Originally Published in Politico

Quint Forgey – June 8, 2021

Republicans pounced after the vice president declined to say in a new interview when she will visit the the southern border.

Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to Guatemala and Mexico has reignited tensions over her decision not to visit the U.S. southern border as she undertakes a broader diplomatic mission in the Northern Triangle.

Harris said in a new interview that there is “not going to be a quick fix” to the influx of Central American migrants seeking to enter the U.S. from Mexico, and when pressed by NBC’s Lester Holt about why she has not made an official border visit, the vice president dodged.

“We are going to the border. We have to deal with what’s happening at the border, there’s no question about that. That’s not a debatable point,” Harris said. “But we have to understand that there’s a reason people are arriving at our border and ask what is that reason and then identify the problem so we can fix it.”

Harris later added that “at some point, you know, we are going to the border. We’ve been to the border. So this whole thing about the border — we’ve been to the border. We’ve been to the border.” But after Holt noted that Harris herself had yet to visit the border since assuming office, the vice president pushed back.

“And I haven’t been to Europe,” Harris said. “And, I mean — I don’t understand the point that you’re making. I’m not discounting the importance of the border.”

Congressional Republicans were quick to pounce on the vice president’s remarks, casting them as the latest example of Harris’ lack of fitness to manage Biden’s migration portfolio.

But at her press briefing on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki again emphasized that direct management of the U.S. southern border was not part of the vice president’s mandate, which remained focused on foreign policy in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

“I expect at some time she may go to the border,” Psaki said of Harris. “But … what her focus has been — what the assignment is specifically — is to work with leaders in the Northern Triangle. She’s on a trip doing exactly that, exactly what the president asked her to do.”

Psaki also pushed back against intra-party criticism from progressive Democrats, who argued the vice president had delivered too harsh a message to the thousands of people fleeing the region in pursuit of American asylum.

In Mexico City Tuesday afternoon, Harris was again pressed on why she hasn’t visited the U.S.-Mexico border. Harris told reporters that people can’t say they care about the border without “caring about the root causes.”

“Listen, I’ve been to the border before. I will go again,” she told reporters. “But when I’m in Guatemala dealing with root causes, I think we should have a conversation about what’s going on in Guatemala.”

Harris’ latest comments come amid a two-day visit to Guatemala and Mexico, her first international trip as vice president, where she is speaking with the countries’ leaders in an effort to address the root causes of migration and urging people in Central American nations against journeying to the U.S.

“I want to be clear to folks in the region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come,” Harris said at a news conference in Guatemala City on Monday with President Alejandro Giammattei. “I believe if you come to our border, you will be turned back.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted later Monday that Harris’ comments were “disappointing to see” and that the act of “seeking asylum at any US border is a 100% legal method of arrival.”

The U.S. “spent decades contributing to regime change and destabilization in Latin America,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “We can’t help set someone’s house on fire and then blame them for fleeing.”

Asked about the congresswoman’s critique on Tuesday, Psaki said the vice president “was simply conveying … that there’s more work to be done” and “that we don’t have these systems in place yet” to sufficiently review such large numbers of asylum claims.

“It’s still a dangerous journey, as we’ve said many times from here and from many forums before,” Psaki said. “And we need more time to get the work done to ensure the asylum-processing is where it should be.”

Harris traveled to Mexico City on Tuesday for the second leg of her trip, where she met with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and participated in roundtable discussions with women entrepreneurs and labor leaders.

Myah Ward contributed to this report.