Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Abbott, GOP see the border as a defining issue for 2022, and the Democrats might help them

Off-year elections for the party in the White House are always tough. The present crisis at the border could this one even tougher.

Corpus Christi Caller Times

Gov. Greg Abbott has been raising the devil over recent reports of sexual abuse involving unaccompanied migrant minors, but when asked why he didn't utter a peep about similar concerns during the Trump administration, the governor sidestepped.

Abbott told Fox News' Chris Wallace he raised the matter because the allegations that surfaced during President Joe Biden's still-new presidency were reported to Texas health authorities. Those under former President Donald Trump had not been, he said.

As dodges go, that one on April 11 fell on the short side of artful. It suggested the governor is only obliged to condemn child abuse when it's brought to the attention of an agency operated by the state he governs.

Gov. Greg Abbott frequently has criticized the Biden administration over its handling of an influx of migrants on the Texas-Mexico border.

A cynic might say the more telling answer would surface three days later in the findings of a national Quinnipiac University Poll as Biden nears his 100th day in office. Among those who registered a response, most said the president is doing a pretty good job overall.

His best marks came for his efforts to tame the coronavirus pandemic: Nearly 2 of 3 said the Democratic president is on the right track. On his handling of the economy, more said they approved than said they don't. Same with his tax policies and what he plans to do about climate change.

But on border policy, Biden is bottom-side up. By a lot. Fewer than 3 in 10 said they like what they see from reports along the Rio Grande. Nearly twice that many said they don't.

Greg Abbott blasts Biden on border response

And Abbott, a Republican who is gearing up to run for a third term next year, is among those driving those reports.

Regardless of what anyone thinks about the nuance, or even the morality of border policy, Abbott's decision to fixate on the issue makes political sense heading into the 2022 cycle. Midterms are generally considered a referendum on the president who ran two years earlier.

President Joe Biden promised on the campaign trail to abandon the border wall project, but the Justice Department has continued land confiscation efforts on the border.

Quinnipiac's poll suggests trying to turn COVID-19 into a wedge would backfire on Republicans because they'd have to contrast Biden's laser focus on vaccinating hundreds of millions of Americans with Trump's spitballing "it will all just disappear" approach.

And the advancing plight at the border is not limited to talking points for Republicans. The numbers tell a sobering and at times tragic tale.

In March, U.S. border officials stopped an estimated 172,000 people seeking to the enter the United States without authorization. That's a 20-year high. Some 20,000 unaccompanied minors were being housed by federally operated centers all along the nation's border with Mexico. By June, estimates say 35,000 kids will be in federal custody.

More:Gov. Abbott in South Texas says Biden administration 'invites illegal immigration'

Democrats urge Biden to do more at border

Democratic elected officials who represent border communities are urging Biden, who has put Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of getting to the root cause of the matter, to do more to get the administration's arms around the problem. Although the Democrats are generally careful not to be confrontational with the president, they readily admit the situation at the border is a crisis, not the mere "challenge" the administration prefers to call it.

More:Vice President Kamala Harris to lead White House efforts to stem migration at the border

The border also poses a problem for a key part of Biden's — and the Democratic Party's — base. During the campaign, immigrant rights activists and people whose private land was being seized by the Trump administration clung to Biden's promise not to build "another foot" of the border wall as if it were a life raft approaching a waterfall.

But on Tuesday, a family fighting in court to keep its land from being taken for the wall project was told by a federal judge that the government had the right to take "immediate possession" of the acreage.

More:Judge rules government can take South Texas family's land despite Biden's 'pause' on wall

Even though the land condemnation case was filed under Trump, Biden's Justice Department did nothing to stop it, and some 115 similar cases are still moving through the courts.

The family's lawyer, who in January said Biden's decision to put a pause on land condemnation was "a good start," called the latest court ruling "a betrayal" by the president. A more effective talking point could not have been written by Abbott or any other Texas Republican in the weeks and months before the 2022 election cycle starts to gear up.

John Moritz