Texas Gov. Rick Perry will not meet President Barack Obama on the tarmac when he touches down in Texas on Wednesday to attend a variety of Democratic fundraising events. Instead of a handshake and a photo op, Perry said that he wants to meet privately with the president to discuss the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the border.
In a letter addressed to the president, Perry outlined his reasoning:
“I appreciate the offer to greet you at Austin-Bergstrom Airport, but a quick handshake on the tarmac will not allow for a thoughtful discussion regarding the humanitarian and national security crises enveloping the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas,” Mr. Perry wrote in a letter to the president Monday. “I would instead offer to meet with you at any time during your visit to Texas for a substantive meeting to discuss this critical issue.”
On Tuesday, the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe weighed in on Perry’s refusal to meet the president and, rather than criticizing him for a display of political self-interest and a failure to observe decorum, suggested that he was actually justified in seeking a more substantive meeting with Obama.
“I actually don’t have a complete problem with his statement,” co-host Mika Brzezinski said of Perry’s request.
“It’s the president that just wants the photo op, he just wants the quick and easy handshake, when he has Democrats in his own party saying, ‘There is, in fact, a humanitarian crisis on the border’ and talking about Katrina moments,” host Joe Scarborough said.
“It looks like Rick Perry does have the upper hand when he’s saying basically the same thing Democratic congressmen from the same state [are] saying,” he continued, noting that the “optics” of failing to go to the border is politically perilous for Obama.
Time’s Mark Halperin agreed with both hosts. “I think his schedule will change some way,” he predicted. “Bet on that.”
“Katrina was a shared responsibility on the federal government – state and local government. This is really a federal issue,” he continued. “it’s a humanitarian crisis involving kids, and I think governance matters.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and USA Today reporter Susan Page have observed that Obama runs the risk of encountering his “Katrina moment” in Texas. As Dave Weigel noted in Slate, hyperbolic members of the press declared Obama that has met his “Katrina moment” in at least eight other crises over the course of his presidency, and each time the president emerges from that crisis politically scarred but still standing.
Why this crisis may have the effect on Obama’s image that Bush’s approach to Hurricane Katrina did is not, as Halperin suggested, a jurisdictional one – whether state, federal, or local authorities abdicated their responsibilities the most. Nor is it, as the many profiled in Weigel’s piece seemed to think, merely a suboptimal response to a crisis. It was Bush’s apparently flippant and casual response to the crisis culminating in two atonal moments which turned a majority of voters off to the president for the rest of his term; the photograph of him flying over the devastation in New Orleans and the infamous moment when he praised FEMA director Michael Brown’s performance in the midst of that crisis.
Obama won’t repeat Bush’s optical mistakes. He is likely to amend his schedule so that he can take in the scene at the border himself where the cameras will find him engaged and making few statements. The president’s approach to this crisis thus far, however, has been aloof, distant, and callous. In that sense, this present crisis does have the potential to have the same effect on Obama’s favorability and job approval ratings as Hurricane Katrina had on Bush.
Obama can still reverse that course and present himself as a leader managing a humanitarian disaster, but he hasn’t done that yet.