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Obama Tries Three-Front Defense

When President Barack Obama faces reporters Thursday before heading to Louisiana on Friday, he’ll be going for a hat trick, trying to neutralize attacks on three of the biggest crises facing the nation: illegal immigration, federal spending and the Gulf Coast disaster.

Obama’s efforts to get in front of issues were on prominent display this week, most notably as he scrambled to look more engaged in an unprecedented Gulf cleanup effort that has yet to yield results more than a month after the explosion that caused the oil spill.

Amid growing public outcry over the failed operation, the president will address the issue head-on Thursday in a White House news conference and announce his plan for new offshore oil drilling regulations that impose more stringent safety inspections and permitting requirements.

And after some last-minute schedule changes, Obama is squeezing in a trip to Louisiana on Friday, flying in directly from a previous engagement in Chicago and then back again that night.

The president also took steps this week to blunt criticisms on other issues that continue to dog him: He drew cheers from fiscal conservatives Monday by unveiling legislation that would give him new authority to slash spending; a day later, he embraced a GOP priority by announcing he will seek $500 million in additional border security funds and send 1,200 National Guardsmen to the Mexican border.

But Obama’s overtures don’t appear to be making headway on the Hill, where lawmakers in both parties say his latest moves are more about political posturing than a real effort to enact policies.

“He needs to deal with the Gulf immediately because everyone thinks it will get much worse before it gets better,” one senior House Democratic aide said.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) shot down the idea that Obama has been trying to engage Republicans on any border security or fiscal matters.

“I have seen no indication of that,” Cornyn said. Obama’s border security proposal is “a complete joke,” he added, saying that the president’s track record of working with Republicans shows he is “clearly on a program of discouraging” bipartisanship.

A senior Republican aide agreed, saying: “It’s the same thing he has done with everything. If there’s a problem he’s perceived as a nuisance, he does something to get a headline but doesn’t do anything substantive.”

The aide said it was telling that the president made no mention of his plan to seek additional National Guard troops when he met with Republicans on Tuesday — even though Senators in the meeting with him just an hour earlier specifically called for more troops.

“I imagine they weren’t very happy about that,” the aide said.

Some Democrats said they appreciated Obama’s efforts to find common ground with Republicans on thorny issues.

“For him to try and engage with Republicans ... is a worthy goal,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) said.

But not all Democrats were as charitable. Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.) leveled harsh criticism against Obama for seeking border security funds without linking the move to broader immigration reform.

“The Obama administration’s militarization of the border amounts to a submission to the political forces brought by the Republican Party,” Menendez said.

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