House Democrats called more than 10 hearings during the last migrant surge to rake the Trump administration for its handling of the border. Yet now, with the Biden team slammed by a surge, Democrats have put down their gavels and clammed up.
Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, demanded Thursday that things start to change. He said it’s time Capitol Hill starts to investigate the Biden border, which “worsens by the day.”
He said in 2019, during the Trump surge, the panel held repeated hearings and sent staff down to the border multiple times to inspect facilities. Yet this year, there has been no peep of activity.
“It appears that Committee Democrats only care about these issues when there is a Republican in the White House. However, securing our border and ending this humanitarian crisis should be a priority for this Committee regardless of party affiliation,” Mr. Comer said in a letter joined by all Republicans on the committee, demanding the panel get off the sidelines.
The Republican lawmakers first prodded Rep. Carolyn Maloney, New York Democrat and the committee chairwoman, in a March 4 letter to start to probe the border. She has been “silent,” Mr. Comer wrote, even though the yardsticks show the border situation is worsening.
Ms. Maloney’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
It’s not just the oversight committee that has been staying off the playing field.
The House Judiciary Committee in 2019 held two hearings in February on the border situation, which was nowhere near as serious at that point as it is now. It then held several other hearings over the ensuing months, tucking them in between action on the Russian collusion investigation.
The committee has not held any border hearings this year.
“Democrats refuse to act,” said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the panel. He issued an invitation to all Democrats on the committee to join Republicans on a trip to the border.
“The Biden border crisis is real and unfortunately getting worse. The committee cannot continue to sit idly by and allow our nation’s borders to be erased,” wrote Mr. Jordan and Rep. Tom McClintock of California, the top Republican on Judiciary’s immigration subcommittee.
The House Homeland Security Committee in 2019 was also active on border matters, holding two hearings by the end of March and another in April.
That committee this year has hosted Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The official subject was “the way forward” on broad homeland security challenges, though Republicans did use the hearing to pin down Mr. Mayorkas on the surge, getting him to acknowledge that migrants were being released without COVID-19 testing.
On the other side of the Capitol, Democrats, who were in the minority in 2019 and now hold the gavels, have been just as reluctant to launch probes that could embarrass Mr. Biden.
Sen. Gary C. Peters of Michigan, the new chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, railed against the Trump administration in 2019, including blasting its decision to activate a “Volunteer Force” of other Homeland Security employees to rush to the border to help out.
In 2019, Mr. Peters said that would sap needed personnel from other core missions. This year, as the Biden team reactivated the volunteer force, Mr. Peters has been silent, and his office didn’t respond to requests for comment on the matter.
Mr. Peters did travel to the border with Mr. Mayorkas last weekend, along with Sen. Christopher Murphy, Connecticut Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Homeland Security budget. Also on the trip were the top Republicans on the Appropriations and Homeland Security panels.
While they’ve been reticent to weigh in on the border situation, Democrats have been active on another area of illegal immigration, pursuing legalization for millions of people already in the U.S. without authorization.
The House passed bills to grant citizenship rights to perhaps half of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., and leaders in the House and Senate are eyeing a massive bill to offer a path to citizenship to the entire unauthorized population.
Republicans insist those measures won’t become law without more attention to border security.
But without control of either chamber, the Republicans’ ability to shape the debate is more limited. Senate Republicans took to the chamber floor Wednesday to try to embarrass Democrats into action by demanding immediate action on bills dealing with the border.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, tried to pass a measure declaring the border a “crisis.” That was blocked by Democrats.
Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Ted Cruz of Texas tried to pass legislation cracking down on illegal immigrants with serious criminal records or who have made repeated illegal border crossings. Those were also blocked, as was a bill by Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee that would have required DNA testing of all adult migrants who show up at the border with juveniles, as a way of making sure they really are related and not perpetrating a dangerous fraud.
Mr. Cruz will also lead a delegation of 18 other senators — nearly a fifth of the entire chamber — to the border Friday.
A few Democrats have been vocal.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, Texas Democrat, provided the press with photos taken from within one of the juvenile holding pens at the border, revealing the packed conditions that violate notions of decency as well as coronavirus warnings about social distancing.
His photos prompted Homeland Security to belatedly release its own photos, after weeks of rebuffing such requests from the press.
Mr. Comer, in his letter Thursday, specifically praised Mr. Cuellar for his actions.
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