President Obama and Texas Gov. Rick Perry agreed to meet Wednesday in Dallas on the immigration crisis, temporarily ending their standoff over the Mexican border emergency in a delicate dance that underscores the political perils for both parties in addressing the surge of illegal immigrants.
The White House said the meeting between Mr. Obama and the governor, which will include local officials and religious leaders, is to be held during a presidential visit to Texas that is primarily a fundraising trip for Democrats. Mr. Perry’s office confirmed he will attend after the president earlier spurned his invitation to visit the border to see firsthand the problems burdening state officials.
While the meeting partly defuses Mr. Obama’s public relations problem of refusing to inspect the border at Mr. Perry’s urging, it doesn’t end the president’s feud with the Republican governor over border security. The two sides couldn’t even agree Tuesday on who extended the invitation for the meeting.
“We thought it made sense here to extend an invitation to Gov. Perry, to allow him to participate in that meeting with other Texans who are seeking to address this situation in a constructive manner,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “We’re looking forward to Gov. Perry participating in that meeting.”
But a Perry spokeswoman said the governor was “pleased that President Obama has accepted his invitation to discuss the humanitarian and national security crises along our southern border.”
The meeting comes after White House officials accused Mr. Perry, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, of playing politics with the issue. The governor told a House subcommittee last week the U.S. border is less secure than ever, and that federal authorities should quickly send back thousands of illegal child immigrants who have inundated Texas in recent months and call out the National Guard.
Mr. Perry has said he wanted “a substantive meeting” with Mr. Obama on illegal immigration rather than a “quick handshake” at an airport upon the president’s arrival in Texas. The White House changed its position late Monday, when senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett told the governor in a letter that “the president would welcome a meeting” with Mr. Perry.
The highly charged nature of the public negotiating between the White House and the governor’s office highlighted the political stakes for both parties in addressing the surge of illegal immigration, which has spawned protests nationwide and forced the administration Tuesday to request an additional $3.8 billion from Congress to speed up deportation cases and bolster security.
The Obama administration’s poor handling of the immigration crisis could strengthen the position of Republican candidates in the midterm elections, but the GOP still faces a long-term crisis of its own with Hispanic voters on immigration policy, pollsters say.
Public opinion surveys in recent weeks are giving Mr. Obama poor ratings on immigration policy. A Rasmussen poll Monday found that 46 percent of those surveyed blame the administration’s policies for the surge of illegal immigrant children (31 percent disagreed); a Gallup poll in late June showed two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of immigration policy.
Anger over the emergency at the southern border could motivate more conservative voters in November, political analysts say, but the Republican base already is more eager to vote than Democrats this year.
“It might increase the turnout among some people to vote against Democratic candidates, but a lot of those people were fired up anyway,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, president of North Star Opinion Research. “Obamacare had folks on the center-right fired up to go vote before any of this happened.”
Democrats are expressing concern that the administration’s handling of the immigration surge could drag them down, just when they appeared to gain the upper hand in the debate because of House Republicans’ decision not to pass an immigration bill this year.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, Texas Democrat, said prior to news of the Obama-Perry meeting, he was worried Mr. Obama’s decision not to visit the U.S.-Mexico border would become his “Katrina moment,” a reference to criticism of President George W. Bush’s handling of hurricane relief in Louisiana in 2005.
“I hope this doesn’t become the Katrina moment for President Obama, saying that he doesn’t need to come to the border. He should come down,” Mr. Cuellar said Monday on Fox News.