WASHINGTON -- On the eve of Arkansas' primary elections, Gov. Asa Hutchinson headed to the White House to dine with the president, joining a few other Republican governors who are helping the administration to bolster the nation's border security.
While there, Hutchinson picked up the endorsement of President Donald Trump.
The president sent a Tweet just after 6 p.m. CDT Monday:
".@AsaHutchinson, the great Governor of Arkansas, is in a primary tomorrow. He has done an incredible job with a focus on lower taxes, border security, and crime prevention. Asa loves our military and our veterans. I fully endorse Asa for Governor!"
.@AsaHutchinson, the great Governor of Arkansas, is in a primary tomorrow. He has done an incredible job with a focus on lower taxes, border security, and crime prevention. Asa loves our military and our veterans. I fully endorse Asa for Governor!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 21, 2018
In today's Republican primary, Hutchinson faces Jan Morgan of Hot Springs, a gun-range owner. Hutchinson is seeking a second four-year term. He has been criticized by some in Republican circles for not ending the state's Medicaid private option, which uses Medicaid funds to buy private insurance for poor people. Hutchinson successfully sought approval from the Trump administration to add a work requirement to the program.
Monday night, Hutchinson and other governors were scheduled to meet, before the dinner, with other White House officials, including National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and Domestic Policy Council Director Andrew Bremberg.
In an interview Monday afternoon, Hutchinson predicted the initial meeting would include a "broad-ranging discussion" on a number of topics including trade and "general economic issues."
Hutchinson said he also planned to ask about immigration and border security, including reports that children who cross the border illegally might be housed temporarily in Arkansas.
The Washington Post reported last week that U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials will be visiting military installations in Arkansas and Texas "to evaluate their suitability to shelter children."
"I'm very interested in learning more about how that latest initiative might work," the governor said.
Thus far, no visit by Health and Human Services officials has been scheduled, he added.
Others invited to the dinner included Govs. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Doug Ducey of Arizona, Phil Bryant of Mississippi and Henry McMaster of South Carolina.
Crossings along the southwestern border, which dropped after Trump took office, climbed sharply in March and April of this year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In April, when Trump authorized the deployment of National Guard troops along the nation's southern border and asked for help, all five governors volunteered to assist with Operation Guardian Support.
Hutchinson said he was one of the first to respond.
"I ... told the president Arkansas would be happy to support that effort," he said.
It's important to secure the border and there's precedent for the move, he said.
"This is consistent with what we've done in the past. Both President [George W.] Bush and President [Barack] Obama utilized the National Guard for this purpose," Hutchinson said. "Our personnel [are] very experienced and they were more than willing to provide support, and I wanted to make sure that we were leaning forward to support the president's effort."
Arkansas dispatched two UH-72 Lakota helicopters and approximately 10 personnel. The first left on May 10. The second departed last week.
They're expected to serve in southern New Mexico for at least 45 days, according to Arkansas National Guard spokesman Maj. William Phillips.
Roger Maier, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the terrain in the area is mixed.
"There are areas with rugged mountains and other locations with soft sandy soils. All is harsh desert and most is remote/rural," Maier said in an email.
New Mexico doesn't have any large cities on its southern frontier.
"There are only three legal crossings in [New Mexico] including Santa Teresa (closest to El Paso [Texas]), Columbus and Antelope Wells deep in the bootheel," Maier said.
In some stretches, vehicle barriers are being replaced with walls up to 30 feet tall.
The Arkansans won't be performing law enforcement activities. They'll be assisting the U.S. Border Patrol agents who are already on the ground, notifying them when they spot illegal border crossings, the Arkansas National Guard spokesman said.
"We're giving them an extra set of eyes and ears that are operating in the air," Phillips said. "We're basically just freeing their hands up so they're able to do their jobs."
The latest deployment is far smaller than Operation Jump Start, the Bush-era border security effort.
"We sent approximately 750 soldiers down between June of 2006 and July of 2008 [and] completed over 22,000 man-hours of work down there," Phillips said.
Metro on 05/22/2018
Print Headline: Trump gives his support in race; Nod to governor during D.C. visit