President’s address comes as tension over the border situation have risen, with Speaker Johnson and the White House trading accusations in recent days.
WASHINGTON—President Joe Biden sought to mend fences with House Speaker Mike Johnson and Republican lawmakers during an address at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, calling for unity amid “tough differences.”
The president’s speech, delivered on Capitol Hill, came amid rising tensions over a border agreement to curb the flood of illegal immigrants into the country.
President Biden, recalling the words of Abraham Lincoln, highlighted the significance of unity, saying: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”
“I’ve long believed we have to look at each other even in our most challenging times, not as enemies but as fellow Americans,” President Biden said. “Scripture tells us the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. I believe that’s our collective calling today.”
Over the past few days, Mr. Johnson and the White House have been exchanging criticism over the border issue, with both sides pointing fingers at each other.
The president last week vowed to use expanded authority to shut down the southern border should Congress pass a bipartisan deal linking illegal immigration security measures to aid for Ukraine and Israel. He blamed opposition from House Republicans for the lack of progress.
Toward the end of his speech, President Biden said: “We have really tough, tough differences. We really go at one another.”
Illegal immigration has eclipsed inflation as the country’s most pressing issue. There have been more than 8.5 million illegal crossings nationwide since President Biden took office, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
After weeks of closed-door negotiations, the White House and a bipartisan group of senators are nearing a deal on the border. President Biden praised the deal in a statement on Jan. 26.
“What’s been negotiated would—if passed into law—be the toughest and fairest set of reforms to secure the border we’ve ever had in our country,” he said. “It would give me, as president, a new emergency authority to shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed. And if given that authority, I would use it the day I sign the bill into law.”
The House speaker, however, has reacted to an alleged leaked text of the deal, which establishes a daily limit of 5,000 illegal immigrants entering the United States. If the average reaches this limit, the processing of all illegal immigrants will be shut down for at least two weeks.
Mr. Johnson said that any agreement permitting even a single illegal crossing would be a “non-starter.”
He also denied allegations that he is attempting to kill the bipartisan Senate border deal to benefit President Trump’s campaign, dismissing such claims as “absurd.”
Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday also advanced resolutions to impeach Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The resolutions passed by a party-line vote of 18–15.
Republicans on Sunday introduced two articles of impeachment against the Secretary, seeking to hold him accountable for the border crisis. It has been nearly 150 years since a cabinet secretary was impeached.
During his speech, President Biden also remembered three American soldiers killed Sunday in a drone attack in Jordan, which his administration blamed on Iran-backed groups. He also addressed the rise in anti-Semitism and hatred toward the Muslim community.
The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual event held in Washington, generally on the first Thursday of February. The event traces its origins back to prayer groups with Seattle business and civic leaders organized by Abraham Vereide in the 1930s. When he moved to the nation’s capital, he formed similar groups with members of Congress.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president to attend the prayer breakfast in 1953.
The 34th president, who served from 1953 to 1961, played a crucial role in promoting religious faith in America. In his first inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1953, President Eisenhower began his speech with a short prayer that he had written himself.
He also started his cabinet meetings with a moment of silent prayer and maintained a close relationship with Rev. Billy Graham, a renowned American evangelist. Mr. Graham served as a spiritual adviser to the president and visited the White House frequently during President Eisenhower’s administration.
The National Prayer Breakfast has grown steadily over the years, becoming a major annual event designed to foster unity, faith, and bipartisan dialogue.