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“Hold the line”: Republicans rally to Abbott’s defense in border standoff with Biden

By Matthew Choi and Robert Downen, The Texas Tribune

“Hold the line”: Republicans rally to Abbott’s defense in border standoff with Biden” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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From the Texas House to former President Donald Trump, Republicans across the country are rallying behind Gov. Greg Abbott’s legal standoff with the federal government at the southern border, intensifying concerns about a constitutional crisis amid an ongoing dispute with the Biden administration.

At issue is concertina wire that the Texas National Guard has been using as a barrier between the Rio Grande River and Shelby Park, a 47-acre area in Eagle Pass. In a 5-4 decision earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Biden Administration when it vacated a lower court’s ruling that prevented Border Patrol agents from cutting the wire to apprehend people who had crossed the river.

On Wednesday — and as the Texas National Guard and state troopers continued to roll out the wire and prevent federal agents from accessing much of the park — Abbott continued to publicly challenge the ruling and “hold the line.” He declared that Texas was under an “invasion,” giving the state the constitutional right to defend itself and claimed that President Joe Biden’s practice of paroling migrants into the country amounted to a refusal to enforce current immigration laws.

“President Biden has violated his oath to faithfully execute immigration laws enacted by Congress,” Abbott said in a statement. “Instead of prosecuting immigrants for the federal crime of illegal entry, President Biden has sent his lawyers into federal courts to sue Texas for taking action to secure the border.”

Abbott continued, claiming the state’s right to defend itself “is the supreme law of the land and supersedes any federal statutes to the contrary.” Abbott’s action is the latest effort by Texas Republicans who have been pushing back against the federal government and trying to take on the role of immigration law enforcement, which is under federal jurisdiction.

Abbott’s statement was quickly condemned by some legal scholars, who said it was blatantly unconstitutional and amounted to a usurpring of the federal government.

“By this logic, states could use their own determination that an ‘invasion’ exists as a justification for usurping control of whichever federal policies they don’t like,” Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas at Austin law professor, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Imagine blue states taking this approach: ‘We’re being invaded by drugs.’ ‘We’re being invaded by pollution.’ The right of states to defend themselves does not, and was never meant to, provide a hook for *supplanting* federal authority.”

But Abbott’s actions rapidly endeared himself to Republicans across the political spectrum, spanning the country, with many echoing the Texas governor’s call to “hold the line” and others going further using rhetoric that suggested that Texas use force to defend itself from an attack.

Trump chimed in Thursday afternoon on his Truth Social platform and encouraged other states to deploy their national guards to Texas.

“Biden is, unbelievably, fighting to tie the hands of Governor Abbott and the State of Texas, so that the Invasion continues unchecked,” Trump wrote. “Texas has rightly invoked the Invasion Clause of the Constitution, and must be given full support to repel the invasion.”

On Thursday, all but one Republican governor – Phil Scott of Vermont — had publicly supported Abbott’s move. The Republican Governors Association said in a statement Thursday that they back Abbott’s methods “in utilizing every tool and strategy, including razor wire fences, to secure the border.”

Dozens of other elected Republicans similarly expressed their support, including U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

During a Fox News interview where Cruz was asked if this was a “Come-and-take-it, Alamo moment,” Cruz responded: “Absolutely. We’re defending Texas and defending this country.”

Texas Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, similarly encouraged Abbott before adding that “Texas is holding the line.”

Few voices in Congress have been as outspoken and explicit as U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, however. The Austin Republican openly called for Abbott to defy the Supreme Court, asserting the state’s executives have a responsibility first to the states above federal law.

“It’s like, if someone’s breaking into your house, and the court says, ‘Oh, sorry. You can’t defend yourself.’ What do you tell the court? You tell the court to go to hell, you defend yourself and then figure it out later,” Roy said on social media.

Roy pushed back on the criticisms that he was advocating for a rebellion against the federal government, saying in a Wednesday interview with conservative commentator Charlie Kirk that the Constitution reserved “the ability and the right of governors and states to protect their own citizenry in the absence of the protection of the federal government.”

“I do not want to live in a post-constitutional world, but this court is pushing our hand,” said Roy, who has been one of the most obdurate advocates in Congress for drastic hardening of the border.

Abbott’s statement even earned him accolades from his occasional critics on the far right, including Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi who called Abbott’s statement “strong,” and added that“we are with you,” on social media.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the Texas delegation expressed horror at Abbott’s defiance. U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said Abbott’s tactics have failed to decrease migrant crossings since the launch of Operation Lone Star in 2021. U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, called on President Joe Biden to “establish sole federal control of the Texas National Guard now” if Abbott defies the Supreme Court.

“Governor Abbott is trying to pick a fight with President Biden to score political points, and he is abusing the National Guard resources at his disposal,” Castro said in a statement. “Texas National Guard troops volunteered to serve their country – not to be pawns in Governor Abbott’s attempts to sow chaos at the border.”

Disclosure: University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/01/25/greg-abbott-border-republicans-joe-biden/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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