Taking DHS Nominee ‘Hostage’ Criticized Amid Terror Threat (2)

  • Schumer tees up votes to shut down debate, confirm pick
  • DHS issues terrorism threat tied to ideological extremism

(Updates with vote timing in fourth paragraph.)

Senate Republicans’ actions to thwart the confirmation of Homeland Security Department nominee Alejandro Mayorkas over immigration policy differences are “irresponsible and unconscionable” as the country faces threats from domestic extremists, former DHS secretary Michael Chertoff told reporters.

The DHS issued a national terrorism advisory bulletin Wednesday, warning of a heightened threat environment from ideologically motivated violent extremists, including those opposed to the presidential transition.

“Between a very significant, massive hack that compromised sensitive U.S. government online files, disastrous fires and rain storms and hurricanes, and domestic violence that was an insurrection, I would have thought there were a few other things that are to be considered besides immigration,” Chertoff, a Republican who led the department under George W. Bush, said.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) moved quickly to force a vote, setting up a cloture vote Thursday to cut off debate. Under current rules Schumer needs only a simple majority to invoke cloture on the nomination. If he succeeds, the Senate will vote Feb. 1 to confirm Mayorkas to lead the DHS.

Mayorkas won approval by a Senate panel Tuesday. Several Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans wanted their own hearing with President Joe Biden’s nominee before a floor vote, they said Tuesday, raising concerns about the Democratic administration’s approach to immigration, which their committee oversees.

U.S. Warns of Domestic-Terror Threat After Biden’s Win

Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters/Bloomberg
Alejandro Mayorkas, President Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing on Jan. 19, 2021.

Heritage Action, the campaign arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, warned Wednesday against voting for Mayorkas, saying he would make Biden’s “dreams of amnesty and open borders a reality.”

“If members of Congress want to contest elements of the proposal they are free to do so, they’re free to argue about it and vote against it. But hostage taking is not an appropriate way to do this, particularly if a result of that is to put the lives of Americans in jeopardy,” Chertoff said.

House Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) also urged the Senate to advance the nomination.

“In this heightened threat environment, the Senate must move quickly to confirm Alejandro Mayorkas as Secretary of Homeland Security,” Thompson said in a Wednesday statement.

No Benefit to Delay

“It really mystifies me what benefit is being served by this continued delay in his confirmation,” former Obama administration DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in the same briefing.

Both Napolitano and Chertoff urged the Senate to move the Mayorkas nomination without delay, citing their experiences with the mountain of work that awaits the next DHS secretary.

One of the primary roles of the DHS is to coordinate homeland security strategies with state and local leaders and law enforcement officials to have a nationwide awareness and plan to respond to threats. A Senate-confirmed permanent DHS secretary has more ability to build necessary trust with those groups, Chertoff said

The department hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed permanent secretary since Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in April 2019.

“If they don’t think you’re sticking around, they don’t invest the time and effort to build a joint strategy. And at this point, we’ve had four years of dithering around and we need to get on with the business of protecting the American people,” Chertoff said.

With assistance from Nancy Ognanovich

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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