AUSTIN — Defying harsh criticism from Texas Republicans, President Barack Obama said Monday that his 19-month-old presidency has put America "on the right track" and warned against returning to GOP policies that he blamed for the country's economic "mess."
"In a car, when you want to go forward, you put it in D," Obama said at an Austin fundraiser where he raised more than $1 million for Democratic candidates in the midterm elections in November. "When you want to go backward, you put it in R. That's no coincidence."
Gov. Rick Perry, one of the president's biggest critics in the Lone Star State, met Obama on his arrival at Austin-Bergstrom Airport and presented the president with a four-page letter calling for tougher federal enforcement along the state's violence-ridden border with Mexico.
"Clearly, I would have preferred a more in-depth exchange of ideas, but at least I know that this latest letter actually made it to him, and didn't get stuck in those slow-moving gears of government," Perry later said. "I sincerely hope he will take the time to read it, because the growing crisis along our southern border cannot be overlooked any longer."
Obama's visit to the state capital was the first stop in a daylong, two-city journey that ended in Dallas for a second fundraiser. Republicans gathered on the south steps of the Capitol in a late-afternoon "Hands Off Texas" rally to denounce the president's policies, but Obama was out of town by then.
Obama's central goal at the Austin stops -- a Democratic fundraiser at the Four Seasons hotel and a speech at the University of Texas at Austin -- may have been designed to counter repeated attacks from Republicans who control state government. Obama lost the state to Republican John McCain in his 2008 presidential race and fares poorly in Texas opinion polls.
Despite their sharp differences, the brief meeting between Perry and Obama on the airport tarmac seemed cordial and subdued. After the two men shook hands, Perry took his letter from his jacket pocket and handed it to Valerie B. Jarrett, one of the president's senior advisers.
Perry said in the letter that Obama's recent deployment of 286 National Guard personnel to the state's 1,200-mile border with Mexico is "clearly insufficient" and called for "greater resources" to help protect Texas from the threat of spillover violence from Mexico's drug wars. Perry has asked the administration for at least 1,000 National Guard troops as well as surveillance drones.
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