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Runaway country: Why is Washington so bad at crisis management?

President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden.
Getty Images
President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden.

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.

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Covering crises in New Media

And a third layer to all of this is us -- the media. We easily move from crisis to crisis, sometimes stoking it along the way. "Look at what's happening in Ukraine! Why can't Obama stop Putin?" "Look at what's happening at the VA! Why didn't Obama and Congress do more to foresee the mismanagement and respond to the horror stories?" "Look at what's happening in Iraq! Why didn't the White House see ISIS coming?" And now: "Look at what's happening on the border! Why didn't the administration and Congress anticipate this happening?"

But here is the rub: Notice how quickly some of those older stories have disappeared from the front pages. Remember Ukraine? What about the VA? (Quick: Name the person Obama appointed to be the new VA secretary. Here is the answer.) In some ways, this justifies the administration's reaction mode to crises -- because a week later, it knows the media will be devouring another story. Of course, what matters most, politically, is what the public is digesting.

And while none of these stories is likely penetrating at a crisis-like level for the average American, the collection of these stories clearly is. What else explains the poor marks the president and Congress and the entire Washington structure is receiving?

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Other moving parts in this immigration story

The Obama administration says that its desire for "expanded authorities" to deal with the border crisis is separate from its $2 billion request. "We already sent a letter to the congressional Leadership last week on our desire for expanded authorities and we are still seeking those authorities and have made clear we will work with Congress to get those authorities," an administration official tells NBC's Peter Alexander. (But just because it's separate, does NOT mean the administration is somehow open to NOT seeing the law changed. Right now, the biggest roadblock to the White House request for the law to be changed is not Republicans but Democrats, who are quietly trying to pressure the White House to back off its ask on changing the 2008 law.)

The Austin American-Statesman is reporting that the White House is open to President Obama having a meeting with Texas Gov. Rick Perry to discuss the immigration situation… Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is calling for Obama go to border when he travels to Texas on Wednesday. "Going to Texas, without going to the border," McCain said. "I don't know how you do that — go to fundraisers and don't go to the border and see for yourself how we are being inundated by tens of thousands."

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No Surrender in Mississippi

Chris McDaniel isn't going away after losing his Senate GOP runoff last month by nearly 7,000 votes. "State Sen. Chris McDaniel's attorney confirmed Monday the campaign's plans to challenge the results of last month's Senate runoff, arguing the only solution is to hold a new election for the GOP nomination," Roll Call reports.

In addition, McDaniel yesterday sent a fundraising solicitation entitled: "How Democrats stole our election." From the email: "Thad Cochran's campaign used leftist tactics to steal the runoff election by soliciting illegal votes from liberal Democrats... We have evidence of voter fraud in Mississippi, and I am challenging the results of the election." (That said, we still haven't seen evidence of vote fraud or African-American Democrats voting illegally in the runoff.) And now Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) appears to be calling colleague Sen. Thad Cochran's (R-MS) win "appalling." Politico: "'We've seen serious allegations of voter fraud,' Cruz said on 'The Mark Levin Show.' 'And I very much hope that no Republican was involved in voter fraud. But these allegations need to be vigorously investigated and anyone involved in criminal conduct should be prosecuted.'

Earlier in the program, Cruz criticized the Washington establishment for its meddling in the runoff: 'What happened in Mississippi was appalling. Primaries are always rough and tumble, but the conduct of the Washington, D.C., machine in the Mississippi runoff was incredibly disappointing.'" Um, Cruz is still the vice chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which supports its incumbents like Thad Cochran.

Read More Obama, Congress should have listened to me: Pickens

Wolf hits Roberts in new radio ad

Meanwhile, in Kansas, Tea Party candidate Milton Wolf is up with a new radio ad hitting Sen. Pat Roberts for his recent quip, "Every time I get an opponent, uh, I mean every time I get a chance, I'm home [in Kansas]." And Politico gets a mea culpa from Roberts. "During the interview with POLITICO, Roberts expressed regret for renting out his home and switching his voter registration to his friends' house. An Army captain — who is now in charge of recruiting in the area — needed a place to live, so, Roberts said, he agreed to rent him his home.

But given the headaches, he suggested he would've been better off staying put. 'Now, hindsight, maybe I shouldn't have done it,' Roberts said. But he added: 'I am from Dodge City, I've been there 30 years. I've owned houses, I've rented houses, I've paid taxes in Dodge City, I vote in Dodge City. I don't know what else I can do in Dodge City.'" The primary is Aug. 5.

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GOP convention pick likely to come today

Finally, the Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting that Cleveland could know as early as today if it's the pick for the GOP's 2016 convention. "Republicans are interested in an earlier convention -- June or July -- to allow their presidential nominee more time to raise money before the general election. If the party favors a June date, that could be a leg up for Cleveland, where leaders are open to accommodating such a schedule."

Dallas is the other finalist, and here is how the Dallas Morning News sets the stage. "The GOP will announce early Tuesday afternoon whether Dallas or Cleveland will host the 2016 convention… Dallas has long been considered a front-runner, even though the city got a late start to the high stakes competition… Dallas, on the other hand, can't rearrange things for a June date. Even if contingency plans were made for the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars, officials have said that the city doesn't have the necessary hotel space in late June to properly host the GOP delegates."

Expect the decision to be announced around 11:30 am or noon ET.

— By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Carrie Dann, NBC News

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