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White House backpedals after Biden refers to a 'crisis' at the border

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4/20/2021 Joey Garrison, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The White House backtracked after President Joe Biden referred to the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border as a "crisis" over the weekend, arguing Monday he meant the conditions in Central America that have led more people to flee.

Biden used the word "crisis" – a descriptor his administration has avoided since taking office – on Saturday after a round of golf in Wilmington, Delaware, while speaking to reporters. He was explaining why he initially indicated Friday he would keep a Trump-era cap on refugees in place, only to announce plans to increase the number hours later.

a man wearing a hat: US President Joe Biden waves after a round of golf at Wilmington Country Club in Wilmington, DE, on April 17, 2021. - © JIM WATSON, AFP via Getty Images US President Joe Biden waves after a round of golf at Wilmington Country Club in Wilmington, DE, on April 17, 2021. -

"We're gonna increase the numbers," Biden said. "The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people and we couldn't do two things at once. And now we're going to increase the numbers."

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More: OnPolitics: Don't call it a border crisis

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday recited the administration's long-standing position when asked whether the White House now believes there's a "crisis" at the border.

"The president does not feel that children coming to our border seeking refuge from violence, economic hardships and other dire circumstances is a crisis," she said.

Psaki added: "He does feel that the crisis in Central America, the dire circumstances that many are fleeing from – that that is a situation we need to spend our time on, our effort on. And we need to address it if we're going to prevent more of an influx of migrants coming in years to come."

More: Migrant encounters up 71% in March as Biden administration grapples with border

Republicans pounced on Biden's shift in terminology and Psaki's response to it.

"Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki claims Biden does not view border influx as a 'crisis' after he called it a 'crisis', the Republican National Committee tweeted

"If the White House is looking for new options to replace Biden's word choice of 'crisis,' here are a few alternatives to pick from," tweeted Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. "1. Disaster 2. Catastrophe 3. Failure Take your pick. All are accurate."

Biden is facing increasing heat from Republicans as thousands of people, many of them unaccompanied children, have sought to enter the U.S. along the Mexico border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered more than 172,000 people trying to enter the U.S. along the southwest border in March, up from the 100,441 in February, according to Biden administration officials' analysis of the numbers,

While Biden has enjoyed positive approval ratings during his first 88 days, he's gotten poor marks for his handling of waves of unaccompanied children at the border. A recent poll from AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found 40% of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of children reaching the nation’s southern border without their parents, compared with just 24% who approve. Thirty-five percent don’t have an opinion either way.

As the number of migrants from Northern Triangle countries at the border has increased, the White House has fought the "crisis" label aggressively. Psaki refused to call it a crisis as recently as March 22, delivering a statement much like the one she gave Monday. 

"The answer is no," Homeland Security Security Alejandro Mayorkas said March 1 on whether there is a crisis at the border. "I think there is a challenge at the border that we are managing, and we have our resources dedicated to managing it."

More: Biden to lift Trump-era refugee cap in May amid pushback from Democrats, advocates

In regard to refugees, the White House initially said Friday that Biden would sign an emergency determination that would maintain the fiscal year's target of 15,000 refugee admissions — a historically low number set under President Donald Trump. 

But after a fierce backlash from Democrats and immigrant advocates, the White House made clear that it expects the president to set a final, increased refugee cap by May 15.

Psaki on Monday said "people weren't understanding what we were conveying to the public," insisting the administration did not reverse its position. She noted that an emergency determination that Biden signed keeping the cap at 15,000 also contained a caveat that said "a subsequent presidential determination may be issued to increase admissions, as appropriate."

Contributing: Courtney Subramanian and Rebecca Morin. Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: White House backpedals after Biden refers to a 'crisis' at the border



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