Harris, who is fresh off a two-day visit to Guatemala and Mexico, has sought to deflect criticism that she has not yet made an in-person visit to the southern border despite being tasked by President Joe Biden in March to lead efforts to address the border crisis.
On Monday, she downplayed visiting the border region as an insignificant “grand gesture,” before telling reporters in Mexico City on Tuesday that she’ll eventually make the trip.
“I’ve been to the border before, I will go again,” Harris said, adding that the focus of her trip to Central America is to address the “root causes” driving people in the region to leave their homes and seek entry into the United States.
“You can’t say you care about the border without caring about the root causes,” Harris said, while questioning the utility of visiting the border by saying, “I don’t think that anybody thinks that that would be the solution.”
“But when I’m in Guatemala dealing with root causes, I think we should have a conversation about what’s going on in Guatemala,” Harris added.
Her “grand gesture” remark was met with a swift response from Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), who in a Tuesday tweet said, “Visiting our border is NOT a grand gesture. It means seeing communities that are hurting because of the White House’s absentee leadership.”
Republicans have long criticized Harris for not visiting the border. The governor of Texas, a state that has been deeply impacted by illegal immigration, sent a letter (pdf) to Harris in March, shortly after she was tasked with addressing the border surge. Calling her the “Border Czar in charge” of the Biden administration’s response to the crisis, he called on Harris to clarify what was being done to curb the flow of illegal immigrants into the country and to prosecute human traffickers, while taking aim at policies that he said, “embolden and enrich cartels, smugglers, and human traffickers who continue to ramp up their criminal operations.”
“I urge you to visit the border to see the crisis for yourself, and I implore the Biden administration to take swift action to secure the border, crack down on human trafficking, and prevent more children from being trafficked and abused,” Abbott said in a statement at the time.
In an interview on NBC News that aired Tuesday, Harris was asked about the criticism, with NBC’s Lester Holt asking her, “do you have any plans to visit the border?”
“At some point, you know, we are going to the border. We’ve been to the border. So this whole … this whole thing about the border. We’ve been to the border,” Harris said.
When Holt called out the inaccuracy, saying, “you haven’t been to the border,” Harris responded by saying, “and I haven’t been to Europe. And I mean … I don’t understand the point that you’re making. I’m not discounting the importance of the border.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was on Tuesday asked to address Harris’ “grand gesture” comment.
“At some point, she may go to the border,” Psaki said, adding, “I don’t have any trips to preview for you or predict or a timeline for that.”
“Her assignment was to work with countries and leaders in the Northern Triangle [Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador] to address root causes, address corruption, [and] ensure we’re working together to address humanitarian concerns,” she added.
Psaki also said the Biden administration doesn’t want advice from Republicans on the border crisis.
“We’re not taking our guidance and advice from them,” Psaki said. “But if it is constructive and it moves the ball forward for her to visit the border, she certainly may do that.”