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Border spat: When optics and substance don’t meet

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  July 10, 2014 at 8:55 AM EST
President Obama is greeted by Texas Gov. Rick Perry as he arrives in Dallas, Texas Wednesday for a meeting with local elected officials and faith leaders to discuss the humanitarian situation at the Southwest border. Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama is greeted by Texas Gov. Rick Perry as he arrives in Dallas, Texas Wednesday for a meeting with local elected officials and faith leaders to discuss the humanitarian situation at the Southwest border. Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • President Obama pushes back on calls to visit border, says he’s “not interested in photo-ops”
  • For administration, optics still matter
  • Yet another ‘Katrina’ moment?
  • Hill Democrats look to overturn Hobby Lobby decision

Border problems: President Barack Obama wraps up his three-day trip to Colorado and Texas Thursday with another fundraiser (closed to the press) at 10:50 a.m. ET and then with remarks on the economy at 1:15 p.m. ET in Austin before heading back to Washington this afternoon. But much of what drove yesterday’s political discussion was the optics of President Obama not heading to the border to view what’s happening with the unaccompanied minors crisis while the day before he was playing pool and drinking beer with Colorado’s governor. Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar on MSNBC echoed his comments on Fox from the day before saying he hoped this didn’t become a “Katrina moment” for Obama. Mr. Obama and Texas Gov. Rick Perry did, in fact, meet. Obama said it was a “good” meeting but he encouraged Perry to urge his Republican colleagues to approve his $3.7 billion request to deal with the border crisis. Perry, for his part, went on Fox’s Hannity Wednesday night and was less magnanimous, also making the Katrina comparison. “I’m pretty sure if George Bush had said, ‘Well, I sent my FEMA director down multiple times,’ he would have still been criticized greatly because, you need to go,” Perry said.

The optics can matter, because the substance gets lost: Like all too often happens with this White House, it didn’t handle the optics well and appeared slow to respond to a PR problem. It again didn’t see the attacks coming — or didn’t take them seriously — and apparently didn’t reach out to Capitol Hill Democrats like Cuellar to get them in line. And that makes it much more difficult for a president to drive the message HE wants rather than being held captive by a narrative. That said, at the end of the day, it’s the policy — what you are going to do about it — that matters. Perry said he wants the president to go to the border because it’s “important for you to absorb as a father.” That presumes the president and the White House aren’t taking this seriously. We know what the White House WANTS to do about it. It’s laid out in the $3.7 billion supplemental request. It’s just that the president and congressional Republicans disagree on how to deal with it. Ask yourself this: If President Obama showed up on the border, would the Republicans criticizing him for not going turn around and approve the request to deal with the crisis? But we might get back to some of the substance today. The Senate Appropriations Committee holds a hearing at 2:30 p.m. ET on the supplemental request, and watch the Foreign Relations hearing with the president’s pick to be ambassador to Guatemala at 10 a.m. ET.

Everything turns into a Katrina comparison: Speaking of the Katrina comparison, how many Katrinas can one president be accused of having? As others have also pointed out, everything from the BP oil spill, Superstorm Sandy, the Haiti earthquake, Benghazi and the IRS, to the health care rollout, the financial crisis, Fort Hood, and even the underwear bomber and swine flu have been dubbed in some form as a genuine or possible Obama “Katrina Moment.” Either he’s had a lot of unmitigated disasters that probably would have precluded him from winning a second term, or it’s an overwrought, hyperbolic comparison. Of course, candidate Obama also used the comparison himself in 2008 accusing his opponent Sen. John McCain of having a “Katrina-like response” on the financial crisis. Maybe it’s just another point to add to the political adaptation of Godwin’s Law — the first one to go to Nazis — or Katrina — loses the argument. Maybe.

Democrats take aim at Hobby Lobby decision: Congressional Democrats introduced a measure Wednesday that would override the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case that found family-owned companies could deny contraceptive coverage because of religious objections. The legislation would require for-profit employers that provide health insurance to cover contraceptive coverage and other preventive services mandated by the Affordable Care Act. As Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn writes, the bill “would essentially exempt the Affordable Care Act from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law that the Supreme Court said the contraception requirement violated.” There is little chance the measure will pass the Senate, where Democrats would need GOP support to get the 60 votes necessary to advance the proposal. And it’s a near certainty the Republican-controlled House would block any attempt to bring the measure to the floor for a vote. Given those legislative hurdles, the effort by Democrats seems to be more aimed at putting Republican lawmakers on record on a hot-button issue and energizing women to vote in the midterm elections this November. It’s also worth noting that one of the co-sponsors of the Senate bill is Colorado Democrat Mark Udall, who is facing a tough re-election fight this fall. His race is perhaps the prime example of how Democrats are explicitly trying to exploit the gender gap, attacking GOP Rep. Cory Gardner for supporting a “personhood” measure and opposing abortion rights.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1991, President George W. Bush lifted economic sanctions against South Africa. When were the sanctions originally imposed and why?
Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Nicandro Iannacci (‏@niannacci) and Mason James (@MasonJames10) for guessing Wednesday’s trivia: How did President Zachary Taylor die? The answer was: Cholera was the official diagnosis, but that has been disputed by historians.

LINE ITEMS

  • The Wall Street Journal put out an op-ed from Karl Rove late Tuesday, in which the Republican political consultant criticized the timing of Mr. Obama’s fundraising stops and his “lack of judgment”.

  • The latest WMUR Granite State poll released Wednesday found that among likely voters in the New Hampshire Senate race, 50 percent would vote for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, while 38 percent would vote for former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. Twelve percent of likely voters are still undecided.

  • Americans for Prosperity released new ads Wednesday going after a pair of vulnerable Senate Democrats. In Louisiana, the conservative advocacy group is attacking Sen. Mary Landrieu for failing to use her “clout” in Washington to deliver on energy jobs and policies. In Arkansas, the group hits Sen. Mark Pryor over the lack of jobs in the state.

  • Former chairman of the Maryland Republican Party Alex Mooney is running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives…to represent West Virginia. And he’s working hard to dispel that carpetbagger label.

  • The legacy of West Virginia Rep. Shelley Moore Capito’s father, a former governor with five felony corruption convictions, will help the GOP Senate candidate win and lose votes this fall.

  • According to new emails released by the House Oversight Committee, former IRS official Lois Lerner cautioned her staff to be wary of what they included in emails, in case Congress ever intervened. House Republicans are accusing Lerner of using an internal instant messaging system instead of email so that her communications would not traceable.

  • The Senate voted 71 to 26 on Wednesday to confirm San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro as the next secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Fellow Texan Sen. John Cornyn was in the yes group, while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz opposed the confirmation.

  • The House Select Committee on Benghazi participated in a classified briefing with administration officials Wednesday that focused on the Libyan militia leader Ahmed Abu Khattala, who has been charged with organizing the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi.

  • Politico’s Lauren French looks at women’s role on the Hill first with a profile of Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s deputy floor director, Kelly Dixon, one of the few female senior staffers for congressional leadership. Part of this changing tide of female staffers includes Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s office, which is dominated by women.

  • Chelsea Clinton commands $75,000 per speaking engagement — higher than that of some of her mother’s political contemporaries — although her spokesman says that unlike those for her parents, all of her speaking fees go to the Clinton Foundation and many of her appearances are unpaid.

  • House Majority PAC has made an additional $7.3 million in airtime reservations across 13 media markets.

  • Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has been sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for public corruption.

  • The Washington Post’s Paul Kane overheard Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., call out to Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., in the Capitol basement Wednesday, “Mario! Get those people off my back!” referring to the Cubans whom the New Jersey Democrat thinks tried to plant stories about him and underage prostitutes.

  • Colorado joined the ranks of more than 15 other states Wednesday, when a federal judge overturned the state’s gay marriage ban. However, the judge immediately stayed the ruling, writing that it was to “avoid the instability and uncertainty which would result”.

  • Meanwhile in Utah, state Attorney General Sean Reyes announced he will go directly to the Supreme Court with his appeal of the June ruling from the federal appeals court, which backed gay marriage.

  • In former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s forthcoming book, with a forward from Mike Huckabee, the failed Senate candidate says he regrets publicly apologizing for his remarks about rape in a campaign ad.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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