USA — The White House shot back Tuesday at Texas Republicans accusing the president of treating the state unfairly when it comes to disaster assistance.
“This administration has been extremely responsive to the state of Texas’ requests for fire management assistance grants,” press secretary Jay Carney said aboard Air Force One, as President Barack Obama headed to El Paso to talk about immigration and border security.
At last count, all 25 of the state’s requests for such grants – a subset of federal disaster aid – have been approved, he noted. But Texas officials want a declaration of a “major disaster,” which would unleash even more aid.
“In each case, the federal government, the federal taxpayer is paying 75 percent of the cost of fighting these fires in Texas,” Carney said, noting that the president has signed plenty of disaster declarations, when warranted, for states that voted Republican in 2008. “There is no discrimination here between red and blue states.”
The Texas fires have scorched 2.2 million acres since November. About a half-hour before landing in El Paso, passengers in Air Force One spotted a fire of perhaps a hundred acres pumping smoke high into the sky.
“I will not rest until this assault on Texas is rectified,” said Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, R-Texas, whose district covers a huge swath of West Texas. He called it “unconscionable” to ignore impact on acreage bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, all Republicans, have pressed Obama to tour the Texas wildfire damage, hoping to persuade him to reverse the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s rejection of requests for major disaster aid.
Perry also sought a meeting with Obama, to press the case both for more wildfire aid and for another 1,000 National Guard troops along the border, a longstanding demand.
Both the White House and governor’s office say Perry was offered a short meeting on the tarmac in El Paso. Perry spokesman Katherine Cesinger said that was too far to go for limited face time.
“We invited him to meet with the president, and he declined the invitation,” Carney said. “We have also in the past offered him a National Security Council briefing (on border security). He declined that as well.”