Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva put his communications team to work Thursday, as the border lawmaker sought to put his stamp on wide-ranging coverage of the House GOP’s focus on the border.
Grijalva kicked his team into high gear over Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) trip to Arizona with a group of first-term lawmakers in the first of many GOP-led trips and hearings planned in the region.
“They do a huge disservice by slandering the whole border region, demonizing everything associated with the border, and with the borderlands, and in doing so, continue to create this stereotype about what the border is and isn’t,” Grijalva told The Hill.
The 11-term congressman conducted at least 11 separate interviews with national and local press, while touring remote areas added to his recently redrawn district.
It was a change of pace for a lawmaker who’s generally known to be media-accessible while in Washington, but much less so when Congress is in recess.
“I mean, the pace of each day is different, but when you’re trying to put your narrative toe-to-toe with the Speaker, someone who is the spokesperson for the GOP and who has a much larger communications staff along with other GOP offices, some which have former governors’ communications directors, it’s a formidable battle and fight,” an aide to Grijalva told The Hill.
“And I think the day reflected that we can go toe to toe with the best because the Congressman has a powerful story to tell,” the aide added.
Grijalva, whose district spans more than 300 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, largely told the story of a region whose everyday issues are overshadowed by politicization of migration and smuggling at the border.
“I would have gone to the cities and the communities that are on the border. I would have [McCarthy] go and sit down with the people in Douglas, sit down with the people in Nogales, sit down with the people in San Luis and Somerton, sit down with the people in Naco, sit down with the people in Sasabe, sit down with the people that do business on that border, sit down with the families that have been there multi-generationally, sit down with them and talk about their needs and their perception of the border,” Grijalva said.
“I think then you begin to appreciate how complex it is and why it does require that everybody tries to define what security is and try to look for solutions,” he added.
Instead, Grijalva bemoaned the Speaker’s press availability on the trip with GOP Reps. Juan Ciscomani (Ariz.), Lori Chavez-DeRemer (Ore.), Jen Kiggans (Va.), and Derrick Van Orden (Wis.), which also included Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels.
“Their press conference is on a ranch, on private property, in which a rancher and a county sheriff dictate immigration policy and border policy to the rest of the nation. That’s what they’re hyping,” said Grijalva.
Dannels often serves as a witness on border issues for the GOP, but he’s also a controversial figure for Democrats and immigrant advocates for his links to immigration restrictionist groups and incendiary statements on right-wing media.
Speaking from the border ranch, McCarthy lashed out at Democrats over what many in the GOP have labeled President “Biden’s border crisis.”
“The new majority in Congress, we’re gonna fight to fix this problem. No longer will the Democrats be able to ignore the issue and act like it’s not happening,” McCarthy said.
“It’s a sad commentary of not being serious about what I believe is a really, really serious issue,” Grijalva said.
Still, Grijalva held out some hope that fellow Arizonan Ciscomani would help to portray a more holistic vision of the region for his GOP colleagues.
“I hope at the minimum [Ciscomani] plays a role like [Rep. Tony] Gonzales [(R-Texas)] is playing in Texas, saying, ‘hey, you’re going too far.'”
“Because the extremist people that put McCarthy in the Speakership want nothing but harsh, punitive — and to continue to demonize, continue to talk about replacement theory, continue to promote the bigotry that’s associated with the issue of the border. The crisis that we have right now is a crisis that can be resolved, but people have to be serious about solutions,” Grijalva said.
Republicans say those solutions will come from increased focus on the region, including congressional hearings that Democrats are expected to skip.
“We will have hearings on the border. It’s the responsibility of all members to attend. Those who come to testify will come from both sides of the aisle,” McCarthy said.
Grijalva warned that further partisan bickering could worsen conditions in the region.
“If it’s just hype, if it’s just setting it up for 2024 to make the border and the issue of migrants the primary domestic issue, then the cycle is going to continue — [Rep.] Jim Jordan’s [(R-Ohio)] trip to Yuma coming up later next week. The same thing with this Oversight Committee,” said Grijalva.
“So I don’t think they’re being serious and I hope that people like Juan [Ciscomani] and others, if they play a role at all, it is about not allowing this to get to the point where it is even more destructive than it can be,” he said.