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Kevin McCarthy leads his first border trip in his new role as House speaker


For the first time as House speaker, Kevin McCarthy led a group of Republican freshman lawmakers on a trip to the southern border in Arizona. McCarthy talked to reporters at a private ranch next to a border wall and praised his conference for tackling an issue he claims the Biden administration has not been doing enough on.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: The freshman member that I brought here - they have done more in four weeks of looking at the border than the president has done in 40 years.

FADEL: Of course, Democrats dispute that claim. But with Republicans now in control of the House, McCarthy is trying to make good on campaign promises about the border. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales joins us from Arizona.

Good morning, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So tell us, what area of the border did you visit, and what was the purpose of this trip for these lawmakers?

GRISALES: Right. We navigated here by GPS coordinates. So there was no traditional street address. It was remote, but it was surrounded by beautiful vistas and mountains. This was in Cochise County in Arizona. And this group of lawmakers visited the Tucson region for a briefing, followed by an aerial tour from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Afterwards, they held a press conference at a private ranch, where McCarthy said that the Republican-led House would tackle improvements to border security.


MCCARTHY: Republicans have been taking action. We've got a lot of ideas inside Congress. But it's different than the Congress before. We're just not going to write the bill and put it onto the floor. We're going to listen to the people that are on the border. We're going to listen to border agents.

GRISALES: But we should note, they do not have much of a legislative path forward. They only control the House - one chamber. Unless they decide to work with Democrats, they're not going to see a lot of progress on those plans.

FADEL: Now, McCarthy was joined by an all-freshman delegation. Why is that notable? What's the thinking there?

GRISALES: Yes. A senior GOP aide told me this freshman group showcases the next generation of lawmakers who could take the lead on these issues, like Arizona's Juan Ciscomani. You might remember him as the freshman who offered the Spanish-language rebuttal to President Biden's recent State of the Union address.

FADEL: Right.

GRISALES: At the press conference, he listed the different groups they heard from during the visit, specifically on the issue of fentanyl coming over the border.


JUAN CISCOMANI: We just sat in the roundtable. There, we heard from mayors, from elected officials on the county side, from law enforcement, from border patrol, from sheriffs, from ranchers, private-sector business owners, and they all have the same feeling about this. It's a crisis that is impacting everyone in different ways.

GRISALES: But we should note that the abundance of fentanyl in the U.S. is something that both Democrats and Republicans name as a major concern. Some argue Republicans have tried to pin the blame on migrants who are coming to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum. But we've learned that is largely not the case.

FADEL: So how are Republicans challenging the Biden administration on this issue? What are they doing?

GRISALES: Well, McCarthy did not lay out a very prescriptive legislative agenda on this issue. He says it is early days but has pledged to bring members from Washington out to border areas to hold hearings. He told reporters that he wants to talk to Americans where they are, and it has already started. For example, the House Judiciary Committee will be holding a hearing next week in Yuma, Ariz., about 200 miles west of here. And they'll also have a visit to the border as well.

McCarthy says there's much more of this to come. As for Democrats, they're not planning to take part in these field hearings so far, or these visits. They argue that these are just largely photo ops.

FADEL: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thank you so much.

GRISALES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.