Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) on Thursday made his first public appearance in Washington since being indicted on two felony counts, calling for President Obama to ramp up U.S. military engagement in Iraq and delivering a scathing critique of the administration's immigration policies during a speech at a conservative think tank.
Perry criticized U.S. officials, who he said have been very careful to label strikes against Islamist militant extremists in Iraq as "limited."
"More airstrikes are necessary," he told a jam-packed auditorium at the Heritage Foundation. In a speech that was billed as a talk on immigration and border security, Perry unexpectedly devoted much of his time to discussing Iraq.
He sharply criticized Islamic State militants who posted a video this week of their brutal execution of a kidnapped American photojournalist. Perry expressed concerns that the militant who spoke in the video had Western roots.
"How many other jihadists out there are carrying Western passports?" he asked.
Asked whether ground combat troops should be deployed to Iraq, Perry said nothing should be ruled out.
"I think all your options have to be open," he said.
Perry said there is a "very real possibility" that extremists from the group ISIS have "already" entered the U.S. through the Southwestern border. But, he added, "We have no clear evidence of that."
The speech was Perry's first public appearance in the nation's capital since being indicted by a grand jury last Friday. He pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that he abused the power of his office when he vetoed funding to an anti-corruption agency that operates under the Travis County district attorney's office. Perry had made good on a threat to veto $7.5 million after Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg (D) refused to resign after a 2013 drunk driving arrest.
The governor confidently vowed to fight the charges Thursday, which he labeled an "attack on our system of governance."
Perry took just two questions, one of which was about his indictment. He pointed to widespread commentary that the charges appeared to be flimsy as evidence they amount a political attack against him.
On immigration, Perry accused the president of both a "willful neglect" of his duty to tighten security on the U.S.-Mexico border and an "overreach" in using his executive powers to alter immigration regulations. The governor insisted that any talk of reforming immigration laws must come only after the border is secure.
"Defending the border is not a political option. It's a constitutional obligation," Perry said.
The remarks on immigration come at the tail end of a summer when state and federal officials were faced with an influx of undocumented minors on the Southwestern border. They also come as Obama is weighing new executive actions to potentially allow millions of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States.
Perry is is headed to New Hampshire to address conservative activists on Friday and Saturday, as he weighs another run for president. He will travel to South Carolina next week.
Updated at 4:37 p.m.