Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 10, 2016

President’s Party Asks Why He’s Avoiding the Border

Cuellar said Obama needs to see the crisis at the border firsthand. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Cuellar joined other Democrats saying Obama needs to see the crisis at the border firsthand. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated, 8 p.m. | With ongoing protests in California, business leaders in Washington calling for a legislative overhaul and lawmakers trading barbs on Capitol Hill, President Barack Obama heard from all sides of the immigration debate Wednesday — including some particularly pointed criticism from a member of his own party.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, a fifth-term Democrat from the Texas border town of Laredo, ripped Obama for not scheduling a visit to the Rio Grande Valley while on a two-day fundraising swing through the state.

The president, speaking to reporters Wednesday evening after meeting in Dallas with Gov. Rick Perry and other Texas leaders on the crisis, defended his decision not to visit the border.

“This isn’t theater,” he said. “I’m not interested in photo-ops. I’m interested in solving the problem.”

Lawmakers from both parties want Obama to take charge of a more robust federal response — though there is wide disagreement as to what that response should be — to the surge of tens of thousands of central American women and children who have illegally crossed the Texas border in recent months.

Obama said in Dallas that Perry suggested moving forward with steps to secure the border with or without congressional approval.

“He suggested maybe you just need to go ahead and act,” Obama said. “And I had to remind him I am getting sued right now by Mr. Boehner, apparently, for going ahead and acting instead of going through Congress.”

The political conversation Wednesday centered on whether the president is somehow abdicating leadership on the crisis.

“I hate to use the word ‘bizarre,’ but … when he is shown playing pool in Colorado, drinking a beer, and he can’t even go 242 miles to the Texas border?” Cuellar said in an appearance on MSNBC. “If they are worried about putting a face, the president’s face, to this … humanitarian crisis, I think it’s worse if he doesn’t even show up.”

Cuellar was referring to news reports from a day earlier showing Obama, who was in Colorado Tuesday to raise money for Democrats, relaxing with in a Denver pub with Democratic Gov. John W. Hickenlooper over beers and a game of pool.

“When I saw that, it just really floored me,” Cuellar said.

Perry, who has also called for the president to tour the crowded illegal immigrant detention facilities on the border, got about 15 minutes with Obama. Perry had said handling the crisis on the Rio Grande required more than a brief handshake on the tarmac outside Air Force One. Obama patted the governor on the back and the two were seen talking privately while heading toward Marine One.

Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, one of the most vocal proponents of overhauling the immigration system and an Illinois Democrat who has not shied away from criticizing the president when he felt it was necessarily, also expressed concern about the optics of Obama’s decision to forgo a border visit.

“Look, going to a fundraiser in Texas is like going on vacation,” Gutiérrez said when CQ Roll Call asked about the Obama trip. “I have family members who are ill and in the hospital. I think I should go down and visit them in Puerto Rico, not go on vacation there.”

Gutierrez said it would be “a wonderful idea” for the president to rethink his schedule to “show empathy” to the children who are being detained there.

“If you went around to members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, I think you’d see there is a general consensus,” he added.

CHC Chairman Rubén Hinojosa has invited Obama to visit the border, saying his presence is needed to “fully comprehend what is happening in our region.”

Hinojosa extended that invitation with his fellow Texas Democrat Filemon Vela, who represents the district that houses the Rio Grande Valley sector of the U.S.-Mexico border. Vela, a freshman, was a member of the CHC until last year, when he split with the group over a disagreement about whether members should support the bipartisan Senate immigration bill’s approach to border security.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said he didn’t see a downside to Obama visiting the border during his scheduled trip to Texas — but he didn’t necessarily see an upside, either.

“I don’t think that would hurt,” he said at his Tuesday briefing. “I think it would send a signal of his concern. … But I don’t think that the president’s going to the border, per se, could escalate his attention to the matter. He is very seized on this issue.”

Republicans and Democrats clashed on the floor of the Senate over the border crisis and the administration’s request, submitted a day earlier, for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to address the situation at the border.

That request has already come under fire from conservative organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, which called it a “non-starter.”

Backing billions of new spending on the border is an especially tough proposition for House and Senate Democrats facing challenges in red states where the crisis has only added to the president’s woes.

Louisiana Sen. Mary L. Landrieu said at a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday that the administration needs to be more accountable for how it spends money on the border, a strong signal from a vulnerable Democrat in a re-election race rated a Tossup by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.

“No one wants to see children suffer, and Congress must act to solve this problem in a compassionate and humane way. However, I am also going to be focused on accountability,” Landrieu said in a statement after the hearing. “We need to know who is in charge of fixing the problem, what the plan is, and who is going to be held responsible for delivering results before we spend another $3.7 billion.”

While lawmakers took aim at the president and each other, Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has long supported an immigration overhaul that would offer some legal status for undocumented workers, again called for bipartisan action. He said there is “a lot of time between now and the end of the year.”

Business leaders in manufacturing and agriculture joined Donohue as part of the “National Day of Action for Immigration Reform,” which also included events in more than 60 “targeted” House Republican districts spanning 25 states.

Donohue said election-year politics stymied chances for an overhaul, but that lawmakers should consider their constituents who support addressing immigration.

“I understand the challenges of getting elected. We have all worked on candidate selection and on the primaries,” Donohue said. “But just remember, you not only get elected, you have to serve.”


Related stories:

Obama ‘Happy to Consider’ Sending National Guard to Border to get Votes on Supplemental

A Tale of Two Congressional Visits to the Southwest Border

Obama’s Bill for Border Surge Gets Frosty Reception on the Right

Obama Asking Congress for $4.3 Billion for Border Crisis, Wildfires

On Climate Change, Landrieu Stands With Coal, Against Obama

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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  • Jazzy

    Sorry Roll Call, but the president’s party is asking not asking this. They are asking why he’s avoiding Long Term Unemployed and EMERGENCY UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS.

    • Layla

      Cheap labor is arriving, Jazzy. Nobody in either party are worried about unemployment in this country. If they were, the first thing they would do would be to secure that border. We’re all on our own here.

  • Republicans_are_Evil

    So if even one Democrat says the President should visit the border, that means the Democratic Party agrees? Sorry Roll Call, that is just not true.

  • Bill__Kennedy

    If the illegal immigrants booed Obama that would be bad optics.

    If the illegal immigrants cheered Obama that would be worse optics. [and more likely]

    • Layla

      Since many have been photographed wearing shoes with Obama’s likeness and the phrase “Yes we can”, I think it’s too late.

      I think you all know there is going to be a backlash from every American, every legal immigrant, over this.

      • Bill__Kennedy

        [Scene: At the border]

        Migrant tyke clinging to Obama’s leg: Papi Obama!

        Obama: Here’s a quarter kid, get lost!

  • Layla

    Our borders are wide open, the administration and Congress lied to the American people about it being secure. And now our own national security and people are at risk.

    You need to be sent home, Congress, along with this President, if he has the guts to return to face the people over what he has done to this country.

  • Layla

    In Arizona, the 9th Circuit Court has ordered the Governor to give driver’s licenses to illegals. According to a map released by Numbers USA with the locations of the detention centers, these illegal invaders are being sent to the Red States.

    I think we all know this is about illegal votes. And THAT is why everybody is going home in November.

    FYI, the entire House is up for reelection, Pelosi, Boehner included. We can get 1/3 of the Senate and finish voting them out in 2016, 2018.

    • janet smith

      Obama hates our governor, many of us of all parties agree with the Governor Jan Brewer. We know our state gets punished by Obama for it but we have to take a stand somewhere and she is doing the right thing. I have family that experienced the illegal driver with a license bit. Thank god they were not hurt bad. The guy just went back to Mexico and Mexico isn’t going to do anything about it. A few years ago the polices chief patrol car in a small town in Mexico was stolen from Arizona and pictures were taken. The reporter could only push so far but learned they had no intention of giving it back.
      The drivers license for illegals is a hazard and a slap in the fact to law abiding citizens. We have a wall -less swinging door with welcome no ID , no waiting necessary to enter the United States for all benefits.

  • Layla

    God Bless Texas. You have Congressmen, both sides, that put the people and this country ahead of politics.

    • NOamnestyEVER

      PEOPLE… It’s MUCH, MUCH, MUCH worse than you imaged. La Raza
      fascism and the Democrat politicians have expanded the Mexican welfare state to ALL states as the Mexican drug cartels enjoy Obama’s sabotage of our borders.

      The cartels haul back tens of BILLIONS in drug profits.

      Rep. Luis Gutierrez promises millions of illegals Obama’s BACKDOOR amnesty and greater gringo looting ahead.

  • Yonatan YONATAN

    Senator John Boehner, and his republican cohorts in the senate, are directly responsible for the three million unemployed families, STILL without an extension of benefits since late last December. They have single handedly pushed these families into further financial ruin and deep poverty, over these last six months, without an extension bill. While they fought vigorously on behalf of the Koch brother’s oil pipeline bill, they totally disregarded the suffering of these families. While congress approved billions of dollars in aid for the Ukraine, and more money set aside for the defense of Europe, these American families were left hung out to dry. Recently more money is requested to support the illegal migrant children pouring undisrupted into our country, at the border. The president is planning on assisting these children with tax payer’s dollars. While this is commemorated, what about the three million unemployed Americans that have been forgotten about, who are still in a desperate financial situation, in our own country? Why are our poor and unemployed never a priority to our own government?

  • NOamnestyEVER

    BLANKET AMNESTY is at hand…. 40 million illegals occupying America can now vote (legally) for even more.

  • NOamnestyEVER

    …………….. every day there are more illegals voting dem and more anchor baby breeders for 18 years of welfare jumping our borders.


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