President Barack Obama will head to Texas later this week for Democratic fundraising events in Austin and Dallas, but he will not visit the southern border where unaccompanied minors are streaming across that frontier in record numbers.
“Schedules sometimes change and if they do we’ll let you know, but right now there is no plan to visit the border while he’s in Texas,” said White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest last week, bristling over the impertinence of the suggestion that Obama should take time out of his fundraising schedule to see the scale of this emerging refugee crisis for himself.
“The reason that some people are suggesting the president should go to [the] border when he’s in Texas is because they’d rather play politics than actually trying to address some of these challenges,” Earnest added.
Not so, according to one House Democrat who savaged the administration over its lackadaisical manner of dealing with the recent influx of migrant women and children. “With all due respect to the administration, they’re one step behind,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX). “They should have seen this coming a long time ago.”
The media, too, is becoming less amendable to the president’s causal approach to the crisis on the border while voices criticizing the White House’s stance on this issue proliferate. As Gabriel Malor observed, both CBS and NBC’s evening newscasts noted Obama’s refusal to amend his schedule in order to take a tour of the Texas border.
NBC News laid out the political crisis the president faces in perhaps the starkest terms. “President Obama can’t afford the perception that his policies have encouraged an uncontrolled flow of young people across the border,” NBC reporter John Harwood said. “He’s got to do something to stem that tide.”
“There are increasing calls for the president to visit the border,” NBC’s White House Correspondent Kristen Welker added. “There is a lot of speculation that he will have to directly address the crisis in some way while he’s down there, especially given all the political pressure that he’s under.”
MSNBC was no kinder to the president, as evidenced by the ominous use of the word “optics” to describe the president’s decision to ignore the border. “What do you think the optics are going to be on the backend of the president’s trip,” MSNBC host Thomas Roberts asked Random House Executive Vice President Jon Meacham on Monday.
“I think the president should probably address it more forthrightly,” Meacham said after conceding that the politics of the border crisis are “becoming uglier.”
Chuck Todd’s panel of Beltway reporters expressed shock over the White House’s insistence that the president would not visit the border this week. USA Today reporter Susan Page described Obama’s conundrum as a potential “Katrina moment” for Obama.
“This is unacceptable to more than Republicans on immigration, the situation we have there,” she said on Monday. “And boy, is that going to anger some of his core constituents who have wanted him to do more on immigration, not less.”
The New York Times examined the options available to Obama to deal with this crisis and determined that few of them are good. “The administration can look too nice or too mean, and finding the middle ground is going to be very, very difficult,” National Immigration Forum Executive Director Ali Noorani told The Times.
“He doesn’t want to go and sort of stand there with his hands on his hips saying, ‘Don’t come in,’” Immigration WorksUSA President Tamar Jacoby added.
The Times concluded by noting that Obama is in a perilous political position, an observation shared by Associated Press reporters.
“The White House also wants to keep the focus of the debate in this midterm election year on Republican lawmakers whom the president has accused of blocking progress on a comprehensive overhaul of America’s immigration laws,” the AP reported last week. “Obama announced this week that, due to a lack of progress on Capitol Hill, he was moving forward to seek out ways to adjust U.S. immigration policy without congressional approval.”
These otherwise sympathetic voices raising concerns about Obama’s method of dealing with the border crisis, both substantively and superficially, are more likely to get him to reverse course in a contested midterm election year than admonitions from figures like Rick Perry.
“The border crisis has put him in the difficult position of asking Congress for more money and authority to send the children back home at the same time he’s seeking ways to allow millions of other people already in the U.S. illegally to stay,” the AP report continued. Obama will seek an additional $2 billion to speed up processing and deportation of illegal border crossers.
That request may reinforce a sticky narrative on the right that the president is prone to throwing money at problems without a full understanding of their scope if Obama does not amend his schedule in order to fit in a visit to the border.