Against the backdrop of one of El Paso’s international bridges, Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke on Friday accused Gov. Greg Abbott of “causing chaos on the border” as part of Abbott’s latest “manufactured stunt.”
Commercial trucks were averaging just under 40 minutes to cross the Bridge of the Americas on Friday, the first day after Abbott lifted Texas Department of Public Safety inspections on all commercial trucks entering El Paso from Mexico after brokering what he pitched as a new security agreement with the Chihuahua governor.
“As we try to answer the question as to why Greg Abbott would do this — if there’s no security benefit, if it slowed down and in some places stopped cross-border trade — we need to look at who benefitted,” O’Rourke said during a Friday morning press conference. “Greg Abbott, politically, got his five minutes on Fox News trying to look tough on border communities.”
By that afternoon, the universal DPS inspections were gone at all of the state’s border bridges after Abbott reached a border security deal with the last of Mexico’s four border state governors. Only the deal with the Nuevo Léon governor includes new security measures, The Texas Tribune reported.
DPS is back to its regular practice of doing spot safety inspections on random trucks.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection called the universal inspections — which Abbott said were needed to prevent human and drug smuggling when he first announced them April 6 — “unnecessary,” and blamed the governor for “longer than average (bridge) wait times – and the subsequent supply chain disruptions.”
On Friday, DPS Director Steve McCraw said the state agency detected no instances of human or drug trafficking during the enhanced inspection period. McCraw made his comments while speaking at an Austin press conference.
Abbott subsequently said his enhanced inspection policy was intended to push his Mexican counterparts to increase border security on their side of the Rio Grande as a result of the Biden administration’s failure to secure the nation’s southern border. Abbott has been a vocal critic of the administration’s decision to lift Title 42 next month, a Trump-era public health rule used to rapidly expel migrants, including those seeking asylum as allowed under international law.
O’Rourke accused Abbott, who he will face in the November general election, of engaging in “blackmail” with Mexican border governors, like Chihuahua Gov. María Eugenia Campos Galván. At a Thursday press conference with Abbott, Campos highlighted security policies she’s been implementing since taking office in September.
“These governors had no choice,” O’Rourke said. “(Abbott) literally put a gun to their head and effectively tried to shut down their state economies by shutting down their ports of entry.”
Though Abbott had faced mounting criticism from business leaders and fellow Republicans over his short-lived inspection policy, it likely won’t hurt him in the long term, said Richard Pineda, chair of the University of Texas at El Paso communication department and a local political commentator.
“With the capitulation of some of these Mexican governors to upend their security protocols, the governor is going to be able to talk about some of those things as wins, where the federal government has not been able to get any traction in terms of Mexico adjusting to these demands for stronger border security or border control,” Pineda said.
O’Rourke’s recent criticism of the Biden administration’s handling of Title 42 also helps Abbott, Pineda said.
“I kind of feel like at this moment that O’Rourke actually stepped into a trap,” he said. “The second that a Democratic candidate for any office bucks the White House — if they’re of the same political party — it concedes the frame of the story that’s being told by the other side.”
O’Rourke on Friday emphasized that although he has never supported Title 42, he reiterated his concern about the Biden administration’s failure “to communicate with border communities what they’re going to do to address the change in policy and to make sure that border communities are not left footing the bill.”
The Democratic hopeful spent much of his press conference detailing the economic impact of the weeklong enhanced DPS inspections, citing figures from Texas economist Ray Perryman that Texas lost an estimated $470 million a day.
“I’m going to make sure that we connect the dots in this campaign and that everyone understands Greg Abbott is to blame for inflation, higher prices, supply chain problems and chaos on the U.S.-Mexican border,” O’Rourke pledged, expressing confidence such messaging will connect with independents, Republicans and nonvoters.
But Pineda cautioned that the general election is still far away.
“People have very transitory perspectives on these issues,” he said. “In other words this is the burning question at this particular moment, but do I think in three months people will look back and say, ‘oh I remember O’Rourke talked about family X and their business and not being able to get fruits and vegetables?’ My guess would be absolutely not.”