By Justin Sink - 07/09/14 07:59 PM EDT
President Obama declared Wednesday he wasn't interested in a border trip “photo op,” saying such a visit was unnecessary to bolster his knowledge about the surge of unaccompanied children entering the U.S.
“There's nothing that is taking place down there that I am not intimately aware of or briefed on,” Obama said in a hastily arranged speech in Dallas on Wednesday.
On that point, Obama urged Congress to “fast track” his request for $3.7 billion in funding that would provide care for the children, and ways to deport them more quickly.
“Those who say I should visit the border, when you ask them what we should be doing, they're giving suggestions that are embodied in legislation I've already sent to Congress,” Obama said.
Obama spoke shortly after meeting with a group of faith leaders, local officials and Texas Gov. Rick Perry to discuss the crisis.
The meeting was added to the president’s schedule after criticism from Perry, who repeatedly harangued Obama to visit the border during his two-day fundraising swing through Texas. The pair met privately during a 15-minute helicopter ride to the site of the meeting.
Obama said his discussion with Perry was “constructive” and said that he believed passing the emergency supplemental would enable him to alleviate the Texas governor's concerns.
“There's nothing the governor indicated that he'd like to see that I have a philosophical objection to,” Obama said.
Obama’s $3.7 billion request would fund a surge of judges and attorneys to more quickly facilitate asylum hearings, as well as additional surveillance and security measures. The money would also help cover costs related to the detainment of immigrant children, their transportation back to their home countries and grants to Central American governments to help fight violence there.
But Obama signaled he was concerned that the measure could be blocked on Capitol Hill.
“If I sponsored a bill declaring apple pie is American, it might fall victim to partisan politics,” Obama said.
He said he urged Perry to speak with the Texas delegation, which Obama described as “at the heart of the Republican Caucus,” to get them to move on the supplemental.
“If the Texas delegation is prepared to move, this thing can get done next week,” he said.
Obama also said he was open to considering compromise solutions, including calls from Perry and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to deploy national guardsman to the border — if Congress moves on his emergency request.
The president said the bill was a “good test case” on whether Republicans wanted to address the issue at hand.
“This should not be hard,” he added. “Are we more interested in politics or solving the problem? If we're interested in solving the problem, then there's actually some broad consensus.”
Obama also seemed to make a nod to Republican lawmakers who have called on him to more clearly emphasize that unaccompanied minors crossing the border could not remain in the U.S.
“While we intend to do the right thing by these children, their parents need to know, this is an incredibly dangerous situation and it is unlikely that their children will be able to stay,” Obama said.
Despite Obama’s characterization that the two leaders generally left the meeting in agreement, Perry released a statement immediately following the meeting again calling on Obama to visit the border.
“Five hundred miles south of here in the Rio Grande Valley there is a humanitarian crisis unfolding that has been created by bad public policy, in particular the failure to secure the border,” Perry said. “Securing the border is attainable, and the president needs to commit the resources necessary to get this done.”
Several Democrats also questioned Obama’s decision to not visit the border.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said he was “floored” to see Obama drinking beer and playing pool during a visit to Denver on Tuesday but then opting not to visit the border.
“If they are worried about putting a face, the president's face, to this human crisis, humanitarian crisis, I think it's worse if he doesn't even show up,” Cuellar told MSNBC.
“Either way, he's going to be tied into this humanitarian crisis. He either can roll up his sleeves and go down to the border, or he can just look aloof and detached and not go to the border, send surrogates down there, and say that he's got everything under control.”
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), who leads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program, told USA Today that if she were advising President Obama, “I’d advise him to go to the border.”
Separately, the White House announced that Vice President Biden had called the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to discuss joint efforts to stem the tide of unaccompanied minors from Central America.
Biden briefed the leaders on the administration’s supplemental spending request, which includes $300 million to help those countries repatriate and reintegrate migrants and improve their security situations, according to the White House.