tv Newsmakers Rep Bennie Thompson CSPAN January 13, 2019 6:00pm-6:32pm EST
position since the beginning of the trump administration. william barr is now at kirkland and ellis and served as u.s. attorney general for george h.w. bush. watch the confirmation process for william barr live tuesday at 9:30 a.m. eastern on c-span3. >> congressman bennie thompson has reclaimed the gavel in the home insecurity commission and he is our guest. thanks for being with us. >> thanks her having me. >> we have reporters here to ask questions as always. for returning to us. mr. thompson, we are taping friday morning. we are on day 21 of the government shutdown. how do you see this ending? >> there is no end in sight at this point. have 800,000we federal employees who will not
get a paycheck. nonetheless, they are working. many of them are keeping america safe. right to have people working and not getting paid. >> i went to ask you, in the absence of any kind of breakthrough, it is looking increasingly likely that president trump will declare a national emergency so he can use funds from the army corps of engineers to start opening this wall without congress. view, does he have the legal authority to do that, and regardless, what steps will be democratic house take took -- to try to curtail that action? >> first of all, i hope the president does not declare an emergency declaration. access to the corps of engineer funds would put communities at risk that are already being ravaged by wildfires,
hurricanes, what have you. many of the projects associated with those natural disasters are being remedied with those corps of engineers funds. i would hope he wouldn't do that. nonetheless, we have three branches of government. if the executive branch chooses a path, the legislative branch can do its will, either pass a resolution saying we need to go to court and challenge it individuals can challenge it in , court, and obviously the judicial branch will look at it. i hope we for whatever reason, don't get to that point. i hope president trump's advisors would tell him that this man-made catastrophe on the border is not something an emergency declaration should be i would say to the president this is not the way to go.
holding those 800,000 federal employees hostage in being made to work without pay should not be a part of this discussion, but from what i gather, it is seriously under consideration but i would say to the president , if he asked me, mr. president, you shouldn't do it. steven: i wanted to take you to the history of border barriers. i believe you voted for both of the fy17 and fy18 omnibuses, included homeland security money -- or replace 122 miles of fencing, which the president says began building his border wall. i guess my question is, what is your stance on building walls going forward? why is that different than what
you just built and do you agree with speaker pelosi that walls are an immorality. rep. thompson: barriers are one thing. what the president has started saying is concrete walls and moved into another thing. in every instance, we always had a plan. when those projects were funded and those budgets, we knew exactly what was being developed. under the president's proposal, there is nothing on the table other than what is in his head and what he is saying. gao looked at its last summer and said they could find no matrix as to what they would do if they had this money so while i have voted historically for protecting the border, democrats historically have supported it, but we have tried technology, tried to add additional employees on the system so that we could work with them that. -- work with that.
we identified assets that could be moved and various points along the border that would be helpful for protecting the border. what the president has tried to nationalehow create a crisis in a situation where the statistics don't bear it out. >> so the president, particularly the white house, vice president pence says the president is willing to accept the restrictions in the senate bill right now and last year's senate appropriations law saying only existing fence types, what was built at the end of the bush administration and obama administration, they would use those fence types rather than a concrete wall. given that, why is that not good enough to go forward in building as long as he is no longer talking about the concrete wall? he is talking about the fencing you have voted for in those last two bills. rep. thompson: the only thing
i'm saying is, in the instance that i have observed, the president hasn't said a word -- the vice president hadn't said a word when the democratic leadership was in the room. if he is saying something outside the room, that says we need to come back together and start engaging the conversation. but my experience is, it doesn't matter what other people are saying. the president, at the end of the day, is the person who drives the definition and he tends to want it his way, without any other involvement. nicholas: to follow up quickly, in your view, are there portions of the border where additional physical barrier makes sense and if you were to sit down with president trump in these negotiating sessions, what points of agreement do you have about other technologies or allocation of resources for border security?
rep. thompson: if i were in the room, i would say we have an 1800-mile plus border. there are a lot of different kinds of terrain associated with that border. in some instances the fencing , you are proposing doesn't adhere to the terrain, but we need a plan. i have not seen your plan. if you offer a plan, we will look at it. have you talked to the business communities along the border? have you talked to the landowners along the border to see if there is support for it? a number of things. it is not just something you can make a campaign pledge and try to fulfill it. you have to design things based on a plan. you have to design things based on what the experts say and again, i have not been pretty --
-- privy to any of those types of plans. in the past, the projects i have supported i will support again if the plans are there but we don't have the plans and so, in absence of a plan, i'll join my democratic colleagues and oppose a so-called wall that has no matrix or anything associated with it. nicholas: congressman, i want to switch gears to election security quickly. we had the 2016 election and reports about foreign meddling. there are investigations going on about that. there was concern heading into last year's midterm elections we would have a repeat of that. i am curious about your postmortem. what did you see? it appears we didn't see the level of meddling we had in 2016 and led to believe might recur. did it not occur? was it hidden better, what was your postmortem? and what are your plans in your committee for future action?
>> thank you for asking that question. of homelandy security declared our system of election as vital. what we have done with that is we made available the talent to the secretaries of state all over the country to help identify vulnerabilities. we have worked with the majority of states after the 2016 elections, where we saw potential meddling, by russians primarily, but also other nations, and the systems of elections need to be fortified. we will help you, as you know, we created a task force on the democratic side, because we couldn't get republicans to join us, and we came up with a series
of recommendations. recommendations talked about providing money to the states to acquire current equipment. of theo, validation results was something we were concerned about, because the internet, as you know, was a prime target in the shenanigans that could be used. we did that, we worked with them. in 2018, because people knew we were watching, many of those things did not occur. >> ♪ >> sorry about that. we look at it as we can't compromise the security of our method of elections. as in not have as much
2018 as we did in 2016, and some of it was probably associated with the training of officials being better. i am excited about that. as you know, with legislation we recently introduced, we will committees to make sure that they don't happen again. house judiciary will do that. hopefully, we will make sure that it does not occur. nicholas: can i ask, you mentioned the states and the elections are state operations with federal oversight. will you produce a name and shame list of who is doing a good job and who still needs work? that is something your committee could pursue. what sort of action are you going to take? rep. thompson: we will work with the secretary of state's organization. we will offer those services.
they don't cost any money. i am happy to say that i've not been a priced of any state that has turned down the offer from dhs on that. again, that is primarily a state-by-state decision. every state manages their own system of elections according to their local election laws. we just want to work with them. we want to make sure that those things don't impede the quality of elections. one thing we did find out is that the propensity for mischief, because of the internet, is we are actually going back to a paper receipt for the election. withve come full circle the use of technology, and now all of a sudden, people are advocating looking at a paper receipt for the vote tallies.
we will look at it. we are concerned about it, between the committee and the homeland security committee. we hope by the end of the first quarter to come up with a proposal. >> let's talk for a minute more broadly about your agenda for the committee. there are a number of issues, the shutdown is at the forefront, the effect on federal workers and the department of homeland security, but you have in the past signal you would like to look into a number of other issues, pension policies at the border, response to hurricanes on the caribbean last year. what should we expect your first priorities to be in terms of hearings and legislation in the weeks to come? rep. thompson: the first thing we are going to try to do is get the secretary of homeland security to come before the committee. she only came before us one time last year, which was not enough. we are going to get the customs
and border protection commissioner there, as well as the tsa administrator, to come and talk about the current state of affairs. we will talk about whether or not the shutdown has impeded national security, but we want to get to hear from the secretary what is her reason for the department. some have concerns whether or not she has been up to the task but we will give her a chance to defend her position. we will look at that. we will look at election security, a broader vision for cyber. we will make sure disaster response in this country is adequate to that. we'll make sure the transportation systems for our country, whether maritime, air, or border, are secure as they
possibly can. we will do oversight. in addition, pipeline security. we will work with the pipelines in our country to make sure those systems are as secure as they can, as well as our ports. a lot of our concern about whether or not weapons of mass destruction or anything can get into this country, many people believe our ports and our airports would be a potential for that. we will do quite a bit of oversight in those areas, but to be honest with you, we want to work with this administration, but they are going to have to come forward and provide us the information. in the past two years, we did not get a lot of information. some of it we got redacted, some of it we got beyond the time we needed it.
we want to create a climate by bringing the secretary in, sharing with her what we want to do with the committee and get a pledge from her to work with us. i hope we can do that. stephen: i wanted to ask about your committee deals with the structure of the homeland security department. in terms of structure in the campaign last year, they were as a push by democrats and activists to abolish ice. i am curious about whether that talk has died down a little bit. will you bring up an abolish ice bill? does ice serve a purpose at this point? can you abolish it? rep. thompson: i have been a supporter of ice. they do a job just like any operation. we can review what they do, and if we need to tweak it, i am committed to doing that. there is some question about
ice's interior enforcement role. we need to look at that. as you know we share , jurisdiction of ice with the committee on judiciary. in some instances, we will probably have to have joint hearings but i don't think there is any issue we won't look at to see if we can't improve it. stephen: would you bring an abolish i.c.e. through your committee? rep. thompson: no. nicholas: you mention an interest in a collaborative relationship with the administration as much as possible. i wonder after the opening of this congress, the pitched battle we are seeing that seems to be moving nowhere over many issues we are talking about, if you think that will still be possible. are democrats' plans to find areas of agreements with republicans that make policies, are those dealing realistic at this point in time it has that
changed? rep. thompson: i think we will have some challenges, no question about it. but the history of our committee, we have had a fairly bipartisan, reasonable relationship through the years. there have been some issues of this agreement but at the end of the day, our posture has always been that we want to keep america safe. we'll do that, and one of the comments you her quite often is when terrorists come, they don't ask party affiliation or religious affiliation. they just want to hurt americans. it is to our advantage to come up with legislation that protects this country and that is what i intend to do as chairman. nicholas: one of the things you just mentioned about terrorists coming to the country, you have been one of the biggest voices in terms of asking for a focus on domestic right-wing terrorism and i wonder specifically what steps your committee plans to
take to push for the administration to deal with that, explore that issue, what are the problems out there structurally and what solutions are you going to deliver? rep. thompson: conceptually, the committee was too narrow in the past years, looking at domestic terrorism. it only came from a muslim religious focus, but when we look at the domestic terrorist acts that occurred in this country over the last few years, they were conducted by american citizens. many of them who had a right-wing slant to their ideology and so we look at domestic terrorism as a whole. we want to make sure that those individuals on the right or left who want to do terrorist acts in this country, that we prevent it.
one of the items that is coming front and center recently is that many of those arms and ammunition acquired by those terrorists were bought with credit cards. we want to see whether or not we can tighten the acquisition of firearms with credit cards to perhaps stop potential terrorist attacks. i don't know if it can be done, but it is something we should look at. stephen: can i ask you on this issue, is right-wing terrorism here in the country a bigger issue than radical islam in terms of terrorism and do you have any sense whether president trump's election has fed into that? rep. thompson: i don't have any sense that president trump's incendiary language in so many instances has fed into that. it hasn't helped.
i know when you look at the facts, the facts say that we have had more domestic terrorist activities occurring recently by right-wing groups than you have any other group. we will look at it. we'll talk to law-enforcement groups around the country, especially those in urban areas. they have a real concern about it and we plan to bring the witnesses in and try to craft a strategy on how to address it. you can't ignore what the facts lead you to and we plan to do that on the committee. >> just three minutes. nicholas: changing the focus to your home state of mississippi. there was a lot of national interest in election there in november for the senate, ultimately won by republican cindy hyde-smith but there was a margin that was considerably
closer than we have seen in statewide races in years. you said before the election, democrats didn't have enough of a position to win statewide, that was right. i wonder what you think that race portends for 2020 when hyde-smith will be up again and other democrats. rep. thompson: unfortunately, my predictions came true. democrats didn't win. we had a good shot at it, but what we did find out is our democratic party apparatus in the state of mississippi is better. we had a better geo tv effort, voter identification record -- effort and a better fundraising effort. we had a candidate that raised over $7 million. that was unheard of for any candidate in the state of
mississippi, so we had potential. i'm happy to say that mike espey has announced he will run again in two years. we can look at the experience of the past elections and build on it. if you ask me that question now, which i assume you are, i think we have a better than 50-50 chance to win a repeat match based on these two candidates. nicholas: can i ask why that is and what steps you think the party needs to take in the next two years? rep. thompson: will continue to build out. we've adopted the system of voter identification. we've brought on more professional staff at the party on a full-time basis. we'll have statewide elections this year. we have a strong candidate in jim for governor who is our current attorney general, as well as a good field of other
down ballot candidates. i'm convinced will do that but it is still a work in progress. i'm excited about this potential. the candidate, senator hyde-smith has not distinguished herself. she supports the wall and a good majority of people in our state do not. i am looking forward to helping that race again. i am serving in the seat that mike espey held before he went to be secretary of agriculture. he has the potential, i believe, to win the election in 2020. >> on that note, we are out of time for this week. representative thompson, we appreciate having you. please come back. chairman thompson suggested he
is looking increasing like that the president will declare a national emergency as his weight -- has his way to end the situation we are in. what is the process? what would happen if he declares a national emergency? stephen: he would tap into most likely army corps of engineers funds, they would have to find the money within their existing appropriations and then redirect that. funding $5.7 billion will be quite difficult and you heard the chairman say some of the other things like disaster relief that the army corps does is where that would come from. there will almost certainly be legal challenges. you are essentially looking at another travel ban case in terms of a challenge to presidential powers and you will grapple with the same issues of the president acting on behalf of national security in what he will have declared as an emergency situation.
folks i talk with, legal experts say this is perhaps a firmer case for the president and the travel plan -- travel ban, but will be interesting to see how it plays out in court. it is a process that would take a long time, greater than 2020 when he is up for reelection. in the short term, there seems to be an assumption that government would quickly reopen and president trump would agree to that, the house and senate could pass some short-term spending bill to get things opening up again, but i'm not sure it will be that straightforward. in the meantime, we are about to cross into the longest shutdown in government history. >> why would it not be that straightforward? passing some continuing resolutions? nicholas: they could pass a continuing resolution. the bigger issue is getting the rest of the big bills done. the omnibus that would include the seven bills that have yet to be passed. there are other issues left,
including detention beds for ice, which the president has asked for up to 52000 and the current level is for 40,000. there is also a big issue about the mexico city policy, which was the regular administration policy prohibiting the use of u.s. taxpayer funds to fund certain family-planning organizations and nongovernment organizations internationally. the senate bill the house democrats have been passing included overturn of that policy. the white house in its statement of administration policy, the veto threat from a week ago said we can't accept that. he will have to work those out. >> we've got to zoom back here and we asked the chairman this. even if we do get government reopened, this is a very portentous way to start this new congress. democrats came in pledging to try and find areas of commonality with the president, prescription drug pricing, infrastructure, potentially
other narrow carriers. it is pretty hard -- areas. it is pretty hard to see how nancy pelosi, mitch mcconnell, and president trump will have negotiations on any of these topics given the toxic quality that has already overtaken that relationship and the fact that pretty soon, 2020 campaigns are going to be ramping up. i'm pretty curious to see what, if anything, actually gets done beyond messaging and bills never becoming law. >> let's take that macro question to homeland security. he talked about the collegiality and cooperation of the committee but at the same time, raised questions about homeland security secretary's competence. how does that play out? stephen: the list he gave, there is a lot of -- he's right, there is a lot of bipartisanship on the committee. this committee has produced several border security bills
passed by unanimous vote in the last few years. he's right, there are going to be opportunities for that. the real focus and place where they are likely to make a lot of news and attention is on that oversight. he has asked the homeland security to come up, he has demanded a whole bunch of documents and responses to unanswered letters to come in later this month before the hearing so that oversight role is really where democrats are going to make their mark, particularly on the security of the family separations policy, the death of two illegal immigrants last month, those are fruitful areas. >> as we close, what about americans concerns about their own security as the shutdown plays out in this area he is responsible for? tsa, etc.? what is the level of security american should have that the government is keeping them safe in the shutdown?
nicholas: we saw some of the federal unions associated with the faa yesterday offering warnings about flight safety as the shutdown continues on end and employees are not paid carried at this point, there is not evidence people are at risk at the moment. the risk is if this goes on for two more weeks or a month, you start seeing federal employees leaving these vital security agencies and you could end up with staffing shortages, row issue -- morale issues and it is harder to put your finger on how that will affect the security outlook, but in the long-term, there are reasons -- not to mention with future recruitment, which is something you have started to hear republicans and democrats worry about for the agencies. >> that is it for our time. thank you for coming back to "newsmakers."
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