A day after he called for an end to perpetual political confrontation, President Barack Obama and his deputies publicly snubbed Arizona’s Republican governor when she welcomed him at the Phoenix airport.
Gov. Jan Brewer met him at first stop of his five-state campaign swing with a hand-written letter asking him to visit the state’s southern border, which is a hotbed of illegal immigration and drug trafficking.
But Obama suddenly turned cold, claiming that her Nov. 2011 book mischaracterized their previous White House meeting in June 2010. He then quickly walked away.
Shortly after, Obama’s press aides released a statement claiming Obama said she “inaccurately described the meeting.” The three-sentence statement ended curtly, saying that “the President looks forward to continuing taking steps to help Arizona’s economy grow.”
Brewer has repeatedly asked for the federal government’s help to secure Arizona’s border with Mexico, where drug wars have claimed more than 40,000 lives in recent years. Smugglers cross the Arizona border to bring their drugs — and their gang fights — into the state and onto the roads further north.
But Obama “doesn’t get it,” Brewer told a radio interviewer Wednesday at Arizona’s KFYI news station.
“He wants to talk about comprehensive immigration reform,” she said, but “we need to talk about the problems that Arizona is facing, and in that context, the problems going on in Mexico … [but] he just doesn’t get it.”
Comprehensive immigration reform is a common Washington, D.C. euphemism for giving amnesty to illegal aliens.
Obama visited Arizona as part of his re-election campaign. His campaign officials say he may be able to win the state in 2012 because of the state’s growing Hispanic population.
The president’s decision to snub Brewer may help him spur Hispanic support, partly because Brewer championed the state’s immigration reform law. In 2010, polls showed the law was supported by more than 70 percent of Arizonans, but only by a quarter of Hispanics.
Since then, the law has been loudly slammed by Obama’s lawyers at the Department of Justice and their allied Hispanic ethnic lobbies, immigration law groups, and various progressive groups.
Obama’s curt treatment of Brewer came the day after he used his State of the Union speech to call for a reduction in partisan rancor.
Better government can’t “happen unless we also lower the temperature in this town.” he declared. “We need to end the notion that the two parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction; that politics is about clinging to rigid ideologies instead of building consensus around common-sense ideas.”
Brewer’s book is titled “Scorpions for Breakfast: My Fight Against Special Interests, Liberal Media, and Cynical Politicos to Secure America’s Border.”
In the book, she described Obama as patronizing during their 2010 meeting when she asked for his help in curbing illegal immigration. His reaction, she wrote, “was though President Obama thought he could lecture me, and I would learn at his knee.”
At the airport, Obama said he “didn’t feel that I had treated him cordially. I said I was sorry he felt that way but I didn’t get my sentence finished” before he walked away, Brewer said.
“He was a little thin-skinned,” Brewer said during an later interview on a local radio station, News/Talk 92.3 KTAR. “I was a bit taken aback by his stance and his attitude” on the tarmac, she said, adding that Obama walked away from her “[as] I was trying to make a point that I thought that my book was right and correct.”
The episode marks yet another occasion when TV cameras catch Obama’s reaction to perceived disrespect. That side of the carefully controlled candidate is usually hidden, but does show on the rare occasions when reporters ask him awkward questions.
Ultimately, the tension between Obama and Brewer may be based on their differences over Hispanic voters.
Brewer said she met with Obama at the airport to hand him an invitation to meet about Arizona’s border problems, and about its recovery, which she dubs the “Arizona comeback.”
“[I] reiterated an invitation that I’ve extended to him before with regards to coming to Arizona and going to the border with me. … We’ve had a remarkable comeback here and I want to share that with him,” Brewer said during the radio interview.
Arizona’s unemployment rate has declined from 10.3 percent in Oct. 2009, to 8.7 percent in December 2011.
That decline has occurred while the state began a partial enforcement of the 2010 immigration reform, amid furious opposition from Obama’s allies.
In July 2010, Obama’s lawyers sued to block the law and won a partial victory in a federal court. In December, the Supreme Court said it would consider the validity of the popular reform.
Obama’s re-election chances, and his odds of wining Arizona’s electoral votes, are heavily dependent on the Hispanic voters who comprise roughly one-third of the state’s electorate.
In November, Obama had only a 41 percent approval rating in the state, according to a poll conducted by the Democratic-affiliated firm Public Policy Polling.
Obama’s allies have tried to spur Hispanic support for Obama by portraying the enforcement of the popular law against illegal-immigration as racist, and he has repeatedly supported the lawsuit against Brewer’s state.