Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley was one of Barack Obama's top fundraisers in 2012, raising more than $1 million for his re-election campaign and supporting the president regularly on political talk shows. Now, O'Malley is finding out what it's like to be on Obama's bad side.
Days after O'Malley criticized a White House proposal to deal with the immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, reports surfaced of a leaked phone call between the governor and a top Obama aide. The details appeared to make O'Malley look like a hypocrite on the matter, publicly criticizing the White House's calls to speed up deportations of children arriving on the border, while pleading with the administration to not send the young people to one site in his state.
The incident marks a rare public skirmish between the president and a member of his own party who has made no secret of his possible 2016 presidential ambitions. On Wednesday, O'Malley publicly accused the White House of leaking the conversation.
"I don't really care," O'Malley told reporters Wednesday, when asked about the leak. "It's right, and treating these children in the manner in which they're being treated now is wrong, and as Americans we have to all do our part to alleviate this humanitarian crisis, and perhaps ... now the president has the room to call upon faith leaders to be a part of the solution as well."
O'Malley aides emphasized that recommending against locating children at one location did not mean the governor opposes housing the children in Maryland. On Monday, the O'Malley administration took steps to formally create a licensing process for providers to help the children in Maryland after weeks of working on the matter.
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While O'Malley's administration has said it's working to find temporary shelters for immigrant children arriving from Central America, he asked the White House in a private conversation not to send the children to one of the sites that had been under consideration, according to a source familiar with the conversation. The conversation between O'Malley and White House domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz took place late Friday evening. The person familiar with the content of the call said O'Malley told Munoz that the facility in Westminster, Maryland, was in a conservative part of the state, and the children were at risk of getting harassed or worse. The source insisted on anonymity in order to publicly discuss the private conversation.
The Maryland State Police are investigating as a hate crime graffiti on a former military building that was under consideration in Westminster. Someone spray-painted the former Army Reserve Center with the words: "NO ILLEAGLES HERE NO UNDOCUMENTED DEMOCRATS."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest confirmed that the conversation between O'Malley and Munoz occurred, but declined to elaborate or characterize the conversation.
"What this administration has done over the last several weeks is be in touch with state and local officials across the country to enlist their support and their tangible contribution in dealing with the situation that we've seen at the border," Earnest said.
The disclosure of the call comes after O'Malley sharply criticized proposals from the Obama administration that could speed up the deportation of many of the 57,000 unaccompanied children who have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months. It also highlights a potential rift between the White House and a Democrat considering running to replace Obama in the 2016 presidential election. O'Malley was a top fundraiser for the president's re-election campaign, helping raise more than $1 million to keep Obama in the White House.
Gustavo Torres, executive director of immigrant rights group CASA de Maryland, praised O'Malley for taking a stand. "In stark contrast to other public figures that have called for their quick deportation, Governor O'Malley has urged that arriving migrant children receive fair, humane treatment and, above all, a fair legal review of whether they should be allowed to stay," Torres said.
O'Malley was outspoken about the issue at the National Governors Association meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, on Friday.
"We are not a country that should turn children away and send them back to certain death," O'Malley told reporters.
Nina Smith, an O'Malley spokeswoman, said it would be wrong to suggest the governor's position on the Westminster site suggests he is not willing to have the children in Maryland. Smith said O'Malley and other state officials have been working with federal partners and local officials to try to play a constructive role in addressing the matter for weeks.
Meanwhile, the Maryland Department of Human Services submitted plans Monday to take preliminary regulatory steps to create a licensing process for providers who could help unaccompanied immigrant children. The step comes after several potential locations to house them in the state were considered and rejected.