Did Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer disrespect President Obama?

Governor Jan Brewer was waiting at the bottom of the steps when President Obama alighted from Air Force One Wednesday. The two could be seen talking over each other at times.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer points at President Barack Obama after he arrived at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, Wednesday, in Mesa, Ariz. Both could be seen smiling, but speaking at the same time.

Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and President Obama got into a little tiff at the airport in Phoenix yesterday, if you haven’t heard. Governor Brewer was waiting at the bottom of the steps when Obama alighted from Air Force One. She handed him a letter, they started talking, and things quickly got, well , out of hand. According to photos from the scene, at one point Brewer appears to be waving her finger in Obama’s face.

Was Brewer disrespecting the President of the United States?

Well, she says she wasn’t. At least she says she wasn’t deliberately waving her digit up around his eyeballs in a threatening manner.

“When I talk I am animated and I talk with my hands,” Brewer told Greta Van Susteren last night on Fox. “The picture was probably shot when I was moving my hands around.”

However, Brewer went on to describe Obama as “thin-skinned.” He was complaining about how she had depicted a White House meeting between them in her memoir, “Scorpions for Breakfast,” she said.

The subject of that meeting was Arizona’s tough law cracking down on illegal immigrants, which Brewer signed into law and the administration opposes.

“It was [as] though President Obama thought he could lecture me, and I would learn at his knee,” she wrote. “He thinks he can humor me and then get rid of me.”

Well, we’ve got a couple of things to say about this.

First, if Brewer’s account of the incident is accurate, why did Obama bring the book up?  

Somebody who wrote a book with that title like “Scorpions for Breakfast” isn’t going to shy from a fight, rightly or wrongly. President Bill Clinton would have eased the moment with a joke – handed her a scorpion paperweight, perhaps – and then pulled Arizona’s Medicaid funds when she wasn’t looking.

Second, the subject is fraught right now, so maybe they’re both on edge. The fate of Arizona’s immigration bill is before the Supreme Court, which will make a decision prior to the 2012 election. The bill requires local police to check the immigration status of anyone they detain who they suspect is here illegally, among other things. The high court decision could shape US immigration policy for a generation – so when that comes down, the finger-wagging thing will seem like a minor blip.

Third, politically-speaking, the incident may help both parties.

Look at how it’s already boosted Brewer’s profile: she was on Fox discussing it only hours after it was over. Twitter is full of people who want Newt Gingrich to name her his vice-presidential choice. That wasn’t happening a day ago. And right now, Obama isn’t doing great in Brewer’s state, so the finger-wagging shouldn’t hurt her at home.

A Public Policy Polling poll from last November put Obama’s approval rating in Arizona at only 41 percent. According to PPP, right now Obama trails Mitt Romney in a head-to-head match-up by around six points.

That said, Arizona is a state Obama could conceivably win in the fall. Its large Hispanic population might be energized by the president’s stance on immigration, and could rally around him due to their own governor’s hard-line position. The more threatened Hispanics feel, the more they might turn out in November.

“An Obama victory in Arizona next year isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility, but it looks like an uphill climb,” said PPP in November.

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