Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson urged Congress today to stop using his agency’s budget as “political football,” warning that without more funding soon, it would make the job of securing the border more difficult.
“The clock to Feb. 27 is ticking,” he said in a speech at the Wilson Center in Washington, referring to the date Homeland Security funding expires. “In these times, the Homeland Security budget of this government should not be a political football.”
Johnson added that without a full-year budget, his agency would be restricted to last year’s spending levels, meaning the department “cannot pay for added border security, can’t hire Secret Service agents [and] can’t fund non-disaster [items] for state and local governments.”
“I cannot print money,” Johnson said.
“In these times, the Homeland Security budget of this government should not be a political football,” says @DHSgov.
Many conservatives in Congress say they will only approving funding for Homeland Security if the bill includes measures to block President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Obama has vowed to veto any bill that includes such measures.
The House passed a Homeland Security funding bill earlier this month that included amendments to undo major portions of Obama’s immigration policies, including his recent executive actions and an earlier program that allowed immigrants who entered the country illegally as children—a group known as Dreamers—to stay.
The House bill as written would certainly fail in the Senate, where Republicans would need 60 votes to move it forward.
The entire 46-member Senate Democratic caucus signed a letter Tuesday to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., writing that “the House bill cannot pass the Senate.”
On Tuesday, Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., introduced their own “clean” Homeland Security funding bill that does not include amendments related to Obama’s immigration actions.
And today, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama won’t alter his executive actions to secure funding for Homeland Security. “That’s not going to happen,” Earnest said.
Conservatives argue that if the White House is unwilling to make changes to its immigration policies, the Obama administration should be blamed if Homeland Security were shut down.
“At the end of the day, the person threatening DHS funding is President Obama,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told The Daily Signal earlier this month. “I believe the House is acting pursuant to the Constitution [and] pursuant to the checks and balances our framers put in the Constitution to use the power of the purse to reign in the unconstitutional action of the president.”
Still, if a shutdown of Homeland Security were to occur, most of the agency’s 280,000 employees would continue to work and much of the department’s activity would go on.
But immigration isn’t the agency’s only function, and withholding the funding could put national security at risk.
The Washington Post reported today that all three former Homeland Security secretaries wrote a letter to lawmakers warning them that “funding for the entire agency should not be put in jeopardy by the debate about immigration.”
During his speech, hyped as an annual “state of Homeland Security address,” Johnson touched on his agency’s performance, and charted challenges ahead, in regards to broader functions around the department such as dealing with terrorism and cybersecurity.
Below, The Daily Signal highlights some of his comments.
‘Faith’ in American Resiliency
In the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks, including the deadly Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris and a hostage siege in Sydney, Johnson was asked how Homeland Security was prepared to respond if disaster were to strike the United States.
“I have a lot of faith in the culture and character of this country in how to respond to crisis,” said Johnson, referencing the record turnout at the 2014 Boston Marathon a year after the bombings there as an example of American resiliency.
“You don’t underestimate the character of the American people. It’s incumbent on us to be straight with people on the risks and threats facing the country.”
After the Paris attacks, Homeland Security stepped up its presence at federal buildings and enhanced security screenings at airports. Johnson said those extra security measures continue.
“I do believe that the attacks in Europe means here in the U.S. we have to be vigilant looking out for similar attacks. The [security] enhancements are a rather obvious thing to do.”
Johnson said has made it a personal mission to “ramp up efforts” to visit Muslim communities in the U.S. to learn how they can work together to root out extremism.
“I really feel for these people [Muslims],” Johnson said, adding that many he has spoke with many Muslims who tell stories of unfairly being profiled at airports, schools and by immigration agents. “I hear you. And I ask you to do something. I want to see you build bridges with my department, with this sheriff, with this mayor. If you see trouble in your community, contact one of those people.”
Out of all the terrorist threats that exist, so-called “lone wolf” actors scare Johnson most.
“We’re concerned about foreign fighters who may return home. We’re concerned about terrorist organizations’ slick use of the Internet. AQAP [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] no longer builds bombs itself. It publicizes instructions how to do so. We’re concerned about lone wolfs who can be inspired by this propaganda.”
The Homeland Security leader declined to speculate how many Americans have gone to fight in Syria.
“We work with the FBI to do a really good job of tracking people,” Johnson said. He added: “You don’t know what you don’t know.”