CNN’s Anderson Cooper: “Do you have plans to visit the southern border?”
— exchange during CNN town hall, Oct. 21
For weeks, Republicans — and Fox News — have demanded to know why the president has not yet visited the southern border, given the surge in migrants arriving there during his presidency. In fact, they suggested, there is no record of him ever making a visit during his long career in public life.
So it was perhaps inevitable that when an audience member who identified herself as a Republican posed a question during a CNN town hall, she asked: “Given that it’s nearly been a year into your campaign, why haven’t you been to the southern border of our country?”
That’s when Biden made the comment above. What’s the evidence for his statement that he’s been to the U.S.-Mexico border before?
Biden, a former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is justifiably proud of his long record of traveling overseas and meeting with foreign leaders. When he was running for vice president in 2008 against then Gov. Sarah Palin, a foreign-policy neophyte, Biden’s Senate office released a self-described “partial” list of leaders that Biden had met with, totaling about 150 names from nearly 60 countries, territories and international organizations.
But despite that long history, we cannot find evidence that Biden at one point made a visit to the southern border.
In fact, Fox News’s Peter Doocy told White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Sept. 22: “We have not found any record of him visiting the border as president, vice president, senator, or even as a concerned citizen.”
Psaki replied: “I will have to look back in my history books and check the times he’s been to the southern border.”
That comment was made a month before Biden’s remarks at the town hall, but no update was provided.
The Republican National Committee has also scoured the records, looking through the Lexis-Nexis database of news articles and transcripts as well as searches of Obama White House website and public schedules. “Biden hasn’t even visited the border to see this crisis firsthand,” wrote RNC chair Ronna McDaniel on Sept. 28 in an opinion article in the Hill. “In fact, as far as we can tell, he may have never visited the border — certainly not since 2008, when he began his first term as vice president.”
We did our own search through the Lexis-Nexis database and also could not find a record of a visit. There were many Senate hearings in which the border situation was discussed with Biden in attendance, but that’s not the same as an actual visit. We also found clips of Biden traveling to Mexico to discuss the border situation, such as on a 2001 delegation headed by then-Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), but those trips do not appear to include a visit to the border. (That was the first time a U.S. congressional committee had met on foreign soil with a committee of a foreign legislature.)
But after digging some more, we discovered that Biden briefly drove past the border while on a campaign swing in 2008.
On Oct. 17, he held a rally in Mesilla, N.M. The press officer on the trip, David E. Wade, told The Fact Checker that the plane landed at the El Paso airport and then the motorcade took the nearly one-hour drive to the suburb of Las Cruces. The drive took Biden along a route that for a few minutes hugs the border of the United States and Mexico. “For most of us, it was unfamiliar territory,” Wade said, who recalled that some reporters joked about crossing the border during the event.
The Pinocchio Test
Whether the president has ever visited the border — or will — is a bit of a gotcha question. Given the level of briefings a president receives, a visit may not necessarily add to his body of knowledge. The Biden White House has certainly taken pains to not suggest the border surge is a crisis — which a presidential visit would suggest.
But the president was asked a question about when he would visit the border, and he responded that he has “been there before.” It turns out it was a brief drive-by — not the kind of sustained visit that his critics are demanding. It’s almost like counting a refueling stop as a visit to a country. But it’s enough that we will leave this unrated.
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