Texans see red in controversy over federal aid for wildfires
The outspoken Republican stayed away from Obama’s welcoming ceremony amidst some intimations that the Democratic president was bringing politics into the way his administration authorizes aid to states facing natural disasters.
Texas has been suffering from severe drought and has been fighting wildfires that have consumed more than two million acres. While Obama has issued federal disaster declarations for many states hit by severe weather in recent weeks – tornadoes and floods have besieged much of the U.S. south – he has not done so for Texas, which has inspired some critics to question whether Obama has shunned the state because it is very strongly Republican.
Administration officials note that Washington is already providing millions of dollars in assistance to help with the Texas wildfires, by picking up 75 percent of the cost of fighting the blazes.
“The federal government is picking up a substantial part of that cost,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters traveling to El Paso with Obama. “There is no discrimination between red and blue states.”
He noted that Obama has recently issued federal disaster declarations for Tennessee, Alabama and other states that did not support him when he ran for president in 2008.
The Texas governor said he only wanted to meet with Obama if the president would have a significant discussion with him on issues including border security – an issue central to Obama’s visit to El Paso.
Carney said Perry had been invited to meet with Obama but had turned it down, and said the Texas leader had also been offered a natural security council briefing on the issue of border security, but had also turned that down.
“This administration has been extremely responsive to the state of Texas,” Carney said.
The governor’s office offered its own heated response.
“Governor Perry wanted to meet with the president to discuss the wildfires and border security, not just shake his hand in a receiving line on a tarmac. When the president wants to get serious about the issues facing the people of Texas, the governor will gladly meet with him. Briefings by staff won’t put out fires or secure the border,” Perry spokesman Mark Miner told the Austin American-Statesman.
The Texas newspaper noted that Perry met Obama at the airport when the president visited Austin in August and handed Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett a letter calling for more National Guard troops along the Texas-Mexico border.
Perry later showed footage of their tarmac meeting in a campaign commercial, telling voters that he “confronted” the president, the Texas newspaper said.
PHOTO CREDITS:REUTERS/Jim Young (Obama arrives in Austin, May 10; Perry greets Obama in Austin in Aug.); REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (Perry at CPAC meeting, Feb. 2011); REUTERS/Tim Sharp (Wildfire near Strawn, Texas in April)