In his speech, Obama gave a nod to Bush’s actions, saying this was a “build up that began under President Bush and that we have continued.” This is a more elegant formulation than the phrasing used by Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, in briefings previewing the speech this week. Carney simply erased Bush out of the picture.
On Monday, Carney said: “I think he [Obama] will make points about the steps we’ve taken on border security, the fact that the number of border agents today is double what it was in 2004.” On Tuesday, Carney said: “We have substantially increased the number of Border Patrol agents twice — more than 20,000 now — twice the number that there were in 2004.”
However, that 20,000 number was on track to be achieved before Obama ever took the oath of office. By the end of fiscal year 2009, which began on Oct. 1, 2008, there were 20,119 Border Patrol agents.
On Oct. 20, 2009, the Border Patrol website put up a notice saying it was no longer hiring: “The Border Patrol successfully filled the Presidential mandate of hiring 6,000 additional Border Patrol Agents (BPA) and presently has sufficient applicants to meet their continuing hiring goals. Therefore, the Reinstatement Program is indefinitely suspended and will no longer accept applications.”
That would be Bush’s mandate.
In fact, in the fiscal year 2011 budget, announced in early 2010, Obama proposed to let the number of border agents drop by 180 through attrition as a budget-saving maneuver. But then in June of last year, after Republican lawmakers balked at an immigration overhaul without a boost in border security, the administration suddenly requested an additional $600 million for security along the southwest border. The money in part would be used to hire an additional 1,000 agents. That bill passed a few months later.
The Pinocchio Test
Obama certainly phrased this more accurately than his spokesman, but the set-up — “we have strengthened” — might leave the listener with the impression that much of this growth in the border force was accomplished under the Obama administration. The doubling in agents was a goal set in place by Bush. Obama has added additional agents beyond Bush’s goal, though only under pressure from Congress. His initial instinct was to throttle back.
We don’t give half-Pinocchios, but Obama’s statement would almost qualify. But it followed two days of spin by his spokesman, who clearly left listeners with the wrong impression.