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Buttigieg calls out Katie Britt's misleading use of sex trafficking victim's story to attack Biden

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday called out Alabama Sen. Katie Britt's misleading use of an anecdote on sex trafficking to attack President Joe Biden's record on border security in her response to his State of the Union address.

"I'll leave it to her to explain the falsehoods, but I think it illustrates the bigger issue," Buttigieg told ABC News "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos. "She's a United States senator and the United States Senate right now could be acting to help secure the southern border."

He highlighted a recent bipartisan agreement on immigration changes that didn't pass the chamber as Donald Trump criticized it.

Buttigieg said the proposal included "tough compromises for all sides, something that the bases of both parties might not have loved but that would have made a real positive difference -- only for that to be killed by the chill effect that the former president put on congressional Republicans, telling them not to support anything that would represent a policy win for President Biden." (Trump said the proposal was insufficient to fix the problem.)

Thursday night, in delivering the official Republican response to Biden's State of the Union speech, Britt told the story of meeting a woman at the border who recounted her experience of being raped by cartels beginning when she was 12 years old.

According to several reports, including from The New York Times and Associated Press, the apparent victim Britt was referencing has chronicled her abuse in the past, saying it happened in Mexico between 2004 and 2008 -- during George W. Bush's presidency.

The woman, a Mexican citizen named Karla Jacinto Romero, told the Times she learned about Britt's remarks via social media and found it "very strange."

"I am involved in the fight to stop trafficking and I don't think it should be political," she told the paper.

In her State of the Union rebuttal, Britt made it appear as though Biden's actions were related to the that victim's experience.

"We wouldn't be OK with this happening in a third-world country," she said. "This is the United States of America, and it is past time, in my opinion, that we start acting like it. President Biden's border policies are a disgrace. This crisis is despicable."

She defended her word choice in a separate appearance on Fox News on Sunday, insisting that Biden's actions had made human trafficking incidents more likely.

Buttigieg shot back on "This Week," telling Stephanopoulos, "We have a very clear choice between congressional Republicans who seem to prefer that this issue remain bad so that they can attack the president over it and those who would actually like to solve it or at least improve it and address it."

PHOTO: In this Dec. 19, 2023, file photo, Pete Buttigieg, US transportation secretary, speaks during a news conference at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia. (Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: In this Dec. 19, 2023, file photo, Pete Buttigieg, US transportation secretary, speaks during a news conference at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia. (Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE)

The secretary also pointed to failed efforts since the Bush administration to pass bipartisan immigration reform, including the Senate deal this year.

"Will 2024 go down in history as yet another failed attempt with bipartisan compromise, or will congressional Republicans follow the lead of their own negotiators and the president of the United States and actually do something about it?" Buttigieg said.

But Americans are split between Biden and Trump, who is set to be the Republican nominee for president, on who would do a better job leading the country, polling shows.

A new ABC News/Ipsos survey finds that 36% of U.S. adults trust Trump to do a better job, while 33% say Biden would and 30% say they trust neither to lead the U.S.

Republicans trust Trump (82%) more than Democrats trust Biden (72%).

The poll also finds Biden trailing Trump on key issues, including the economy, inflation, crime and the border.

"How do you explain that? How do you turn it around?" Stephanopoulos asked Buttigieg on "This Week."

The secretary said he believes Biden deserves more credit for his work on the economy -- citing high job creation and low unemployment -- but that "credit doesn't improve unless you go out and take credit and explain how these things were achieved."

"That's one of the reasons why I'm so energized by the president's State of the Union address, where he talked about the achievements that had come about on his watch and why -- and then just as importantly talked about the future," Buttigieg said.

"Of course it requires work to get that story out, especially when there's a firehose of negativity talking down the economy and trying to change the subject from the president's achievements," Buttigieg later added, calling that "just politics."

He went on to say, "The nature of our world and certainly the nature of today's media environment is people aren't just going to go hand the credit to the president. We need to be out there."

Britt, in her response to the State of the Union, also criticized Biden on his broader record as president, saying he is "dithering and diminished" and asking the American public if they feel they are better off today compared to three years ago, when Trump was in office.

Stephanopoulos said many in the public seem to agree that they aren't better off now, but Buttigieg maintained that Biden helped the country emerge from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

What's more, he said, Biden's State of the Union showed him "in command, showing strength and clarity of vision."

Stephanopoulos pressed Buttigieg on how an 81-year-old incumbent president could be the candidate of change, a dynamic that is often "so critical in presidential elections."

Polling has long shown broad concerns about Biden's age and fitness for another term, which the president dismisses.

"Look at the changes that he's brought about. Take some of the issues that matter most to newer generations. Climate is a great example, right?" Buttigieg responded, before also listing LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive freedom as other areas of focus for the Biden White House.

"It's a good example of that saying that what matters most is the age of a leader's ideas," Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg calls out Katie Britt's misleading use of sex trafficking victim's story to attack Biden originally appeared on abcnews.go.com