McCain endorsed by union for border agents
Facing a tough reelection battle, U.S. Sen. John McCain met with members of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union that represents nearly 16,500 Border Patrol agents, and received their endorsement Tuesday during an event in Tucson.
Art Del Cueto, the president of the Local 2455, which represents agents in the Tucson Sector, said that McCain has "led the fight in the U.S. Senate to provide the Border Patrol with resources to combat illicit activity and keep our communities safe."
"Over the past seven years, we have witnessed President Obama’s reckless policies, and now dangerous drugs like meth and heroin are being trafficked across the border," said Del Cueto. "We need leaders like John McCain who will advocate on behalf of the Border Patrol and fight against dangerous policies."
In a statement McCain said that he was "honored" to receive the endorsement from the union. "I am proud of my record supporting our border patrol agents and I will continue to fight for policies that keep our communities safe," McCain said.
The longtime Republican senator is busy fending off challenges from the right in the GOP primary — with Kelli Ward fronting a pack that also includes Alex Meluskey, David Pizer and Clair Van Steenwyk — with the prospect of a tough general election opponent in Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democratic congresswoman who's seeking his seat.
In March, the National Border Patrol Council took the unusual step of endorsing a candidate for president during the Republican primaries, announcing that the group would support Donald Trump for president over rivals Sen. Ted Cruz and former Ohio governor John Kasich.
The union has endorsed other candidates for Congress in past years, Del Cueto said, including Democrat Ron Barber.
However, this year the union has found itself tied to Republican candidates, including Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who is running for the Arizona's first congressional district, and has received $2,000 in donations from the NBPC's political action committee, the only donation reported by the union thus far this year.
In March, Babeu joined Judd and Del Cueto at a press conference at the Pinal County Sheriff's Office, and decried a "lack of enforcement" by federal officials, and accused the Obama administration of "manipulating data" to show decreasing apprehensions along the southwest border.
McCain was central to the bipartisan "Gang of Eight," which successfully passed a comprehensive immigration bill in the U.S. Senate in 2013. The bill ultimately failed in the House of Representatives, leaving the chance of sweeping immigration reform in the dust.
Chastened by the failure and a formal censure by Arizona Republicans for his efforts, McCain has hardened on immigration issues.
In 2015, McCain joined fellow Sen. Jeff Flake in attaching an amendment to the Senate's budget resolution that would expedite the removal of unaccompanied minors and Central American immigrants, and establish in-country consulates in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador to process refugee applications.
Del Cueto said that McCain's attempts to pass comprehensive immigration reform wasn't a problem. "We've all pushed things in our past that maybe we wouldn't do today. He's still the best choice in our mind."
Del Cueto also said that in the last year, McCain has repeatedly met with members of the union to hear their concerns about border security.
"In the last year, I've had more meetings and more time with McCain than anyone in leadership including Kerlikowske," said Del Cueto, referring to the commissioner of the U.S. Border Patrol, R. Gil Kerlikowske. "We're the biggest sector in the nation, and we've had few meetings with Kerlikowske, but McCain has reached out to us."
The president of the national union, Brandon Judd, also endorsed McCain in a statement, writing that McCain "understands the challenges we face out in the field" and has helped to "stabilize wages" and forced government auditors to review "poor sanitation and working conditions" present at forward operating bases. The report by the Government Accountability Office noted problems throughout these bases constructed to keep agents in the field, including three in Arizona that had severe problems with sewage and potable water systems.
McCain has also "secured critical technology like towers and drones to provide better intelligence to agents in the field," Judd said.
McCain has pushed the idea of technology, including the Integrated Fixed Tower System—a system of 75 towers that bristle with surveillance equipment—and drones along the U.S.-Mexico border, where Homeland Security's own Office of Air and Marine already operates four from Libby Airfield in Sierra Vista.
"This isn't a political thing. Find me a Democrat who cares about border security and we'll endorse them," Del Cueto said.