By Geneva Sands, CNN
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas declared it is his responsibly to manage security at the US-Mexico border, snapping back during a tense exchange with a GOP lawmaker on the House Homeland Security Committee at a budget hearing Thursday morning.
“I am the secretary of Homeland Security, and it is my responsibility to manage the border at the direction of the President and the vice president, and I have visited the border on multiple occasions,” Mayorkas said responding to Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina.
Mayorkas’ comments were prompted by questioning about why Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden have not yet visited the border, including reference to when Harris “laughed” off an interview question earlier this month about why she hasn’t visited the border.
Harris’ first foreign trip to Guatemala and Mexico earlier this month, where she aimed to address root causes of migration, was somewhat overshadowed by her flippant response about why she has not visited the US-Mexico border as vice president.
“I, and I haven’t been to Europe. And I mean, I don’t — I don’t understand the point that you’re making,” Harris said with a laugh to NBC’s Lester Holt when pressed about the fact that she hasn’t yet visited the US-Mexico border. She added: “I’m not discounting the importance of the border.”
Some administration officials were quietly perplexed about her answers and critics jumped on the remarks, painting her as the administration’s border czar and demanding she see the border situation first hand.
During a news conference in Mexico, Harris clarified her comments by committing to visiting the border.
On Thursday, Mayorkas defended Harris’ experience and role related to the border.
“The vice president served as the attorney general of a border state, of California. And she is quite familiar with the situation on the border,” he said.
“But she’s laughing at it,” pressed Norman. Mayorkas pushed back, telling him that is “absolutely, unequivocally untrue.”
Throughout the nearly three-hour long hearing Thursday, Republican committee members repeatedly raised concerns about border security, including frustrations about the lack of funding for new Border Patrol agents, the ongoing high level of illegal border crossings and a pause in funding for the border wall.
US Customs and Border Protection encountered more than 180,000 migrants at the US-Mexico border in May, up from the previous and putting the US on track to surpass 2019 crisis numbers with four months left in the fiscal year.
The vice president’s role came up again during an exchange with Republican Rep. Kat Cammack of Florida, with the lawmaker referring to Harris as the “border czar.”
“Congresswoman, you are speaking with the individual who has responsibility for border security,” Mayorkas said.
CNN’s Lauren Hakimi contributed to this story.