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Politics chat: What Republicans and Democrats are saying about migrants sent from Texas

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

There's one story dominating politics the last few days, and part of the story is that it should not be about politics.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We're committed to fixing the immigration system. Instead of working with us on solutions, Republicans are playing politics with human beings, using them as props.

RASCOE: President Biden speaking, of course, about the migrants flown to Massachusetts by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. NPR's White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez joins us now. Good morning, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Beyond that clip that we just heard, how has the White House and Biden responded to this move from DeSantis?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, the White House issued a pretty strong condemnation Friday, accusing DeSantis of luring asylum seekers who were fleeing communism onto planes and buses. There have been a lot of questions over the last few days whether the actions were legal. But the White House is kind of kicking those questions to the Department of Justice. Now, Republicans argue it was legal and that all the migrants went voluntarily. But many have told reporters from NPR and other outlets that they were promised a lot of things that turned out to be not true.

RASCOE: And how is this playing out for Republicans - I mean, namely the Florida governor?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, the Republican governors, including Texas's Greg Abbott and Arizona's Doug Ducey, who have been doing this, as well - you know, they say they are giving Democrats a taste of what they're experiencing, noting the challenges migrants put on state resources. But let's not kid ourselves. So much of this is about politics. I was talking with Republican strategist Rob Stutzman, who called this a stunt. He said this is all about 2024 and that DeSantis is trying to appeal to the base - you know, presidential primary voters.

ROB STUTZMAN: If Joe Biden and the White House are responding to Ron DeSantis, Ron DeSantis looks like the leader of the Republican Party.

ORDOÑEZ: And look. I mean, Biden also gets to appeal to his base in a way by attacking Republicans. But it does raise some uncomfortable questions about the issue for Biden.

RASCOE: And these migrants - they're largely from Venezuela - can you give us an update about the situation at the southern border?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, the number of migrants arriving at the border has been reaching record levels, but there's also been a shift in the demographics of those arriving at the border. U.S. border agents have made more than 1.8 million migrant arrests over roughly the last year. And much of that was fueled by big increases in migration from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Again, you know, this is why, politically, the controversy has been kind of successful for the Republicans. Let me be clear - no one is a winner when people are being used as political chips. But it does shift the political conversation to immigration, which is a vulnerability for Biden. At the White House on Friday, reporters were not just asking about Martha's Vineyard. They were also asking specific questions about what the administration was doing about these numbers at the border. There were questions about how it was responding to the demographic shifts. These are all tough questions that were not being posed to the White House just a few days earlier.

RASCOE: And, Franco, looking now to the United Nations gathering this week in New York, and President Biden has a big speech there. What is his standing on the international scene now? You know, a year ago, we were all talking about the Afghanistan withdrawal.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, you know, the withdrawal was not only criticized at home but also raised a lot of concern internationally. And some allies felt cut out of the decision-making. But really, a lot has changed over the last year, and that's primarily due to the U.S. response in Ukraine. The Biden administration handled it much differently, ensuring that European allies were part of those big decisions. And the administration successfully rallied even reluctant allies to stand up to Russia in ways that were not always economically to their benefit. And now he's talking or walking into this speech with some wind at his back. And that's because of Ukraine's successful counteroffensive. It just allows Biden to talk about the benefits of democracies and point to how U.S. and European support helped Ukraine. It helped them win back territory from Russia.

RASCOE: NPR's Franco Ordoñez, thank you so much for joining us.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.