As Border Crisis Unfolds, Biden Administration Taking Victory Lap Promoting Relief Plan

President Joe Biden's critics have seized on the burgeoning crisis along the southern border as the White House continues its victory lap following the passage of a nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Both could become issues as parties eye elections that will determine control of the U.S. House and Senate next year. Political communications experts said that the parties' split messaging is likely to rally support from their bases.

"The parties and leaders are convinced it will resonate with the public," John Aldrich, a political science professor at Duke University, told Newsweek.

Polls on the American Rescue Plan show the package has overwhelming and bipartisan support, even though it passed without support from any Republicans in Congress.

"The Republicans don't have a counter to this in particular—it's too popular in the public, for now," Aldrich said. "It reflects a commitment and a promise fulfilled from campaigns in 2020 and sets them up for 2022."

Biden is scheduled to travel to Ohio on Tuesday as he continues his road show in promotion of the relief package. Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to hold events in Florida on Monday.

Last week, Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff held events marking the rescue plan's passage—snapping photos at vaccination sites, visiting with small business owners and discussing school reopenings. They are expected to keep up the effort in the coming weeks.

The big push comes as Biden suggested this month that then-President Barack Obama didn't do enough to promote the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act after its passage in 2009.

"I kept saying, 'Tell people what we did.' He kept saying, 'We don't have time—we're not going to take a victory lap,'" Biden said. "We paid a price for it, ironically, for that humility."

But Biden's critics have sought to shift focus from the relief package to conditions at the border, where there has been a surge of unaccompanied migrant children.

"They're looking to change the subject," Aldrich said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican leading the effort to win back control of the chamber, led a recent delegation to the border, where he held a news conference. Other lawmakers, including Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Republicans who represent Texas, have planned trips to the border.

"The crisis at the border is the direct result of the Biden administration's failed immigration policy," Cruz said on Twitter last week.

Biden hasn't yet trekked to the border to review the situation first-hand.

"At some point I will," he told reporters Sunday, stressing that he stays up to date on the situation through briefings with his advisers.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has made multiple trips to the border and discussed the issue on multiple news programs over the weekend. The administration has refused to call the situation a "crisis" at the border, instead arguing that it's a "challenge" they are working to address.

"He's playing a somewhat risky game," Aldrich said, noting that Biden could be seen as not taking the border situation seriously.

The Biden administration has stressed that migrants should not come to the United States until a more cohesive immigration plan can be developed. Currently, migrant children and families are being housed in cramped, makeshift shelters until they can be processed—sometimes for several days. His predecessor, Donald Trump, had established procedures to force asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while they were being processed.

"The public generally favors Democratic positions on immigration and the border more than Republican ones, but Republicans seem to be more focused on rallying their base that is hostile to immigration than persuading others," Nathan Kalmoe, a political communication professor at Louisiana State University, told Newsweek.

Though Democrats control the House and Senate with razor-thin margins, Biden initially wanted the relief effort to have bipartisan support.

"It set itself up as, 'This is our bill,'" Aldrich said.

Kalmoe said there is a slight risk of alienating voters by emphasizing that it received only Democratic support.

"It's generally a good strategy for Democrats to draw contrasts with their opponents on legislation that is popular, but they could be inadvertently undermining their case with independents who might think twice about the law because Democrats are emphasizing that it lacks bipartisan support," he said.

Aldrich said Republicans are also taking risks with their border emphasis.

"If this is dealt with smoothly, it's going to backfire on the Republicans, but that means they will quit talking about it and pivot to the next anti-Biden, anti-Democrat appeal they can make in 2022," he said.

Gop border
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy addresses reporters during the congressional border delegation visit to El Paso, Texas, on March 15, 2021. JUSTIN HAMEL/AFP/Getty Images