‘They have to understand’: Cuellar urges Biden, Harris to visit southern border

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Rep. Henry Cuellar on Thursday urged President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to visit the U.S. southern border, ramping up pressure on the White House as Harris continues to face bipartisan criticism for remarks made in Guatemala on her first foreign trip.

Cuellar (D-Texas) — a centrist within his party who is outspoken on issues related to immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border — told MSNBC that Biden and Harris should “come in and, with all due respect, not do a staged visit.”

Instead, they should “sit down” with local law enforcement, elected officials and business leaders to better understand the influx of Central American migrants seeking to enter the U.S. through Mexico, Cuellar said.

“Somebody needs to listen to our local communities,” he added. “With all due respect, just coming and doing a staged visit is not enough. They have to understand.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Cuellar’s invitation.

The comments from the congressman, whose district at the southern tip of Texas borders Mexico, come as Harris concludes her first trip overseas since assuming office: a two-nation visit to Guatemala and Mexico focused on addressing the root causes of the increase in migrants.

The vice president’s public statements while traveling have provoked anger from progressive Democrats, who denounced Harris’ message to migrants this week as unduly harsh. “Do not come. Do not come,” Harris said at a news conference in Guatemala City on Monday.

Meanwhile, Republicans have attacked Harris over an interview with NBC News that aired on Tuesday, during which she sidestepped questions about having not yet visited the southern border. “I haven’t been to Europe. … I don’t understand the point that you’re making. I’m not discounting the importance of the border,” she said at one point in the exchange.

But Cuellar on Thursday praised the vice president’s posture on the trip, offering a respite from the more moderate corner of her party as the White House contends with the political fallout from Harris’ remarks.

“I want to thank the vice president for having a clear message: ‘Don’t come,’” Cuellar said. “But we need to couple that with some action and some repercussions.”

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield also defended Harris on Thursday, dismissing a CNN report that administration officials were perplexed by the vice president’s answers about the border.

“I’d say she’s done a tremendous job already on this incredibly difficult portfolio, this incredibly important task that the president gave her,” Bedingfield told CNN, adding: “The work she’s doing already on this important diplomatic assignment is already making a difference.”