President Biden said Wednesday that he visited a cliff along the Rio Grande to better understand national parks — despite resisting Republican calls for him to visit the US-Mexico border along the river to see the effects of record-breaking numbers of illegal crossings.
“I’m not sure I would have understood how important this was has [sic] I not gotten to seeing, see these parks, until I understood the breathtaking nature of it,” the president said during an event on western land preservation in Vail, Colo. “To stand there on the edge of a cliff in the Rio Grande, to you know, look at that one thing and it’s just — there’s not many cliffs, but then head up to the Grand Canyon — it’s a cathedral.
“I mean, it takes your breath away. I’ve climbed it from the river up and I’ve looked at it from the top down. It is breathtaking. I don’t think until you see some of these things do you understand why it was so important to continue to preserve.”
It’s unclear where along the nearly 1,900-mile Rio Grande the president was thinking about visiting, or if he simply mixed it up with the Colorado River, which winds through the Grand Canyon.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has invited Biden to visit the Rio Grande Valley to better understand the migration crisis.
“When you see the chaos and devastation caused by the Biden administration policies on the border, it’s shocking that’s he’s not been down there to see what he caused,” Abbott said last week.
The Rio Grande forms the entirety of Texas’s 1,254-mile border with Mexico and does have cliffs in some areas, including in Big Bend National Park southeast of El Paso.
The river’s upper section runs through New Mexico and southern Colorado — though not near where Biden visited Wednesday.
Biden sparked controversy last year by claiming at a CNN town hall that he had visited the US-Mexico border at some point — despite scant evidence of it.
Biden said at the time, “I’ve been there before and I haven’t — I mean, I know it well. I guess I should go down. But the whole point of it is I haven’t had a whole hell of a lot of time to get down.”
The White House couldn’t provide an example of Biden visiting, however, and could point only to a Washington Post fact check that said Biden “briefly drove past the border” after landing at El Paso’s airport for a campaign event in Mesilla, N.M. During that trip, Biden’s motorcade took “a route that for a few minutes hugs the border of the United States and Mexico.”
In March 2021, Biden said he had no plans to visit the southern border “at the moment.”
This year saw an all-time record set for illegal border crossings, with more than 2 million people detained after crossing illegally into the US in the first 11 months of fiscal 2022, which ended Sept. 30 — an increase from 1.7 million in fiscal 2021, fewer than 500,000 in fiscal 2020 and nearly 1 million in fiscal 2019.
Critics blame the border crisis on Biden’s policies, including relaxing a Trump-era policy of quickly deporting border-crossers under a CDC COVID-19 rule and also ending a policy of requiring migrants to remain in Mexico to await court rulings on their asylum claims.
Abbott and fellow Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida this year have bussed or flown thousands of migrants from the border to Democratic bastions such as New York City and Washington, DC in an attempt to pressure Biden to adopt stricter policies.