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The southern border has become a key issue in Washington and the presidential race


The U.S. border with Mexico has become a central issue in American politics. President Biden and former President Donald Trump offer dueling promises to address the issue. And today, in Washington, a House committee is considering articles of impeachment, accusing Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas of failing to enforce the nation's immigration laws and breaching the public trust.


The committee chairman, Republican Mark Green of Tennessee, accused Mayorkas of putting his political preferences ahead of upholding the law.


MARK GREEN: We cannot allow this man to remain in office any longer. The time for accountability is now.

SHAPIRO: Let's begin our coverage with NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh. Deirdre, what is the House Republicans' argument for ousting Mayorkas?

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Well, the GOP impeachment resolution charges him with two counts, as Mary Louise noted - willfully ignoring the law and breaching the public's trust. During today's markup, over and over again, Republicans really singled out Mayorkas as the person they say is responsible for the situation at the southwest border. But hard-line conservatives have really been pushing to impeach Mayorkas ever since Republicans took control of the House chamber last January. There's been a split inside the House Republican Conference about whether or not they had sufficient evidence to move forward.

But the House speaker, Mike Johnson, who's been dealing with some strong criticism from some of his members on the right, has decided to go ahead with this impeachment process. Some of those moderates from Midwest districts have been hesitant about impeaching Mayorkas, but now they say they're ready to go ahead and do that. They say the border security issue is really a top issue they're hearing about from their constituents back home.

SHAPIRO: And what do Democrats say? Many of them seem to agree that the situation on the border is serious. How are they viewing the accusations against Mayorkas?

WALSH: They do. And they're arguing that Republicans should work across the aisle to deal with the situation that they've been arguing is a crisis. In terms of the impeachment process, they're really saying it's a sham. And the top Democrat on the committee, Bennie Thompson, is saying it's really all about scoring political points. They pointed out during today's session that no official has ever been impeached for policy differences, and this process is really about using the issue of the border to talk about the 2024 election. Here's Bennie Thompson talking about House Republicans today.


BENNIE THOMPSON: They don't want progress. They don't want solutions. They want a political issue. And most of all, they want to please their disgraced former president.

SHAPIRO: Well, let's bring in national political correspondent Mara Liasson to talk about the broader political fight here. Hi, Mara.


SHAPIRO: We've been discussing this proposed border bill for weeks, and the White House has been part of these talks. But over the weekend, President Biden took a surprising position. Here he is at a campaign event in South Carolina.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: If that bill was a law today, I'd shut down the border right now and fix it quickly. A bipartisan bill would be good for America and help fix our broken immigration system and allow speedy access for those who deserve to be here. And Congress needs to get it done.

SHAPIRO: Mara, what does he mean by shut the border, and why is he making what sounds like a shift in tone?

LIASSON: Yes, it's certainly a shift in tone, and some immigration advocacy groups and progressives aren't so happy about that. What he means is that the bill would allow him - give the president the power to, if asylum-seekers, illegal-crossers got above a certain number in a week or a day, he could stop taking applications for some period of time.

But what's really happening here is that Biden has come to understand just how bad the politics of immigration are for Democrats. Voters blame him and his party. They consider the border a federal presidential responsibility. It's national security. They want the border under control, and it isn't. But what really shifted things was when the Republican governors of Texas and Florida started busing migrants north to Democratic cities and states. Remember, they sent them to Martha's Vineyard, but they also sent them to New York and Illinois. And Governor J.B. Pritzker, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said they cannot handle this amount of asylum-seekers, so they've been pressuring the White House, too.

So now Biden's taking a tougher line, saying he would sign a bill that puts limits on the number of asylum-seekers. He also wants something else because the bill was paired with aid to Ukraine. And Republicans said to him, this is the price you have to pay if you want aid to stop Putin's invasion. You're going to have to agree to a very conservative border bill. Biden said, OK, I will. And then kind of like Lucy with the football in "Peanuts," House Republicans said, well, actually, there's no compromise you can agree to that would allow us to pass a border bill and give you some political credit.

SHAPIRO: And some of that may have to do with the opposition that's been coming from former President Trump, who is putting pressure on Republicans to reject a bill, even though we haven't actually seen the text or the language. Here's Trump at a rally over the weekend.


DONALD TRUMP: As the leader of our party, there is zero chance I will support this horrible, open-borders betrayal of America. It's not going to happen.

SHAPIRO: Back to you, Deirdre. Does Trump's opposition to a deal mean Republicans in Congress would not sign on to any agreement?

WALSH: I mean, some Senate Republicans are ready to be part of an agreement. But I think the vast majority of Republicans on the Hill are really reluctant to go - to be cross with the head of their party. That's Donald Trump right now. I mean, what they're talking about in this potential bipartisan deal is pretty conservative. These are the kinds of proposals that - some of them were in place under former President Trump. But conservatives are not ready to cross Trump. And I think, right now, even those who say, in the time of divided government, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, this isn't - it's much harder to get something like this done when Trump opposes it. And the House speaker, Mike Johnson, has already called this a nonstarter, and he's consulting with former President Trump.

SHAPIRO: So Mara, why would Senate Democrats agree to work on a bill that the progressive base has real problems with, that Deirdre describes as pretty conservative?

LIASSON: It's a sign of how bad this issue has become for Democrats. Democrats are trailing Republicans on who - which party could help with immigration by, like, 30 points. And to show how far Senate Democrats have moved in the past, they've always insisted that any big deal on immigration includes some protection for the DREAMers - those people who were brought to the country as very young children, undocumented. And there's nothing about the DREAMers in this bill.

And also, they have a big incentive. They want aid for Ukraine. They want to stop Putin from taking over Ukraine. And I think, if this bill does die, you're going to start to hear Democrats saying that a vote against this bill is a vote to help Putin. It would be a huge defeat for NATO. They see the Ukraine war as a proxy war between NATO and Russia, and they're going to have to find a different way to get aid to Ukraine if this dies.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson and Deirdre Walsh - thank you both.

WALSH: Thanks, Ari. 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.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.