Views You Can Use: The Border Crisis as Obama's 'Katrina'

The president will be in Texas, but won't visit the border.

The Associated Press

Immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally stand in line for tickets at the bus station in McAllen, Texas.

By + More

President Obama is in Texas today, but he will not be visiting the U.S.-Mexico border. His fundraising trip comes in the midst of increasing attention on the large quantity of unaccompanied Central American children crossing the border.

Some are calling the fact that Obama will be in a border state but will not visit the border his “Hurricane Katrina,” referring to the Bush administration’s mishandling of the 2005 natural disaster. After the hurricane, President George W. Bush viewed the damage from Air Force One, but never landed on the ground in New Orleans.

“I’m sure that President Bush thought the same thing, that he could just look at everything from up in the sky, and then he owned it after a long time,” Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas said Monday. “So 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.”

The White House said Obama will meet with Texas officials to discuss the crisis, but the meeting won’t take place on the border itself. National Journal’s James Oliphant and George Condon Jr. said that failing to visit will make the president look bad. “It's certainly in part a political decision, one meant to avoid taking ownership of a difficult issue on which the White House would prefer to share blame,” they wrote. “But it's also one that will inflame Obama's critics on both the right and left who say the administration has been too passive in response to the thousands of young border-crossers swamping U.S. detention facilities.”

[SEE: Cartoons on President Obama]

“How can President Obama get away with not standing with the citizens and government officials on the front line?” asked Ed Rogers of PostPartisan. “ What more basic responsibility does a president have? It is bad for him to not go to the border; it is inexcusable for him to be so close on a political fundraising mission and just not bother.”

The comparison between Katrina and other crises faced by Obama has been made eight times before, and Alec MacGillis of the New Republic said it was inevitable that the link would be made yet again. But he doesn’t see Bush’s evasion of responsibility for the aftermath of Katrina on par with Obama’s failure to visit the border. “In the former instance, we were presented with an administration that willfully downplayed both the immediate threat of the approaching storm and the broader threat that, if the climatologists are to be believed, was represented by the storm,” MacGillis wrote. “In the latter instance, we are presented with an administration struggling to contain one particularly dramatic manifestation of a problem—a broken immigration policy—that the administration itself has been trying to fix, has indeed made its chief priority for the remainder of the president’s term, but has been stymied in comprehensively addressing by the identity crisis–driven obstructionism and indifference of the party that controls the House of Representatives.”

[SEE: Cartoons on Immigration]

Ed Kilgore of Political Animal wrote that the conservative movement continually compares Obama’s hurdles to those Bush faced, but the metaphor doesn’t hold in this case. “I’d say there’s one more pretty big difference between Bush’s handling of Katrina and Obama’s handling of the ‘border crisis.’ Bush was criticized by liberals for failing to take quick compassionate action to save lives threatened by flooding,” he wrote. “Obama’s being criticized by conservatives for failing to immediately ship children back across the border in cattle cars; some seem to think they should simply be shot on sight. The ethical merits and demerits don’t quite match up.”

The only way to spur Republicans into action on immigration reform is to put them in a corner, writes Lara Brown for U.S. News. “How best to do that?” she asked. “Go to the border. Talk about the dire need for immigration reform. Talk about how a small group of conservative Republicans in the House have been holding reform legislation hostage since 2005. Talk about how these irrational stalwarts – who complain about illegals crashing the border, but never seek to solve the problem — even blocked the efforts led by President George W. Bush and Republican Sen. John McCain.”