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What's Henry Cuellar's problem with Obama?

By Halimah Abdullah, CNN
updated 7:25 PM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
  • Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar has stridently criticized Obama's handling of the border crisis
  • Cuellar is seen as a moderate Democrat who diverged from his party on some issues
  • The son of migrant farm workers, Cuellar's district borders the Rio Grande Valley
  • He's offering bipartisan legislation aimed at speeding up the deportation process

Washington (CNN) -- Rep. Henry Cuellar has lost patience with President Barack Obama over his response to the surge of minors from Central America crossing the southern border.

The Texas lawmaker has criticized the administration's handling of what it has called a "humanitarian crisis," and is urging a reluctant Obama to visit affected areas. He's also unwilling to write Obama a blank check for his $3.7 billion proposal to Congress for addressing the matter.

"We just can't just trust the President and say we are going to give you exactly every penny you want," he told CNN in an interview.

He also says he hopes Obama's decision to skip a border visit doesn't become his "Katrina moment," a reference to how the heavily criticized federal response to the devastating hurricane and its aftermath was a defining moment in George W. Bush's presidency.

Cuellar's sentiment is right in line with Republican critics giving Obama heat over the unexpected influx of minors from Central America, many of them unaccompanied, and now mired in bureaucratic limbo and caught in the middle of a partisan political firefight.

But Cuellar's a Democrat who is going after a President of the same party in a high-stakes election year during which immigration has gained prominence as a campaign issue.

He told Fox News on Wednesday that he's gotten calls and visits from White House officials but is not giving much thought to that.

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"I'm more concerned about my constituents," Cuellar said, noting the perils facing the tens of thousands of kids coming across the border in record numbers and overwhelming border and immigration services.

While the current crisis is taking place in Cuellar's back yard in conservative-led Texas, his crossing of Obama and Democrats is not new for him.

He was endorsed by the Conservative Club for Growth during his 2006 primary and backed George W. Bush in the 2000 election that propelled him to the White House.

His bruising 2004 primary battle for the House seat then held by Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, who at the time headed the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, won him few friends in the caucus, comprised of Democrats.

Cuellar endorsed Hillary Clinton over Obama for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination and even raised money for her campaign.

He also was one of 27 Democrats who voted against Wall Street reform legislation backed strongly by Obama early in his presidency.

And in 2001, Republican Gov. Rick Perry's appointed Cuellar as Texas secretary of state, a post he held for 10 months.

Democrats were unhappy about Cuellar's 2012 support of a redistricting proposal backed by the Perry administration. Critics said he supported the proposal in an effort to ensure a favorable district for himself, a charge he denied.

Some Democrats also question Cuellar's latest move: a plan to introduce bipartisan legislation on Thursday with Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn to address the southern border situation.

That measure favored by GOP members would reverse a Bush-era law that allows illegal immigrant children from Central American countries to stay in the United States as their cases wend through the backlogged adjudication process.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a staunch immigration reform advocate, said on CNN's "Crossfire" on Wednesday "I wouldn't not support the legislation."

After Obama's Texas trip, what now for the immigration crisis?

Boehner on immigration: When will Obama take responsibility?

Obama seeks emergency immigration funds, more authority

CNN's Deidre Walsh contributed to this report.

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