President Barack Obama waves as he exits Air Force One on arrival to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Wednesday in Austin, Texas. Obama is spending the night in the Texas capital and on Thursday he will make a speech on the economy. (Jack Plunkett / AP)
Austin, Texas — Congressional Republican leaders on Thursday blasted President Barack Obama’s emergency spending request for the border crisis, saying Obama caused the problem and now wants Congress to sign off on more of the same.
“We’re not giving the president a blank check,” said Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as a dispute over how to deal with tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors arriving at the southern border mounted on Capitol Hill. “This is a problem of the president’s own making.”
Boehner spoke to reporters shortly after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered the same criticism on the Senate floor.
“What he appears to be asking for is a blank check — one that would allow him to sustain his current failed policy,” said McConnell, R-Ky. “We want to make sure we actually get the right tools to help fix the problem. And that’s not what we’ve seen so far from the president.”
The White House defended the request.
“There is a clear and urgent need here,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with the president in Texas. “We put forward a very specific line item proposal for what additional resources are needed and how much those resources would cost.”
The back-and-forth came a day after Obama, in Dallas, appealed to Congress to act quickly on his $3.7 billion emergency spending request aimed at stemming the growing tide of arrivals from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
“The only question at this point is why wouldn’t the Texas delegation or any of the other Republicans who are concerned about this not want to put this on a fast track and get this on my desk so I can sign it and we can start getting to work?” Obama said after meeting with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican with presidential ambitions who’s harshly criticized Obama over the crisis.
“The problem here is not major disagreement,” Obama said. “If they’re interested in solving the problem, then this can be solved. If the preference is for politics, then it won’t be solved.”
Perry, in his own statement following the meeting, made no promises to help Obama shore up GOP support for the supplemental spending package and instead underscored the notion that the border crisis was the result of Obama’s “bad public policy” on immigration.
Perry also kept up the pressure on Obama to make a border visit, telling CBS, “that’s what presidents do. That’s what leaders do. They show up and they interact.”
“I’m not interested in photo ops,” Obama shot back in response to such criticism. “I’m interested in solving a problem.”
Obama was wrapping up his Texas visit Thursday afternoon with an economic speech in Austin, around the same time that his Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, was to appear before the Senate Appropriations Committee to make the case for the emergency spending request.
The money is intended to add immigration judges, detention facilities, aid for the children and teens arriving here without their parents, and programs to deter people from fleeing the Central American nations where vicious gang violence is driving them north.
Johnson faces a tough sell as Republicans have criticized Obama for asking them for money but not for policy reforms, specifically amending a 2008 law to address human trafficking that’s contributed to the problem by guaranteeing court hearings to the arriving youths. In practice that often results in them staying here indefinitely.
The White House says it wants to change that law, but immigration advocates and some Democrats objected, and so far the White House has not put forward those reforms.
Democrats have raised their own questions about how the emergency money would be spent and whether too much of it would go for enforcement, rather than measures to help the children.
More than 57,000 unaccompanied kids have arrived since October even as tens of thousands more have arrived traveling as families, mostly mothers with their children.
Many are trying to reunite with family members and to escape violence, but they also report hearing rumors that once here, they would be allowed to stay. Republicans blame Obama policies aimed at curbing deportations of immigrants brought into the country illegally as children for contributing to those rumors, something Obama administration officials have largely rejected.
The situation has complicated the already rancorous debate over remaking the nation’s immigration laws at a moment when Obama has declared legislative efforts to do so dead and announced plans to proceed on his own executive authority to change the flawed system where he can.