 

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Sunday rebuked Republican claims that the border can be managed solely through President Joe Biden’s executive action, even while the White House weighs some of those actions behind closed doors.

“We consider options at all times,” Mayorkas said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “But administrative action is no substitute for an enduring solution.”

Officials told NBC News in February that Biden is thinking about implementing harsher asylum standards without Congress. The rules would raise the bar for asylum-seekers and deport any migrants who do not meet those elevated standards.

Tightening asylum grants is just one of the policy options that Biden is considering to handle the border unilaterally, officials told NBC News.

But Mayorkas, who was impeached by House Republicans in February, doubled down that executive action is an improper tool for border control since it is subject to judicial challenge and could likely get tied up in the courts.

Instead, he said that Congress needs to pass the bipartisan border proposal that it tanked in February.

Mayorkas’ comments adhere to the White House’s current playbook on the border crisis: Publicly condemn Capitol Hill’s deadlock on border policy while privately, the president weighs executive border actions.

The border issue has gained political grist, especially as anti-Biden ammunition for GOP frontrunner and former President Donald Trump. Both Biden and Trump visited southern border towns on Thursday, each attempting to play offense on the issue.

“Here’s what I would say to Mr. Trump: set a planned policy for this issue, instead of telling members of Congress to block this legislation,” Biden said Thursday in Brownsville, Texas.

Trump reportedly told Senate Republicans to tank $20 billion of additional border security funding included in a foreign aid package proposal so as not to deliver Democrats a victory during an election year. That sent border policy reform back to the drawing board after already months-long negotiations.

In the meantime, Republicans have continued to pin the border’s problems on Biden, arguing that he does not need additional authority to control the border but rather does not have the desire to execute.

“Unless we get him out of the Oval Office, we’re never going to have a secure border because he doesn’t have the will to do basic border enforcement,” Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Oh., said Sunday on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”

Mayorkas and White House officials have staunchly denied that claim.

“Couldn’t be more wrong,” Mayorkas said Sunday. “Administrative action is no substitute for an enduring solution…Congress needs to get a spine.”

But the longer the Biden administration waits for Congress to act, the larger the political cost. As border legislation remains at a stalemate in Congress, the Biden team is looking for a border victory without Capitol Hill’s help.

“Folks, it’s time for us to move on this,” Biden said Thursday in Brownsville. “We can’t wait any longer.”

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