As a measure of how politically tense President Barack Obama’s Texas trip is today, Republican Governor Rick Perry reluctantly agreed to a ritual public greeting of the nation’s chief executive.
The White House expects Perry to welcome Obama at his airport arrival in Dallas before they meet with local civic and religious leaders privately, as the president lands to raise money for Democratic congressional candidates and his administration tries to cope with an uncontrolled influx of tens of thousands of migrant children along the southern U.S. border.
The governor, who has accused the president of not caring “whether or not the border of the United States is secure,” will talk with Obama and local leaders about the border issue.
Their group meeting scheduled for 5:55 p.m., Washington time, at Dallas Love Field Airport – shortly after Obama lands at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport – will come as the president prepares to headline a series of party fundraisers in Dallas and Austin tonight and tomorrow.
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Obama has no plans to go to the southern border, with White House spokesman Josh Earnest saying they aren’t worried about “those optics.”
Other administration officials have gone for first-hand looks at the humanitarian challenge emerging as thousands of children have crossed the border in recent months.
The president’s critics, including Perry, who sought the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 2012 and is weighing another run in 2016, have seized on the moment as a symbol of what they say is the president’s inaction. And Obama’s encounters with Republican governors have their own checkered history – ranging from an angry finger-wagging incident in Arizona to a bipartisan embrace in New Jersey.
One of Obama’s most outspoken Republican critics, Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas, has called the border crisis “Obama’s Katrina” – a reference to former President George W. Bush’s initial mishandling of the Gulf Coast damage caused by the 2005 hurricane, including an Air Force One flyover of New Orleans, which made the president seem detached.
“I’m sure that President Bush thought the same thing, that he could just look at everything from up in the sky, and then he owned it after a long time,” Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, said July 7 on Fox News. “I hope this doesn’t become the Katrina moment for President Obama, saying that he doesn’t need to come to the border. He should come down.”
“If the president doesn’t address this problem pretty soon, it could be his political Waterloo,” said Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Texas Republican Party, in a telephone interview. Suggesting that the president is avoiding the border, Munisteri said, “he doesn’t want to acknowledge his political failure. If he goes down there, it gives publicity to his policy failures of several years.”
The Obama administration has dispatched a number of officials to the border. In the White House invitation to Perry for today’s meeting, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has traveled to the area five times and plans to return Friday. The Department of Homeland Security said Johnson traveled yesterday to Guatemala, the origin of many of the children who have fled their homes, traversed Mexico and crossed into the Southwestern U.S.
“There are people trying to turn this situation into a political football,” Cecilia Munoz, the White House domestic affairs adviser, said in an appearance today on MSNBC Television’s “Morning Joe” program.
It’s unfair to equate a humanitarian crisis with the natural disaster areas that Obama has visited, Munoz said, citing actions the administration has taken to shelter and deal with the refugees – including warning Guatemala that children transported by smugglers to the U.S. won’t be allowed to remain in the country. Today’s meeting between Obama and Perry includes religious leaders working to temporarily shelter the children, who face hearings and deportation, she said.
Still, talk radio and TV are consumed with comparisons, and the contrasts between the president’s fundraising journey and the absence of a personal border tour.
“You’ve got to go down to the border, and if you don’t go down to the border, then cancel the fundraisers,” Joe Scarborough, host of the morning MSNBC show and a former Republican congressman from Florida’s Panhandle, said today.
For Perry and Obama, today’s planned meeting poses further political opportunities and obstacles.
“What has to be addressed is the security of the border,” Perry said on ABC News’s “This Week” on July 6. “You know that, I know that, the president of the United States knows that. I don’t believe he particularly cares whether or not the border of the United States is secure, and that’s the reason there’s been this lack of effort, this lack of focus, this lack of resources.”
While news coverage of their closed-door meeting will be limited to a “pool spray” of photographers at which a question is sometimes called out and answered by the president, the Texas governor – who had earlier refused an invitation to publicly greet the president at his tarmac arrival today – is certain to find some microphones after their meeting.
After initially declining a tarmac greeting of the president, the governor agreed today to welcome Obama.
“My understanding is that Governor Perry will greet the president on the tarmac and the two will meet privately at some point prior to the roundtable,” Travis Considine, a Perry spokesman, said in an e-mail.
Perry, who will retire at year’s end after three terms, making him the longest-serving governor in state history, has worked to reshape his image since his failed presidential bid in which during a debate he was unable to remember the names of the three federal agencies he pledged to close.
For his part, Obama has a mixed record in his other meetings with Republican governors during almost six years in the White House.
Immigration also was on Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s mind when she greeted Obama at an airport arrival in January 2012 with a face-to-face scolding and wagging of a gubernatorial finger in the president’s face.
“What I’ve discovered is, I think it’s always good publicity for a Republican if they’re in an argument with me,” Obama said in an ABC News interview about the Brewer incident.
Obama’s tour of the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 provided a lift for both the president, at the climax of a hard-fought re-election campaign against Republican Mitt Romney, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Christie initially faced criticism within his party for embracing Obama at the height of the campaign. The Republican governor, telling news outlets that Obama’s response to the storm had been “outstanding” and the coordination with federal officials “wonderful,” said, “The president has been all over this and he deserves great credit.”
Yet the coordination of the two evolved into a widely perceived example of constructive bipartisanship in the face of a crisis, an impression serving Christie well if he pursues his own campaign for the party’s presidential nod in 2016.
Charlie Crist, Florida’s former Republican governor and attorney general, also was initially criticized for embracing Obama’s support in governmental matters.
Then after running for the U.S. Senate as an independent, Crist switched parties and endorsed Obama’s re-election on the stage of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Now, Crist is running for governor again as a Democrat and holds an average 2.2-percentage-point advantage over Republican Governor Rick Scott in opinion polls tallied by RealClearPolitics.com.
Nevertheless, Republicans are employing Crist’s support for the president’s health-care law and his party-switching as tools against him in his bid for election in November in a state that Obama carried in two presidential elections.