Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar has become the face of opposition within President Barack Obama’s party to his approach to the worsening crisis on the southern border. He joined fellow border state Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) who both recently called for Obama to take time out of his Texas fundraiser schedule to see the US-Mexico border first hand, but Cuellar went further by calling Obama’s approach to the border crisis reactionary.
Cuellar has called the crisis on the border, as unaccompanied children and women flood the country and overwhelm its processing facilities, Obama’s potential “Katrina moment.” He said that the president has been a “step behind” on this crisis. “We should have been ready for this surge,” Cuellar said on Sunday. “The administration should have been ready.”
Today, in an appearance on CNN’s The Lead, Cuellar appeared to step back his criticism of the White House and adopted an even more affecting tone that communicated his desperation. To the point of pleading, Cuellar said that Obama could, if he chose, take the opportunity to see the border after he had attended to more important matters – like raising funds for Democratic candidates.
“If he wants to do the fundraisers first and then after that stop by the border, it’s not too far away,” Cuellar pleaded. “I think it would be good for him to put a face to it, but, again, it looks like he’s dug in, not wanting to come, and not going by what the critics are saying.”
The tide of Democratic opinion on how the president has handed the border crisis is turning. In an unusually tense moment on MSNBC, host Alex Wagner gave White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz a methodical grilling over why Obama was refusing to see the border crisis for himself.
“A lot of folks on both sides of the aisle think it is imperative that the president visit the border,” Wagner said. “Why is the president not visiting the border?”
Muñoz’s unsatisfactory reply was that the full weight of the executive branch, not merely the president, was fully engaged in the crisis at the border. Wagner was not having it. “The president visits crises all over this country,” she observed. “Why is he not going to the border to look at this one?”
Wagner is good for one of these internecine squabbles every now and again when she senses real damage is being done to either the Obama or the Democratic brands. A most recent example of this was an adversarial questioning of Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes over the White House’s hands-off approach to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The crisis on the border is another such moment.
Her apprehensions are likely based in the truth of the matter: Obama’s inaction is based entirely on his belief that his political position will suffer more from acting and being accountable for the response to a crisis than from disassociating himself from it and distancing his administration from culpability for failure.
The National Journal summed Obama’s predicament up best:
It’s certainly in part a political decision, one meant to avoid taking ownership of a difficult issue on which the White House would prefer to share blame. But it’s also one that will inflame Obama’s critics on both the right and left who say the administration has been too passive in response to the thousands of young border-crossers swamping U.S. detention facilities.
In other words, if Obama goes to the border, he owns the problem. If he doesn’t, he’s blasted for a lack of leadership.
The White House surely hopes that this crisis, like the crisis in Ukraine, will work itself out with only minimal damage done to the status quo. It might, but the increasingly frantic tone of the president’s allies is growing ever more difficult to ignore.