Sen. Rick Scott said Thursday he will block top Homeland Security nominees until President Biden makes a trip to the southern border to get a firsthand look at the situation.
Mr. Scott revealed his stance at a confirmation hearing with three nominees, the picks for deputy secretary, general counsel, and undersecretary for strategy, policy and plans.
He said it wasn’t anything personal toward the three nominees, but rather a statement about Mr. Biden’s approach to the border.
“Until the president goes to the border, I’m going to hold the nominations,” he said.
A hold throws procedural hurdles in the path of the picks, and means the Senate would have to spend more time than it might otherwise if Democrats want to see the posts filled.
The Biden administration has declined to label the current border surge a “crisis,” though it has shattered records for illegal undocumented children and matched 20-year highs for overall illegal crossings.
Mr. Scott, Florida Republican, said he’s visited the border, as have a number of members from both parties, and “it appears to me it’s a crisis.”
“I don’t understand why the president hasn’t gone to the border, talked to the Border Patrol and gotten information on the ground,” Mr. Scott said.
Republicans who have made the trip had said they were stunned by what they saw, and said no reporting or congressional testimony could substitute for the first-hand look alongside agents as migrants massed for pushes across the boundary.
Deaths and arrests of criminals such as sex offenders are surging along with the higher numbers — and so, too, are “gotaways,” or migrants the Border Patrol detects entering but whom agents aren’t able to capture.
Mr. Biden and his team have insisted the record numbers at the border are a regular occurrence, and they have resisted calls for himself or Vice President Kamala Harris to visit.
Ms. Harris has been tapped with leading international negotiations to try to stem the flow of people from Central America, who make up a large chunk of the current illegal flow of migrants.
During Thursday’s hearing the nominees largely ducked questions about the border.
“It’s a tough situation,” said John K. Tien, slated to become deputy secretary.
He wouldn’t answer questions from Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, about whether he believed crossing the border without permission should remain a crime, as it is under current law.
Mr. Tien also wouldn’t answer directly whether he would support ICE’s internal arrest mission, saying only he would support ICE in execution of its mission “at that time.”
Mr. Hawley said he wanted to hear Mr. Tien acknowledge the “serious problem” of drug-smuggling, child exploitation and cartel enrichment, but didn’t hear any of that.
“I’ve given you multiple chances now,” the senator said.