WASHINGTON – Texas Gov. Rick Perry called for greater U.S. involvement in Iraq and delivered a blistering critique of the Obama administration’s immigration policies and its efforts to secure the southern border.
Perry appeared at the Heritage Foundation on Thursday to deliver a speech on immigration reform and immigration security.
His first public appearance in Washington since being indicted on two felony counts, the Texas Republican dedicated the first part of his talk to the issue.
“There are some interesting things going on in my home state,” Perry told the standing-room- only crowd at the Heritage Foundation’s Allison Auditorium. “There are a few public officials in Travis County who have taken issue with an exercise of my constitutional veto authority. These are fundamental principles that are very important, namely a governor’s power to veto legislation and funding and the right of freedom of speech. I am very confident in my case and I can assure that I will fight this attack on our system of government and with my fellow citizens, both Republicans and Democrats, I will defend our constitution and stand up for the rule of law.”
Perry pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that he abused the power of his office when he vetoed funding to a state anti-corruption agency overseen by Rosemary Lehmberg.
Perry had asked Lehmberg to resign after she was arrested last summer for driving while intoxicated, threatening to veto the agency’s $7.5 million appropriation. After Lehmberg refused to step down, the governor made good on his threat.
The first charge – abuse of official capacity – was for vetoing the funding. The second – coercion of a public servant – was for demanding Lehmberg resign.
Perry, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, touched upon the same theme of social order in his remarks about immigration and border security.
He said defending the border is not a “political option” but a “constitutional obligation” and any talk about immigration reform is “pointless because Washington has no credibility” on the issue.
Perry said he does not oppose comprehensive immigration reform, but he insists on “comprehensive border enforcement” first.
“Border security after all is the nearest front of national security, and I’m sorry to say that today this front is largely undefended,” he said.
Perry criticized President Obama for leaving the border open to drug cartels and terrorist organizations, including individuals associated with the Islamic State – the caliphate formed by al-Qaeda in Iraq successors fighting government forces in Syria and Iraq.
“We have a crisis on our Southern border that is entirely within the power of the president to deal with under the law, but he won’t fully and consistently enforce the laws as they are written…requiring the protection of our borders against unlawful entry,” he said. “And he wants to establish new laws such as the amnesty of 2012 without the consent of Congress.”
He accused Obama of “willful neglect” of his responsibilities and of “aggressive overreach” into powers that do not belong to the executive branch.
The possibility that terrorist groups have crossed the U.S. border, or use it in the future as an entry point, is supported by the fact that “historic” levels of individuals from “countries with terrorist ties” are crossing the border, he said.
Perry added that poor security has created the ideal conditions on the southern border for terrorists to sneak into the United States.
“There is I think great concern that the border between the United States and Mexico is insecure. And we don’t know who’s using that. What I will share with you [is] that we’ve seen historic high levels of individuals from countries with terrorist ties over the course of the last months. I’ll give you one anecdotal picture of what’s happening: Three Ukrainian individuals were apprehended in a ranch in far west Texas within the last 60 days,” Perry said.
He noted, however, that there is no evidence yet terrorist groups have actually tried to cross the U.S. border.
“We have no clear evidence of that. But your common sense tells you, when we’ve seen the number of criminal activities that have occurred – I’m talking about the assault, the rapes, the murders by individuals who have come into this country illegally over the last five years – the idea that they would not be looking at and managing any of those types of attacks from that region is not a good place to be,” Perry said.
He called for “boots on the ground” along with drones to monitor the border around the clock.
“We need to have clear and compelling forces, both law enforcement and otherwise on that southern border, to send the message that the border is secure,” he said. “The border can be secured.”
The Texas Republican also veered into foreign policy, saying the U.S. should go after the Islamic militants who beheaded American journalist James Foley.
Perry also argued that the Obama administration’s response in Iraq has been inadequate.
“When they talk about limited airstrikes, they place a great emphasis on the word ‘limited,’” he said. “Yet clearly, more airstrikes are necessary. Nothing less than a sustained air campaign to degrade and destroy ISIS forces is required.”
Obama has emphasized that the airstrikes are part of a limited mission and that no new ground combat troops would be sent to Iraq.
Asked whether ground troops should be deployed to Iraq, Perry said nothing should be off the table.
“I think all your options have to be open,” he said.