U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Winkowski, right, seated next to as Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate, left, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, center, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 9, 2014, before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on the problems with the increased rise in apprehensions at the Southern border. Top Obama administration officials told senators Wednesday they're struggling to keep up with the surge of immigrants at the Southern border.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell blamed Obama administration policies Thursday for the sudden arrival of tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors at the southern border and said the president's emergency spending request amounted to more of the same.
"What he appears to be asking for is a blank check — one that would allow him to sustain his current failed policy," McConnell said on the Senate floor as dispute over the border crisis and President Barack Obama's response mounted on Capitol Hill. "We want to make sure we actually get the right tools to help fix the problem. And that's not what we've seen so far from the president."
House Speaker John Boehner raised similar concerns a day earlier in comments to reporters and was noncommittal about bringing the measure to a vote.
"If we don't secure the border, nothing's going to change," said Boehner, R-Ohio. "And if you look at the president's request, it's all more about continuing to deal with the problem."
McConnell's comments came a day after Obama, in Dallas, appealed to Congress to act quickly on his $3.7 billion emergency spending request aimed at stemming the growing tide of arrivals from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
"The only question at this point is why wouldn't the Texas delegation or any of the other Republicans who are concerned about this not want to put this on a fast track and get this on my desk so I can sign it and we can start getting to work?" Obama said after meeting with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican with presidential ambitions who's harshly criticized Obama over the crisis.
"The problem here is not major disagreement," Obama said. "If they're interested in solving the problem, then this can be solved. If the preference is for politics, then it won't be solved."
Perry, in his own statement following the meeting, made no promises to help Obama shore up GOP support for the supplemental spending package and instead underscored the notion that the border crisis was the result of Obama's "bad public policy" on immigration.
Perry also kept up the pressure on Obama to make a border visit, telling CBS, "that's what presidents do. That's what leaders do. They show up and they interact."
"I'm not interested in photo ops," Obama shot back in response to such criticism. "I'm interested in solving a problem."
Obama was wrapping up his Texas visit Thursday afternoon with an economic speech in Austin, around the same time that his Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, was to appear before the Senate Appropriations Committee to make the case for the emergency spending request.
The money is intended to add immigration judges, detention facilities, aid for the children and teens arriving here without their parents, and programs to deter people from fleeing the Central American nations where vicious gang violence is driving them north.
Johnson faces a tough sell as Republicans have criticized Obama for asking them for money but not for policy reforms, specifically amending a 2008 law to address human trafficking that's contributed to the problem by guaranteeing court hearings to the arriving youths. In practice that often results in them staying here indefinitely.
The White House says it wants to change that law, but immigration advocates and some Democrats objected, and so far the White House has not put forward those reforms.
Democrats have raised their own questions about how the emergency money would be spent and whether too much of it would go for enforcement, rather than measures to help the children.
More than 57,000 unaccompanied kids have arrived since October even as tens of thousands more have arrived traveling as families, mostly mothers with their children.
Many are trying to reunite with family members and to escape violence, but they also report hearing rumors that once here, they would be allowed to stay. Republicans blame Obama policies aimed at curbing deportations of immigrants brought into the country illegally as children for contributing to those rumors, something Obama administration officials have largely rejected.
The situation has complicated the already rancorous debate over remaking the nation's immigration laws at a moment when Obama has declared legislative efforts to do so dead and announced plans to proceed on his own executive authority to change the flawed system where he can.
White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report from Dallas.
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