DALLAS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama rejected demands from Texas Governor Rick Perry and others that he visit the border where a child migrant crisis is unfolding and said his critics should get behind his request for $3.7 billion if they want to solve the problem.
“Are folks more interested in politics or are they more interested in solving the problem,” Obama said he told Perry. “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.”
Obama visited Texas for the first time since the influx of child migrants from Central America overwhelmed border resources. He had talks with Perry aboard his Marine One helicopter and in a group meeting with local officials that Obama called constructive.
In a brief news conference after the meeting, Obama dismissed criticism from Perry, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, that he should personally visit the border region for a first-hand look.
“This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo ops. I’m interested in solving a problem,” he said.
The president, on a three-day trip out of Washington, is spending much time raising money for Democratic congressional candidates, leading to criticism that he should spend some time visiting the border. Obama said he is getting plenty of information from top advisers who are visiting the area.
“There’s nothing that is taking place down there that I am not intimately aware of and briefed on,” he said.
Obama is battling political pressure from supporters and opponents alike to halt a growing humanitarian crisis along the Texas border with Mexico.
His request for emergency funds on Tuesday was the most aggressive step yet by his administration to take care of the children who have come from Central America illegally while accelerating the process to have them deported.
The money, however, must be approved by the Democrat-controlled Senate and Republican-led House of Representatives. Republicans, who have pressed the White House to do more to tackle the crisis, gave the proposal a wary reception.
“The House is not going to just rubber-stamp what the administration wants to do,” said Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, who is a member of Speaker John Boehner’s border crisis task force.
Republican Representative Mick Mulvaney criticized the funding request and suggested foreign aid should be docked to pay for it.
“I think it’s a charade. I think the president has set it up to make it look as though the only reason he’s not enforcing the border is because he doesn’t have the money. And that’s not accurate,” Mulvaney said.
Obama said he emphasized to Perry that he was largely in agreement with the Republican’s suggestion that more border patrol agents be moved to the crisis zone.
Perry quickly issued a statement after the talks saying he demanded that Obama dispatch 1,000 National Guard troops to the border.
“Securing the border is attainable, and the president needs to commit the resources necessary to get this done,” Perry said.
Obama said he would consider Perry’s demand that National Guard troops be deployed to the area.
“The bottom line actually is there is nothing the governor indicated that he’d like to see that I have a philosophical objection to,” Obama said.
The greater challenge, he said, is whether Congress is prepared to approve his funding request. He urged Perry to appeal to the Texas congressional delegation to seek passage of the $3.7 billion package.
“These days in Washington everybody is always concerned about everything falling victim to partisan politics,” Obama said. “If I sponsored a bill declaring apple pie American, it might fall victim.”
The child migrant crisis has made the debate over immigration reform even more divisive. Without government action, the administration projects more than 150,000 unaccompanied children under the age of 18 next year could be fleeing to the United States from poverty and drug- and gang-related violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey, and Richard Cowan; Editing by Caren Bohan, Jonathan Oatis and Ken Wills