Crisis management in the Age of Obama
Another week, another crisis for the Obama White House -- this time all the Central American children who have crossed into the country. Today, the White House is formally asking Congress for about $2 billion for immigration judges, attorneys, and asylum officials. But what we find striking is that this is yet another event controlling the White House rather than the other way around. Here is the formula, which we also saw recently with the crisis in Ukraine, the crisis at the VA, and the new crisis in Iraq: A conflict or public-policy problem gets a tremendous amount of media attention.
Congress and the political opposition begin pointing fingers at the White House. And then the White House -- after hedging, hemming and hawing -- finally reacts. This was especially true after DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson dodged the question Sunday on "Meet the Press" whether the children would be deported, and then a day later when White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest answered affirmatively that they would be deported. In short, the White House is always reacting and rarely gets ahead of a problem.
Their response is usually the same: We didn't see this coming; it's much worse than we anticipated, all leaving the impression that they just don't have their arms around the government they run. The question is whether this is the new normal in this age of polarization and speedy news cycles, or if this is unique to Obama's presidency?
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Crisis management with the Do-Nothing Congress
But that is just one layer to this story. Another layer is Congress' inability to legislate -- and its preference instead to politicize any public policy issue for maximum partisan gain. Your 113th Congress spends more time pointing fingers than solving problems. A case in point is this immigration story. After all, the "Gang of 8" immigration legislation -- which the Senate passed a year ago but which the House won't act on -- spends billions and billions on additional border enforcement. Yet that legislation (or any compromise to it) is dead for this year and perhaps the rest of Obama's presidency.
So this isn't just the administration's crisis; it's Congress', too. As for the White House's $2 billion request for the border, House GOP leaders are taking a wait-and-see approach. When First Read asked Speaker John Boehner's spokesman if the House would pass the request before the August recess, he responded: "We won't know until we see what's actually in it." When we followed up by asking if it could pass if it's a reasonable request, he added, "We'll see." Hard to imagine that either party wants this legislation staring them in the face after Labor Day in an election year. One has got to assume it's August or bust.