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Biden v. Texas

The White House is waging an intensifying campaign against the governor of the Lone Star State.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott hands President Joe Biden a letter
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott hands President Joe Biden a letter at El Paso International Airport, in Texas, on Jan. 8, 2023.Andrew Harnik / AP file

WASHINGTON — With reproductive rights and border security emerging as some of the top issues in the 2024 presidential election, the White House is picking more and more legal fights with Texas and its Republican governor, Greg Abbott.

In a stark acknowledgement of the seething animosity between one state and the federal government, Abbott has bluntly said: “Biden is destroying America. Texas is trying to save it.”

The duel gives both sides a powerful foil as they seek to motivate voters ahead of the November elections: Republicans are aiming to paint President Joe Biden as a boogeyman responsible for record-high illegal crossings at the southern border, while Democrats are trying to cast the GOP as a party intent on taking away abortion rights and refusing to accept any meaningful solutions on the border in order to keep the issue alive and score political points. 

Over the coming months, the Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in a lawsuit brought by the Biden administration to protect broad access to the abortion pill mifepristone after anti-abortion groups and doctors in Texas challenged its legality following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Texas can ban emergency abortions even though the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says a federal statute takes priority over state laws prohibiting the procedure.

Also on Tuesday, the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to allow federal Border Patrol agents to cut through or move razor wire Texas installed on the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a controversial effort by the state to prevent illegal border crossings.

The Department of Justice gave Texas until Wednesday to say it would not enforce the state’s new law, SB 4, which would soon allow state law enforcement officers to arrest and deport migrants. The DOJ calls the law “unconstitutional” and says it interferes with federal law enforcement operations. Late in the day, the DOJ filed a lawsuit. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton vowed to fight it, posing to social media that “Texas has the sovereign right to protect our state.”

The more recent legal battles come after a federal appeals court in December upheld a lower court’s ruling ordering Texas to remove buoys on the Rio Grande that the state had installed to block illegal border crossings. Also, Paxton is leading 20 states in suing the Biden administration over a federal migrant parole program announced last January.

The flurry of court brawls between the Biden administration and the Lone Star State has been intensifying — especially as more cities and suburbs across the country complain of the increasing toll that the record migrant influx has taken on their budgets. Just this week, Denver’s mayor said the city is preparing to spend 10% of its general fund budget this year on the migrant crisis.

Still, when asked about its response to the backlash from city leaders, the White House has repeatedly placed the blame squarely on Abbott.

“We have said before that Gov. Abbott has showed just how little regard or respect he has for human beings with some of the tactics that he has employed from Texas by chartering buses or flights in an uncoordinated fashion with interior cities,” a senior administration official said. “And we have been clear that we need policy changes, that our immigration system is broken and that we need everybody to come together around actual solutions rather than political stunts.”

Democrats have criticized Abbott for using the displaced migrants as pawns, even sending buses filled with them to Vice President Kamala Harris’ home in Washington. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas blasted Abbott for “refusing to cooperate with other governors and other local officials” and called it a “remarkable failure of governance.”

For his part, Abbott has seemed to relish taking on the White House, making it a main part of his political brand. In 2012, while he was Texas’ attorney general, he told delegates at the state GOP convention that his job was simple: “I go the office. I sue the federal government. Then I go home.” During the Obama administration, another Texas official, Paxton, sparred with the White House often, including over gun rights and environmental protections.

On Wednesday, Abbott renewed his criticism of the administration and Mayorkas, writing on X, formerly known as Twitter: “The REAL reason illegal immigration records are being set is because Biden refuses to enforce immigration laws. We will send more buses and planes. We will continue building the razor wire walls that Biden wants to tear down.”

His comments coincided with a group of House Republicans, including Speaker Mike Johnson, traveling to Eagle Pass, Texas, on Wednesday to tour the border. In response, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates called out the GOP for refusing to pass the president’s $105 billion supplemental funding request, which would include some $14 billion for border security measures.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Bates said in a written statement. “House Republicans’ anti-border security record is defined by attempting to cut Customs and Border Protection personnel, opposing President Biden’s record-breaking border security funding, and refusing to take up the President’s supplemental funding request.”