Henry Cuellar, Morning Joe, and the President's Katrina Moment

By Jerry Kammer on July 9, 2014

I hope that this doesn't become President Obama's Katrina moment. 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 for a long time. 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.

— Rep. Manuel Cuellar (D-Texas) on Fox News, likening the president's decision not to visit the border during his Texas trip to President Bush's infamous flyover of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The consensus on Wednesday's "Morning Joe" program on MSNBC was that Rep. Cuellar's critique of President Obama's arms-length involvement in the current border crisis was appropriate. Here are excerpts from the discussion, beginning with introductory conversations with Rep. Cuellar and Cecilia Muñoz of the White House.

Rep. Cuellar: He is going to be 500 miles away from the border. Which makes it even worse when you're so close and you can't even take Air Force One to go down to the border. And when he talks about meeting with local leaders — last night I got some calls saying who are those local leaders? They're certainly not the local leaders from the border.

Cecilia Muñoz, (director of the White House Domestic Policy Council): Smugglers are lying to the parents, telling them that if they put their kids in the hands of the traffickers and get to the United States, that they'll be able to stay. This is not true. ... This is an incredibly dangerous situation for these kids. And a big reason for the uptick in the numbers this year is what smugglers are telling parents, which is deliberate misinformation.

Joe Scarborough: If it's so dangerous and it's such a horrible situation, which it is, why isn't the president going down there?

Muñoz: The president's instructions to his team and his own efforts have been to stay focused on what's going to be most impactful in dealing with this urgent humanitarian situation. ... What he is doing while he's in Texas this week — today he's meeting with community leaders, faith leaders who are trying to be part of the solution here. These are people who have been supporting our work in the shelters who are interested in opening up more shelters for the children.

Scarborough: I just can't help but go back to 2005 to hear the Bush White House talking about all the things they were doing for Hurricane Katrina while the president is staring from 35,000 feet in an airplane.

Chuck Todd (NBC News): It just seems like an unforced error. I don't get it. And the more they've been asked about it the more stubborn they're getting about it, the more they're digging in their heels on this thing. They think, "Oh, this is just a symbolic thing. You know, you guys in the media are ginning this up, Republicans are ginning it up." ... Guess what, your planned trip to Texas is coinciding with a crisis. You go to natural disasters. You tour flood damage. You tour tornado damage. This is a disaster. It's not natural; it's a man-made disaster, but it's a disaster nonetheless. ... The politics of immigration is complicated enough. This is a mess. I know what they're worried about. They're worried about the politics of it, because they're worried about offending members of their own party. They're worried about offending their base on the immigration issue. That's why they haven't really had the president out there saying a majority of these kids are going to get deported back. They're not using the president's image to do this. I think they are concerned about alienating parts of their base.

Mark Halperin (Time Magazine): He's being technocratic and defensive rather than taking the moment to lead. Surf the fact that there's great press and public interest in this. Use the moment to your advantage. Don't go to fundraisers.

Todd: The administration is making an effort to deal with these things. Congress is doing nothing. Congress is 535 pundits at this point. ... They have taken no leadership position on this.

Scarborough: He's going to be in Dallas raising money. He's going to be in Austin raising money. ... If you're going to do that, you've got to go down to the border.