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Richard B.
Democrat CT

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  • Department of Homeland Security Funding

    by Senator Richard Blumenthal

    Posted on 2015-01-28

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    BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, I am very pleased to be here today to speak to my colleagues about funding for the Department of Homeland Security and to be followed by one of my most valued colleagues, Senator Menendez, whose leadership on this issue has been extraordinarily important. I am also pleased to work with him on a letter he sent yesterday to the President concerning Iran sanctions, where his statesmanship-like path to a reasonable solution on this very complex and crucial issue will be enormously important to the future.

    The Department of Homeland Security is one of the most significant departments in the U.S. Government. It has a mandate that is as complex and crucial as any in keeping American citizens and communities and capabilities safe and secure in a dangerous, complex, and threatening world.

    In my family, when I was growing up, we had a saying: Don't cut off your nose to spite your face. Unfortunately, that path is exactly what some of my colleagues are choosing to follow in threatening to stop funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

    We are reminded of the importance of this Department not only as terrorism raises its ugly head repeatedly abroad but also as perhaps more benign threats exist at home--the most recent of them, the snowstorm that hit the Northeast within the past couple of days. The Department of Homeland Security is not only engaged in a fight against terrorism, not only engaged in keeping America safe from threats abroad but is engaged in a wide variety of other tasks that have to do with the Nation's security. That is the key word in its title--``security.'' Americans fear more deeply than ever before that their security is threatened--economic security by stagnating incomes, foreign security as the world becomes more volatile and unpredictable and more threatening, and domestic security as threats abroad metastasize within our own borders.

    Many people equate the concept of security at home or homeland security with protection against extreme violence from abroad, violent extremism spawning from abroad and in fact stopping those threats. Finding the wrongdoers and stopping them is one of the major tasks the Department of Homeland Security has, but it has a myriad of additional responsibilities that include aiding the victims of natural disasters and extreme weather, citizenship and immigration, routinely handling matters that involve legitimate applications for visas for entry into the United States, and it fights the scourge of human trafficking. I am privileged to have a Caucus on Human Trafficking with my colleague Senator Rob Portman. So I know it forms a diverse collection of responsibilities that are crucial to security.

    In fact, the Department of Homeland Security's responsibilities are comprehensive--so much so that it is simply unacceptable to play politics with its crucial mission. It is irresponsible to hold its funding hostage in a dangerous game of fiscal chicken and threaten daily activities that are vital to America's present and future security.

    [[Page S554]] That is why we are here, because some of my friends across the aisle believe stopping the President from exercising discretion on certain immigration issues affecting specific individuals in this country is worth hamstringing and undercutting the entire Department of Homeland Security and forcing an enormous amount of its vital work to grind to a halt. That is the game of chicken we have. The President is expected to relent if the Department of Homeland Security is stopped from functioning, but it is a game that has no place in this Chamber or in this government.

    We can agree or disagree with the President, and I disagree with the Department of Homeland Security on certain of its policies; for example, on detaining children which it has done routinely on a grandiose scale. I have included an amendment in the measure for immigration reform that passed the Senate. It would stop it from detaining children--a practice I consider shameful and unacceptable-- and I have a long list of other changes I would like to see made in DHS policies. But the way to effectuate those changes in my view is not to withhold funding to stop DHS in its tracks of providing security for the American people, it is to amend the laws to persuade our colleagues to undertake the legislative process and to appeal ultimately to the court of public opinion which can render a verdict far more powerful than the tactics involved here. Chipping away at the President's authority by not only undercutting him but stopping one of his departments is reprehensible. So I urge my colleagues to cease this tactic.

    The President needs discretion. In fact, I know as a prosecutor, as a former attorney general, and as a one-time U.S. attorney for Connecticut that discretion is essential. There is no way any authority can prosecute every crime. So prosecutors need to select cases based on severity of offense and most important the danger to the public because ultimately protecting the public is what security requires. That is true as well for the Department of Homeland Security.

    The President has exercised his discretion in a way I find laudable. The exigencies of the present immigration system require the exercise of discretion. The President has done it in a way that is responsible and upholds his duties as Commander in Chief. But even if I disagree with the President on that exercise of discretion with respect to immigration, I would never use this tactic of withholding funding for an entire department, affecting all of its activities and implicating and undercutting security in so dangerous a way.

    My hope is we will debate immigration policy, that we will approve an immigration reform bill, that it will be on a bipartisan basis just as it was during the last session, that there will be a lot of good-faith disagreement on the floor of this Chamber about those policies and about the President's actions but that we will keep the lights on at the Department of Homeland Security, that we will shine the light on threats to our security that need to be exposed and pursued, that we will further the security of this Nation and protect the public by making sure the DHS funding as a clean bill is approved right away and that we move forward to make sure DHS continues its vital service to the American people.

    Mr. President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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