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Nothing more than a photo op? House Speaker Kevin McCarthy visits U.S.-Mexico border

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy led a congressional delegation to Southern Arizona today to address concerns along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: Well, I promise you this - the new majority in Congress, we're going to fight to fix this problem.

CHANG: But critics say this visit is nothing more than a photo-op. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales joins us now from Arizona, just a few feet away from a partial border wall that separates the U.S. and Mexico. Hi, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So can you just describe for us exactly where you are and what you learned that lawmakers did today?

GRISALES: Right. This is probably the first event I've attended where we had to get here by GPS coordinates. There is no traditional street address here, but there are gorgeous vistas. And we can see the border wall, this partial border wall. And we are also looking at Miller Peak mountain, which overlooks this region.

A lot of the focus today was on border security. The members met in a roundtable with area mayors, other elected officials, law enforcement folks and area ranchers and business owners. And McCarthy said they heard a lot of concerns from them.

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MCCARTHY: I listened to mayors who represent both parties, fearful of what's happening in their city - the high-speed chases - the challenges that they see coming across.

GRISALES: And he also emphasized that this is just the beginning of House Republicans' efforts on the border. There will be more hearings along the border next week. House Judiciary will hold a hearing not far from here. And also, House homeland security is also planning a hearing. So we're expecting a lot more of those in the coming weeks and months.

CHANG: And the group of lawmakers who traveled with McCarthy, who exactly were they?

GRISALES: Right. He was joined by all freshmen members. One of those is Arizona Representative Juan Ciscomani. He's a rising star in the GOP. He's the one who gave the Spanish rebuttal to President Biden's State of the Union address last week. He is the first Mexican-born immigrant who's been elected to Congress from Arizona. He talked a little bit about his journey.

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JUAN CISCOMANI: My family immigrated to this country as well. We know about the fight of the American dream. And this fentanyl crisis is directly impacting and literally killing that American dream for hundreds of thousands of Americans in this country. And we need to stop that.

GRISALES: And we do have to put those remarks about fentanyl in context. Some argue that Republicans have tried to pin the blame on migrants who are coming to the border to seek asylum, but we've learned that's largely not the case. That said, Ciscomani also emphasized that this is a crisis impacting everyone in different ways. And Republicans also took aim at Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. And speaking in Spanish, Ciscomani invited Mayorkas to visit the border, saying he and Biden can have an immediate impact here but have failed so far.

The freshman group also gave remarks about their tour. And McCarthy highlighted that these members are from other states away from the border, but he argues every state is a border state now. So other members included in that congressional delegation were from Virginia, Wisconsin and Oregon.

CHANG: Well, as we mentioned, this trip has gotten criticism from Democrats. Can you talk about exactly what they're saying about the trip?

GRISALES: Right. I talked to Arizona Democratic Representative Raul Grijalva. He represents most of the Arizona southern border, so much of the region where this trip took place today. And he had his own visit to a port of entry today and met with a border mayor. And while he concedes that the border is facing challenges and there is crisis concerns here, he argues these GOP trips will not help.

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RAUL GRIJALVA: They're not here to talk about solutions at all. They're here to do theater and then say that they came to the border, took a photo-op and moved on. But, you know, I would hope that there would be some seriousness about what are some solutions to this.

GRISALES: Now, Republicans argue that Democrats should attend some of these field hearings in the border region, but Democrats are declining so far, and they're holding their own events to visit these areas.

CHANG: That is NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thank you so much, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thank you much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.