Barack Obama goes after Republicans on immigration
By: Edward-Isaac Dovere and Katie Glueck
July 9, 2014 07:31 PM EDT
President Barack Obama on Wednesday called on Congress to swiftly approve nearly $4 billion meant to address the influx of child migrants crossing the southwestern border, using this as a new opportunity to hit House Republicans for failing to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
“There’s a very simple question here. Congress needs to just pass the supplemental,” Obama said in Dallas after meeting with Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry to discuss the humanitarian crisis.
What he offered was, essentially, the Obama-Perry border crisis plan — at least according to Obama. And now, Obama said, it’s up to Perry to convince Texas Republicans, whom he said should then bring along the rest of Congressional Republicans.
Saying that “nothing that the governor indicated he’d like to see that I have a philosophical objection to,” Obama held up Perry’s claimed support to repeatedly bash Republicans for not moving more quickly to pass the supplemental funding request the White House submitted Tuesday — and for not agreeing to comprehensive immigration reform, which he said could have prevented the crisis from ever happening in the first place.
“What I emphasized to the governor is the problem here is not a major disagreement around the actions that could be helpful in dealing with the problem,” Obama said. “The challenge is: is Congress prepared to act to put the resources in place to get this done?
“They’ve said they want to see a solution, the supplemental offers them the way,” Obama added.
Obama made several sly allusions to the resistance of Texas Republicans, including Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, who were among the senators who on Wednesday criticizing the president for holding fundraisers in Texas without making a trip to the border. Cruz, particularly, seemed to be on Obama’s mind as he referred to the Texas delegation’s “great influence in the Senate.”
In a statement issued after they met but just before the president spoke, Perry offered a somewhat different version of where they’d left things.
“Five hundred miles south of here in the Rio Grande Valley there is a humanitarian crisis unfolding that has been created by bad public policy, in particular the failure to secure the border,” Perry said. “Securing the border is attainable, and the president needs to commit the resources necessary to get this done.”
Most of Obama’s remarks were a direct hammering of Republicans, using this as an opportunity to emphasize again and again the message that he’s been trying to push all year: he’s interested in finding solutions to problems, but the Republicans are only interested in politics, saying no to him and attacking him for whatever he is doing.
Obama called this a “test case” for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has focused criticism on Obama’s use of executive powers of late to the point of threatening a lawsuit.
“This is something you say is important — as I do. This is something that you have prioritized — as I have. Don’t wait for me to take executive actions,” Obama said.
The remarks were a late addition to Obama’s schedule in Texas, with the White House carefully trying to keep the border situation from becoming about him, despite efforts by Republicans to do just that. And while Obama will be in Austin on Thursday, White House aides have repeatedly ruled out a visit to the border, attempting to keep the trip focused on pushing his economic message.
Faced with media speculation that Obama couldn’t fly to Texas in the midst of this situation without adding that kind of stop, the White House dug in, insisting that the president was trying not to politicize what’s become a humanitarian and legal mess.
“This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo-ops. I’m interested in solving a problem,” Obama said. “Those who say I should visit the border, when you ask them what should we be doing, they’re giving us solutions that are embodied in legislation that I’ve already sent to Congress.”
Thousands of unaccompanied minors and some women with children, many from Central America, have tried to cross the border in recent months, a massive influx that by many accounts is deteriorating into a humanitarian crisis. Many are being held in detention facilities as the federal government grapples with how to handle them and whether to deport them.
The White House may have misjudged just how sustained the political attention to this issue has proved, leaving the president seeming like he was avoiding the topic — he mentioned immigration only in passing in a speech in Denver earlier Wednesday. The situation comes just as the president was attempting to take a more forceful approach to immigration reform, announcing in the Rose Garden last week that he’d take matters into his own hands because Boehner refused to bring a bill up to a vote.
Justice Department announced actions Wednesday that include redirecting immigration court resources to prioritize new migrants, especially unaccompanied children and families who recently crossed the border and are being detained in some capacity. Other steps include offering help to reduce violence in Central America — where many of the migrants come from — and cracking down on people who smuggle in the migrants across the border.
Vice President Joe Biden also on Wednesday made calls to the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where many of the migrant children are coming from.
But to Perry’s allies, he scored a win over Obama, even if he did ultimately show up on the tarmac to greet the president after initially making a stink that he wouldn’t.
“It clearly shows the desperate need they saw to try to address this issue, to show they are listening, that they even met with Gov. Perry,” said Dave Carney, a longtime Perry adviser who parted ways after his 2012 presidential campaign ended.
“It’s like a drunk who all of a sudden realizes, ‘I really probably need someone to help drive me home. Its’ gotten so bad I gotta go to a guy I really don’t like and ask him to drive me home,’” Carney said. “Most political observers sort of thought it would be a cold day in hell before Obama would meet with Perry.”