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OP-ED: Children at border overtake Biden’s ‘Help Is Here’ tour on cable news

David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
U.S. President Joe Biden walks toward Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday, March 16, 2021, in Washington, D.C. President Biden visited suburban Philadelphia on Tuesday as part of his effort to tout the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package to fight the pandemic and boost the economy. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

After a big buildup, President Joe Biden began his “Help Is Here” tour in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. But as the day wore on, cable news became more focused on what was happening in Texas with the arrival of more and more child and teen immigrants.

And, in truth, despite the landmark nature of the legislation Biden was touting on his trip, the border story felt like news, while the tour seemed like a political photo op. By dinnertime, the border story was filled with questions and analyses as to whether Biden’s promises of a more humane immigration policy than his predecessor contributed to the surge in young immigrants.

In an interview with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday, Biden was asked whether he needed to say more clearly that immigrants should not come to the border.

“Yes, I can say quite clearly: Don’t come over,” Biden said. “Don’t leave your town or city or community.”

In response to the analyses that suggested he was in some way responsible for the surge, Biden said, “The idea that Joe Biden said, ‘Come,’ because I heard the other day that they’re coming because they know I’m a nice guy,’ here’s the deal, they’re not.”

It was not a good day in the media messaging war for the president, and the presence of right-wing politicians like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on the border made it clear that Republicans were doing their best to get all the coverage they could for what some were calling a crisis. McCarthy, a California Republican, claimed terrorists were among those crossing the border.

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Biden’s first stop on his tour was in Chester, Pennsylvania, at a small, minority-owned flooring company that at its height employed about 22 people, but was now down to about 12, according to one of the owners.

It was a carefully choreographed encounter between the president and the husband-and-wife owners, with the couple saying how much the $1.9 trillion legislation passed without a single Republican vote was going to help them bring more employees back to work. But the exchanges between them and the president felt stiff. I was surprised at how unauthentic Biden, someone I praised for the authenticity he exuded on screen, seemed in this setting.

This was the kickoff to the “Help Is Here” tour. Biden is scheduled to go out on the road again Friday. One can only wonder where the border story will be by then.

— David Zurawik is The Baltimore Sun’s media critic.