May 10th, 2011
02:59 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) - As the president made his way to El Paso Tuesday, smoke from the Texas wildfires could be seen outside the windows of Air Force One.
In the back of the plane, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about the White House decision not to issue a disaster declaration in the state of Texas, after fires have devastated an estimated 2.2 million acres in the state.
“I would love to answer that,” Carney began, stating that the administration has been “extremely responsive” by giving the state 25 wildfire management assistance grants to the state so far.
“The federal taxpayer is paying 75% of the costs of fighting these fires of Texas - 75%. So there is plenty, considerable federal assistance flowing to Texas to deal with these serious wildfires. We take this very seriously,” he added.
But Republican Governor Rick Perry has complained that the administration “has denied Texans the much needed assistance they deserve,” and the state’s Republican U.S. senators have made hay over FEMA’s decision, claiming the Lone Star State is being treated unfairly for political reasons.
Carney insisted the decision was not political, based on the 29 disaster declarations FEMA has issued so far this year.
“I would just point to the disaster declarations that the President has designated from across the country, and I think there was no discrimination here between red and blue states,” he said.
According to Carney, the White House invited Gov. Perry to greet the president on the tarmac in El Paso prior to Obama's immigration event, but Perry declined the offer.
“We invited him to meet with the President and he declined the invitation. We have also in the past offered him a National Security Council briefing on immigration; he declined that as well,” Carney said.
A spokeswoman in Perry’s office confirmed they could not make the El Paso greeting work, but alternately offered to take the president on a tour of the wildfire damage, or to meet with the president when he visits Austin later in the day.
“We just weren’t able to get anything arranged,” spokeswoman Lucy Nashed told CNN.