President Barack Obama really wants you to know that Republicans share the blame for the ongoing crisis at the border. In fact, he spent the majority of his address on the border crisis on Wednesday not discussing the border crisis, per se, but the variety of ways in which his administration should not be faulted for this disaster.
After noting that he did take the time out of his fundraising schedule for a closed-door meeting with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a concession of regal magnanimity upon which we must reflect in gratitude, Obama noted that he is at least open to taking emergency steps to stem the wave of illegal, unaccompanied migrant children crossing the border. But not, however, until Congress shares some responsibility for this crisis and passes a supplemental $3.7 billion request.
“Yesterday, I asked Congress…” “Congress has the capacity right now…” “The challenge is, is Congress prepared to act?”
No, the challenge is not Congress. The challenge is on the border, where the president has steadfastly refused to go so as not to be too intimately associated with this crisis.
“Are folks more interested in politics or are they more interested in solving the problem?” Obama said he asked the Texas governor. “If they are interested in solving the problem then this can be solved. If the preference is for politics then it won’t be solved.”
What a tired act. Obama is the honest broker, and all his opponents are cynical and self-interested. It would be laughable but for the fact that so few in the political press seem find it funny.
Of course, a supplemental spending package will have to be passed in order to fund augmented processing, deportations, and, as Obama said he might consider, National Guard deployments. If it is a crisis, and it is, then the executive branch does not wait for Congress to pass funding before it acts. It is beyond insulting to suggest that emergency supplemental funding is a precondition for a response to an emergency.
When the political concerns merit it, as they did in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in October of an election year, 2,800 National Guard troops were immediately dispatched to the affected areas in the Northeast. The contentious issue of funding for that effort came later, as it always has and always should.
When the president was not haranguing Congress to pass his requested supplemental package to deal with this crisis last night, he was berating them for not passing the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill.
“It would be useful for my Republican friends to rediscover the concept of negotiation and compromise,” the president later said. “If I sponsored a bill declaring apple pie American, it might fall victim to partisan politics.”
If you were even a little unclear on the fact that Obama wants as much political distance from this crisis as possible, he made in precisely clear when asked a question about whether he objected to any of Perry’s emergency proposals. Beyond the fact that Perry wanted him to act “without Congress doing anything,” the president said he did not.
How is this language in any way distinct from Obama’s stump speeches, like the one he delivered in Colorado just hours before this presser? “These days, basic common sense ideas cannot get through Congress,” the president told an audience of supporters in Colorado on Tuesday. “If Congress won’t act, I will.”
Obama happily revs up his supporters by touting his omnipotence when it is convenient, but plays the constitutionally constrained republican consul when a politically inconvenient crisis demands his attention. What theater.
“This isn’t theater,” Obama scolded me. “This is a problem.”
“I’m not interested in photo ops,” the president vamped near the conclusion of his news conference. “I’m interested in solving a problem.”
This statement coming from a president who is anything but camera shy earned Obama deserved mockery from the commentariat, but the substance of Obama’s statement last night – that Congress is as much to blame as his administration’s negligence – was not dismissed by the members of the political press as it should have been.
“I think that the problem here is not that it’s a political question, it’s also a moral question,” oozed Bloomberg News’ Lisa Lerner on CNN. “I think you really saw that come out in the president’s remarks yesterday. He looked tired. He looked stressed. And that’s because he’s sort of caught between what he can do politically – which is basically, he has to send these kids home – and what he is thinking morally.”
Amazing how this weighty moral conundrum has not compelled our most sympathetic figure to see the humanity on the border for himself. Perhaps we should be thankful he did not. We can’t have our commander-in-chief succumbing to the depth of his emotional response to this crisis.
New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin noted accurately that the president was “shrewd” to meet with Perry and use him as a tool to pressure Republicans in Washington to act on this border crisis as well. That he did not then observe that this is an obvious attempt by Obama to create some political distance between him and the situation on the Rio Grande was vexing.
Even CNN’s John King let the veil slip a bit when he remarked that at least one Republican, Glenn Beck, has responded to the crisis at the border by launching a charity initiative. “We can laugh about that, but they are children,” he said. Why on earth would you “laugh” at giving parentless refugee minors food and toys? Why would that thought even enter your head?
The media’s reaction to this crisis in general has been irksome. Democratic members of Congress, from Rep. Louis Gutierrez (D-IL) to the House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), have been more critical of Obama in this whole process than the political press. For Obama, this is all politics – and treacherous politics at that.
The press is satisfied when Obama plays the game well and scores a point for the home team. For the border state residents, the tireless border guards and immigration processing facility managers, and the children fleeing violence at home in the mistaken impression that they can find sanctuary in the United States, none of this is a game.