The White House and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on Wednesday looked to de-escalate a brewing intraparty conflict that has spilled into the media over the administration's handling of a flood of immigrant children crossing the border.
O'Malley, who has said publicly that he is considering a bid for the party's presidential nomination, made waves last weekend, when he appeared to criticize the White House's handling of the border crisis.
“It is contrary to everything we stand for to try to summarily send children back to death,” O’Malley told reporters at the National Governors Association.
“Through all of the great world religions we are told that hospitality to strangers is an essential human dignity,” the Democratic governor added.
The comments were read as a rebuke of the White House, which has said publicly that the majority of the children crossing the border would not be eligible for asylum and would be returned home. It was also a chance for O'Malley to burnish his progressive bona fides and build credibility with immigration and human rights groups that could be crucial allies in a Democratic primary.
But Tuesday, CNN reported that O’Malley asked in a subsequent call between Domestic Policy Director Cecilia Muñoz that the administration not send the refugee children to a site under consideration in Western Maryland.
"He privately said 'please don't send these kids to Western Maryland,' " a Democratic source told the network.
O'Malley has made it clear he believes the White House was responsible for leaking details of the call. And on Wednesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest wouldn't say if the administration had leaked the call to suggest the Maryland governor was a hypocrite.
"You guys are the ones who are doing the reporting here, so I'd encourage you to check with your sources," Earnest said.
Still, the revelation left O'Malley scrambling to clarify his position. In an interview with The Washington Post, he said that he had only "suggested to them that the location still under consideration in Westminster might not be the most inviting environment for the kids."
The Maryland governor said his state was willing to accept refugees and that state officials had begun the process to search for more foster care providers to take care of the children.
“I will continue to work to alleviate the humanitarian crisis,” O’Malley said. “And I think every governor and every mayor in America, and every American citizen, has some responsibility and role to play here. It’s who we are as a people.”
At the White House, Earnest offered an olive branch, saying administration officials "strongly value the working relationship that we have with Gov. O'Malley."
"We're pleased with that relationship, and that relationship is as strong as ever," Earnest said, adding that the White House welcomed "cooperation" on efforts "to try to find a suitable facility that could be used to meet the basic humanitarian needs of those who had been apprehended."