Obama and Perry talk border issues: Who has upper hand?

Wednesday's meeting is billed as an exchange of ideas over border issues that could boost Gov. Rick Perry's stature in the GOP. It could also give Obama a talking point that House Republicans are not so eager to talk about.

Eric Gay/AP/File
A group of immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador who crossed the US-Mexico border illegally are stopped in Granjeno, Texas, on June 25, 2014. President Obama and Texas Gov. Rick Perry meet on Wednesday to discuss the crisis.

President Obama and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) will meet to discuss border issues after all. Governor Perry accepted a White House invitation to join a Dallas meeting with local officials and faith leaders on the immigration crisis that takes place late Wednesday afternoon.

Will there be a ritual photograph of the two men exchanging some sort of greeting? There may be, but Perry has successfully upgraded his presidential encounter from a tarmac handshake to something that can be described as substantive. He’d refused a previously offered grip-and-grin with Mr. Obama at the Austin airport. So, in that sense, the outcome – so far – looks like a Perry win.

By “win," we mean it might boost Perry’s stature within his own party. He has forced Obama to change his plans (somewhat) and will get to put himself on the US chief executive’s level with an exchange of ideas. That’s a big step up for a possible 2016 presidential candidate whose 2012 campaign ended in a pile of “oops” during a nationally televised debate. It might help Perry appear more presidential to GOP primary voters. It will certainly help him with the conservative core, many of whom want their party to stand up to Obama, particularly on the immigration issue.

“Rick Perry two-stepped his way back into the national spotlight this week, using the crisis at the border to skewer President Barack Obama while pumping up his own conservative bona fides,” reads the top of a piece by Politico’s Katie Glueck on Wednesday. 

Perry’s gain is not necessarily Obama’s loss, however. For one thing, the president is already in trouble on the appearances of his Texas visit, whatever the outcome of his negotiations with the Lone Star State’s governor. Even some Democrats have questioned his decision to not travel to the border during a Texas swing largely devoted to fundraising for congressional candidates. Pushed on this issue, the White House seems to have doubled down on its resolution to not engage in a visit that many officials regard as mere staged political theater. The result?

“As he travels to Texas today, President Obama as a clear optics problem,” write Chuck Todd and the gang at NBC’s “First Read."

Perhaps the Perry visit offers a solution to Obama’s dilemma. He can say something about how he enjoyed the full and frank exchange of views with Perry on a matter of great importance to the nation. Then he can pivot and compare Perry’s willingness to meet with the hostility of congressional Republicans, who have been decidedly cool to Obama’s request for $3.7 billion in additional cash to help pay for additional border protections.

Maybe the House GOP leadership will push for a less-expensive effort, or otherwise offer a plan for further action. If they just say “no,” they risk appearing as “all hat and no cattle,” in a phrase beloved by generations of Texas politicians. And that might open the way to an even more expansive use of presidential authority by the White House. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reports on his left-leaning “Plum Line” blog, the administration is discussing whether it can unilaterally ease the pace of deportations.

“This is going to be one of the most consequential decisions of his presidency in substantive, moral and legal terms, and politically, it could set off a bomb this fall, in the middle of the midterm elections,” writes Mr. Sargent.

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