AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Faced with a potentially awkward scene at the Texas-Mexico border, President Barack Obama sought to recast the political debate over a flood of young migrants as a question of Republican willingness to tackle the problem, not his decision to skip a chance to view the crisis first-hand.
Obama turned to one of his chief critics, Texas' Republican Gov. Rick Perry, to try to make his point.
Following a meeting with Perry in Dallas Wednesday, the president suggested there was little daylight between Perry's calls for additional assistance at the border and the nearly $4 billion request Obama sent to Congress this week. He also made a public appeal for Perry, a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016, to wield his influence with Texas' Republican-heavy congressional delegation and press them to back the emergency spending package.
"The only question at this point is why wouldn't the Texas delegation or any of the other Republicans who are concerned about this not want to put this on a fast track and get this on my desk so I can sign it and we can start getting to work?" Obama said. He argued that opposition to the urgent spending request would be part of a pattern of obstructionism from Republicans who have also resisted moving forward on a comprehensive immigration bill.
Back in Washington, Republican opposition to the request hardened. Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, have criticized the plan as a "blank check" and Arizona Sen. John McCain voiced his opposition to the measure Wednesday.
Perry, in his own statement following the meeting, made no promises to help Obama shore up GOP support for the supplemental spending package and instead doubled down on the notion that the border crisis was the result of Obama's "bad public policy" on immigration.
Obama arrived in Texas under pressure from Republicans like Perry, as well as some Democrats, to add a trip to the border to his two-day fundraising swing. The White House steadfastly resisted those calls, insisting there was little the president could learn from a border visit that he didn't already know.
"I'm not interested in photo ops," Obama said Wednesday. "I'm interested in solving a problem."
Still, Obama and his advisers clearly recognized the political liabilities of ignoring the immigration crisis while working the Texas donor circuit. The White House added an immigration meeting with local officials and faith leaders to Obama's schedule in Dallas and took the unusual step of having Perry fly with Obama on the presidential helicopter so the two could discuss the matter.
Perry kept up the pressure on Obama to make a border visit, telling CBS in an interview "that's what presidents do. That's what leaders do. They show up and they interact."
The governor likened the current situation to the criticism President George W. Bush got for failing to visit New Orleans at the height of the damage and destruction from Hurricane Katrina in2005. Perry said he's warned Obama over a year ago that the situation at the Texas border was deteriorating.
The current problem at the border comes at a time when the White House was seeking to cement an upper hand on the issue of immigration, particularly with Hispanic voters, who are increasingly crucial to electoral success in presidential elections. After House Republicans made clear they had no plans to take up comprehensive legislation this year, Obama vowed to move forward with executive actions that would make needed changes to the nation's broken immigration system.
But the border crisis has given Republicans fresh fodder to challenge that approach. GOP lawmakers have blamed Obama's 2012 decision to defer deportations for some young people in the U.S. illegally for fueling rumors in Central America that unaccompanied minors who arrive at the border would be allowed to stay.
Indeed, some of the 57,000 children who have come to the border appear to be under that impression, though many are also fleeing violence in Central America. The White House has said most of the children are unlikely to qualify for humanitarian relief that would allow them to stay.
The money Obama is seeking from Congress would go toward seating more immigration judges, increasing detention facilities, helping care for the children and paying for programs in Central America to keep them from coming to the U.S.