Politics
FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks about automatic defense budget cuts during a visit to Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries in Newport News, Va. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks about automatic defense budget cuts during a visit to Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries in Newport News, Va. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)  

GOP, media put White House on sequester defensive

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

GOP leaders and PR officials are slamming the White House’s effort to shield itself from the decision to release hundreds of illegal immigrants from federal jail, even prior to the arrival of the sequester budget trims.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the GOP criticism stepped up their criticism of the jailhouse release, and skeptical reporters began pressing administration officials to justify their threats to various high-profile programs.

“This was a [release] decision made by career officials … without any input from the White House,” White House spokesman Jay Carney claimed during the midday press conference.

Carney reiterated the point a few moments later. “This was a decision made by career officials at ICE, without any input from the White House, as a result of fiscal uncertainty over the continuing resolution, as well as [the] possible sequester,” he insisted.

GOP flacks were unsympathetic; “1) President says he’ll let criminals loose bc of #sequester 2) His DHS does so 3) He says he knows nothing about it,” said tweet from Rory Cooper, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

“One person has this control?” he tweeted later. “It’s ok folks. President Obama will be answering questions about the criminal release on The View next week,” he added.

Cooper also compared the release to other White House scandals, where officials denied knowledge or a role in the problems. “We didn’t know about Fast and Furious. We didn’t know about Benghazi. We didn’t know about criminal release,” Cooper said.

Top Hill Republicans continue to highlight the controversial release.

“This decision reflects the lack of resource prioritization within the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement and is indicative of the Department’s weak stance on national security,” said a statement from Rep. Michael McCaul, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

The White House’s backpedaling comes as more reporters in establishment media outlets are highlighting the White House’s effort to maximize concern about the pending budget cuts, which will leave the federal budget very close to the 2012 level.

Amid the skeptical pushback from the media, White House officials, including Obama, have begun saying the impact of the budget cuts will not be felt immediately.

On Wednesday, for example, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the impact will not be felt for a few months.

“All of those cuts I walked through — the early childhood piece, the K-12 piece, the higher ed piece — those are all cuts that would be hitting in the fall,” he told reporters at Carney’s midday press conference. “Over the next month or two you’ll see lots of pink slips go out. … It’s usually March and April where that happens, but these are all things that would happen for the fall.”

The sequester is expected by the Congressional Budget office to nick the government’s $3.8 trillion budget by $42 billion between March and October. Overall, that’s a cut of 1.2 percent. But because entitlement programs are excluded it will trim 2013 spending and program starts at the Pentagon and numerous agencies by roughly 5 percent.

Midday Feb. 27, The Washington Post article debunked Duncan’s claim that teachers are already getting the pink-slips because of the sequester cuts.

“When he was pressed in a White House briefing Wednesday to come up with an example, Duncan named a single county in West Virginia and acknowledged, ‘whether it’s all sequester-related, I don’t know,’” said the Post article.

“Apparently sky is not falling — Teacher pink slips claim by Duncan not backed by evidence,” said a tweet from Sean Spicer, communications director at the Republican National Committee.

Similarly, a CNN report quizzed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about his agencies’ plans to trim $2 billion from its annual budget of $155 billion.

“We don’t have the capacity or flexibility … there is no wiggle room,” to target the cuts, Vilsack claimed. Fraud on the department’s foot-stamp programs is already down to 1 percent, he claimed.

Follow Neil on Twitter