The New York lawmaker who is currently the front runner to be the next chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee wants to take the panel in a different direction when Republicans take over in January.
Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said in an interview with Federal News Radio that he intends to challenge the Obama Administration’s handling of the war on terrorism through the Department of Homeland Security if he is elected chairman of the panel during the Republican caucus elections in the next several weeks.
“I’ve discussed this with Speaker-elect John Boehner (R-Ohio) and we’ll have oversight hearings of the department to ensure not just that the department is operating efficiently, but is coordinated with and is working closely with all the elements of the counter-terrorism community and the intelligence community,” he said.
King said he is, “concerned that DHS is not being given the responsibility and is not carrying out its intended purpose set out by Congress, and that too much homeland security policy is being set from the White House,” which he said takes it from the realm of Congressional oversight.
King was chairman of the panel for a year in 2006 when former chair Christopher Cox resigned to run the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“I have a lot of respect for Secretary Napolitano, this is not anything personal between me and her,” he said when asked about the secretary. “Part of this is philosophy, part of this is the fact that I don’t think the administration is giving her or the department the support that it needs. When this crisis in Yemen happened, it should have been Secretary Napolitano standing there with the President. If it was (White House Homeland Security advisor) John Brennan who was going to be there, fine, but it should have been the Department of Homeland Security out front on this.”
King said DHS should have been “out front on the Times Square bombing,” in spite of published and broadcast reports citing DHS as the lead agency in handling the crisis.
Clark Stevens, DHS press secretary, responded to King’s criticism of the administration’s handling of homeland security issues in an e-mail statement, “The Department of Homeland Security plays a key role in our nation’s effort to combat terrorism. On a daily basis, we work closely with John Brennan, the assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counter-Terrorism, as well as our partners across the intelligence community and federal, state and local law enforcement on the frontlines to thwart terrorist attacks.”
The White House referred all request for comments to DHS.
As he has been in a number of recent committee hearings on the subject, King was complimentary of Napolitano and DHS on their involvement in the violence along the southern border involving Mexican drug cartels.
“Actually, the department has stepped up enforcement along the border and internally,” he said. “I would say there’s been more cooperation, more of an agreement, with Republicans and Secretary Napolitano than most people expected on the issue of illegal immigration.”
King said he wants to hold additional hearings on the issue of completing a controversial electronic border fence– SBINet – along the southern border, a project currently on hold and under review by DHS because of repeated delays and cost overruns.
“Again, I don’t intend those hearings to be confrontational,” he said. “I’ve found Secretary Napolitano has worked very closely with the committee, on both sides of the aisle, she comes in for regular meetings with me, and Republican members, when we were in the minority. Since Republicans have taken over the House, we’ve had a number of very pleasant conversations with Secretary Napolitano, and we will be meeting with her next week.”
He added that one of the issues the committee will look at is the idea of whether DHS has enough resources to get the job done.
“I think the Department of Homeland Security could always use more funding,” he said. “The reality is these are tough budget times, and there are going to have to be adjustments made, cuts in some areas. And yet we cannot afford to cut funding which goes to targeted areas in this country. I want to make sure that no matter what we do, that the cities and the areas that are most under threat from Al Qaeda receive all the funding they need.”
King also criticized the priorities of the committee during the last four years of Democratic management, scoffing at hearings on issues such as the response to Hurricane Katrina and diversity within DHS, at the expense of hearings on the massacre at the Army’s Ft. Hood, the administration’s plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Cuba, and proposals to prosecute the Sept. 11 mastermind in a New York Criminal Court. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) likely will move from chairman to ranking member.
“Katrina was important,” King emphasized. “Racial diversity is important. But not to the exclusion of Guantanamo and the Fort Hood shootings, not to the exclusion of the radicalization of elements of the Muslim community.”
Finally, King said “As the Homeland Security Committee, our focus should be on homeland security, and keeping the country safe.”