President Barack Obama has mastered the art of neutralizing political foes with niceties, and now he can add Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry to the list.
Obama and Perry had a “constructive” discussion and a “good exchange of ideas,” the president told reporters yesterday after the two men talked immigration policy. “There’s nothing that he indicated that he would like to see that I have a philosophical objection to,” Obama said.
For Perry, who is considering a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, the like-minded exchange with Obama may help his state cope with the stream of undocumented minors crossing the U.S. southern border. It also may be a political liability in Perry’s quest for higher office, as it has damaged other Republicans with their own party’s base.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman’s 2012 White House ambitions were undermined when he entered the race as Obama’s former U.S. ambassador to China. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist wound up switching parties after Republicans hammered him for expressing thanks -- with a hug -- to the president as Obama visited his state to pitch his 2009 economic stimulus package. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie -- another 2016 presidential prospect -- took similar barbs from fellow Republicans after praising the White House’s response to 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.
Perry, in television interviews after their meeting, sought some distance from the president, saying Obama hasn’t done enough to stop illegal immigration.
Perry told CBS’s “This Morning”that Americans need to see the president at the border. “That’s what presidents do, that’s what leaders do, they show up,” he said. Perry compared Obama’s decision to skip a border visit to criticisms of former President George W. Bush for not immediately visiting New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
“When we know a hurricane is coming, we put things into place so that we can deal with it,” Perry said.
Obama parried, saying in a news conference after the get-together that there wasn’t really much daylight between them on responding to the influx of children from Central America who have been traversing Mexico and crossing into Texas.
“The things that the governor thinks are important to do would be a lot easier to do if we had this supplemental,” Obama said, urging Perry to get the Texas congressional delegation to support his request for $3.7 billion to address the issue. “It gives us the resources to do them.”
Perry, who has been critical of federal government spending, vacillated in his public posture toward Obama’s visit. After initially saying he wouldn’t greet Obama on the tarmac at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, he then opted to participate in the ritual presidential handshake -- an image prominently captured by the news media.
Perry’s gamble is that appearing with Obama and asking for federal money to help with the immigration crisis won’t tarnish the Washington-outsider brand he’s trying to develop.
“Perry previously thrived among Republican base voters when he was seen as being the candidate to best prosecute a case against Washington and the Obama administration policies coming out of Washington,” said Kevin Madden, an adviser to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. “I don’t know if this alters that.”
The upside for Perry is that images of him climbing onto Marine One, the president’s helicopter, for a 15-minute ride and session with Obama will make him look more presidential to independent voters.
“Meeting with the president and advocating for better border security can do nothing but help the governor,” said Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who sits on the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Control.
Republicans in Congress are balking at the additional spending, which would be used to bolster security, care for the children who arrived in the U.S., and send some of them back to their countries of origin.
Even if Perry joins Obama in pushing for the plan, such efforts likely will fall upon deaf ears within a Texas congressional delegation that Republicans dominate.
Smith said Obama “doesn’t need a dollar more” to fix the current crisis.
“The president has it within his power right now to send the right message, which is that he will enforce current immigration laws and that would greatly reduce the surge of illegal minors coming across the borders,” Smith said.
Still, Texas Republicans -- including Perry -- may find themselves caught in a bind.
The Texas Conservative Coalition, a group of state lawmakers, sent a letter to the congressional delegation yesterday supporting a federal reimbursement of $68 million in state funds spent on combating the immigration crisis. The letter was agnostic on the question of whether Texas’s two U.S. senators and its 36-member House delegation should support the president’s package.
“We respectfully ask that you reimburse Texas for the full cost of our border security law enforcement surge, whether you grant the president’s emergency supplemental appropriations request or not,” the coalition wrote.
The complexities of immigration politics may help Perry with some fellow Republicans.
James Carafano, a vice president at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based group often aligned with the small-government Tea Party movement, said Perry’s request for federal assistance to backstop state efforts is appropriate.
“This is one legitimate thing where the state is actually helping the federal government out,” Carafano said. “Securing the border is a federal responsibility.”