Why Isn’t Obama Going to the Border?

The president will be raising money in Texas, but doesn’t plan to see the migrant crisis for himself. His critics will have a field day.

US President Barack Obama reacts to a question about what he would say to Republican Presidential Hopeful Mitt Romney during a press conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, March 6, 2012. Obama holds the news conference hours before results from crucial Super Tuesday contests which could be pivotal in deciding the Republican presidential nominee. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
James Oliphant George E. Condon Jr.
July 7, 2014, 11:27 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama evid­ently has de­cided not to put a hu­man face on the crisis un­fold­ing at the south­ern U.S. bor­der—not even his own.

The White House said over and over again Monday that Obama will not travel to the bor­der with Mex­ico des­pite fly­ing to Texas this week to raise money for Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates there.

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.

Obama’s press sec­ret­ary, Josh Earn­est, said the ad­min­is­tra­tion is “not wor­ried about [the] op­tics” that the Texas vis­it will present, des­pite the fact that the pres­id­ent is ex­pec­ted Wed­nes­day to at­tend a fun­draiser at the home of a wealthy Dal­las law­yer and then go to an­oth­er in Aus­tin at the home of film­maker Robert Rodrig­uez, ac­cord­ing to The Dal­las Morn­ing News. Tick­ets for each event will range from $10,000 per per­son to $32,400 a couple.

Earn­est said the pres­id­ent is “very aware of the situ­ation that ex­ists on the south­w­est bor­der” and noted sev­er­al ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials had traveled there to re­view the situ­ation.

On NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, Home­land Se­cur­ity Sec­ret­ary Jeh John­son said the pres­id­ent “can’t be every place he would like to be, or even should be.”

But even Demo­crats are rais­ing eye­brows about Obama’s re­sponse. Rep. Henry Cuel­lar of Texas, for in­stance, has charged that the White House was “not re­act­ing fast enough.”

The tim­ing of the Demo­crat­ic fun­drais­ing events, planned long in ad­vance, couldn’t be worse for the pres­id­ent polit­ic­ally.

More than 50,000 un­ac­com­pan­ied chil­dren, mostly minors from Cent­ral Amer­ica, and an­oth­er 40,000 wo­men with chil­dren have been ap­pre­hen­ded at the bor­der this year, strain­ing U.S. bor­der re­sources to the lim­it.

If Obama goes, his pres­ence there would give both lib­er­al and con­ser­vat­ive crit­ics fur­ther am­muni­tion as they ar­gue Obama’s policies are to blame for the in­flux. It might even make it more dif­fi­cult for Obama to mar­shal pub­lic sup­port for any ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions he may soon take to re­form cur­rent fed­er­al im­mig­ra­tion rules. At the same time, be­ing seen at a de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity among chil­dren that face de­port­a­tion could make him ap­pear un­car­ing.

But not go­ing makes the pres­id­ent look like he’s avoid­ing something that is in­creas­ingly be­ing called a crisis.

Texas Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Rick Perry did his part to in­crease pres­sure on Obama on Monday. Perry’s of­fice said it would be send­ing a let­ter to the White House ahead of the pres­id­ent’s vis­it that would in­vite Obama for a sit-down in Texas on the crisis.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate the of­fer to greet you at Aus­tin-Bergstrom Air­port,” Perry’s let­ter reads, “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.”

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