As the dispute over federal aid for Texas wildfires intensified, Gov. Rick Perry and President Barack Obama didn't meet during his trip to the Lone Star State on Tuesday, each side blaming the other.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the Republican governor declined an offer to meet Obama in El Paso, where the president pushed for immigration reform.
Perry's office said the White House turned down an offer to tour wildfire-ravaged areas or meet in Austin, the state's capital, where Obama attended two fundraisers Tuesday night. Perry did not want to travel 500 miles just to shake Obama's hand on the tarmac in El Paso, but he wanted to discuss issues with the president, said Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger.
Perry is "dismayed" over the White House's recent rejection of his request for a major disaster declaration for areas of Texas affected by the wildfires.
"This administration needs to be responsive to the people in the state of Texas," Perry said last week.
But Carney said the Obama administration has been "extremely responsive" to Texas by providing at least 25 wildfire management assistance grants. Each Federal Emergency Management Agency grant reimburses 75 percent of the state's costs specifically for equipment, firefighters' meals and other emergency response work.
"So there is plenty, considerable federal assistance flowing to Texas to deal with these serious wildfires. We take this very seriously," Carney said while traveling to El Paso aboard Air Force One.
He dismissed suggestions by some Republicans that Obama was playing politics when declaring a disaster area, saying that in the states ravaged by natural disasters, "there was no discrimination here between red and blue states."
A disaster declaration would provide a wide range of federal assistance for residents and public infrastructure. Perry has said the FEMA grants will help with only a small percentage of the Texas fires that have scorched more than 2.3 million acres since November. Among those was a blaze that started near Possum Kingdom Lake, about 75 miles west of Fort Worth, and destroyed more than 160 homes as it burned into three counties for two weeks.
Perry -- who has criticized the Obama administration for overspending and for government encroachment on health care and border security -- and the president have not discussed issues during the Obama's previous Texas visits.
The two met briefly in early August, shaking hands after Obama's plane landed in Austin, where he was attending fundraisers and speaking to college students. Then Perry handed an Obama adviser a letter warning about the "dire threat" from drug violence along the U.S.-Mexico border and asking Obama to send more resources to the region.
They didn't meet at all in late August when Obama spent more than an hour in El Paso to thank Fort Bliss troops for their service in Iraq. Perry turned down an offer to meet with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and a top Obama adviser on border issues. The governor wanted to meet with Obama but aides said the president would not be available, Cesinger said.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
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