Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), this week
, on a presidential photo-op at the U.S/Mexico border:
"If it's serious enough for him to send a $3.7 billion funding request to us, I would think it would be serious enough for him to take an hour of his time on Air Force One to go down and see for himself what the conditions are," Cornyn told reporters.
"What Sen. Cornyn is looking for, President Obama cannot deliver with another speech or photo op, and that's presidential leadership. Words matter little when there is no action," said Kevin McLaughlin, a Cornyn spokesman.
I'll confess that this is one of the unexpected political hullabaloos of the week. It's not at all surprising that policymakers in both parties are taking the border crisis and the plight of these poor children seriously, but it was hard to predict that much of the political conversation would focus less on a proposed solution and more on whether or not the president literally, physically makes a symbolic gesture by going to the border itself.
Much of the overheated rhetoric has come from the far-right -- Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) inexplicably said
the president "disrespects our military" by not going to the border -- but it's not entirely partisan. Some congressional Democrats have added to
"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?" Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told
msnbc's Andrea Mitchell yesterday.
As best as I can tell, no one in either party has said exactly what they want Obama to do at the border, other than just go there for some undefined period of time before leaving. It appears to be a bipartisan hunger for more political theater, just for the sake of symbolism.
President Obama, at least so far, is pursuing a very different approach.
After meeting with Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and a variety of officials in Dallas yesterday, the president held a press conference in which the very first question was on this topic. "There are increasing calls not just from Republicans, but also from some Democrats for you to visit the border during this trip," the reporter noted. "Can you explain why you didn't do that?" Obama replied:
"Jeh Johnson has now visited, at my direction, the border five times. He's going for a sixth this week. He then comes back and reports to me extensively on everything that's taking place. So there's nothing that is taking place down there that I am not intimately aware of and briefed on. "This isn't theater. This is a problem. I'm not interested in photo ops; I'm interested in solving a problem. And those who say I should visit the border, when you ask them what should we be doing, they're giving us suggestions that are embodied in legislation that I've already sent to Congress. So it's not as if they're making suggestions that we're not listening to. In fact, the suggestions of those who work at the border, who visited the border, are incorporated in legislation that we're already prepared to sign the minute it hits my desk."
For the president's critics, this wasn't good enough. I'm not sure why.