WASHINGTON — Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson stopped short Tuesday of saying potential terrorist targets like Bloomington’s Mall of America would be more vulnerable to attack if the country’s largest federal agency is not funded by Congress at the end of the week, but he noted he needs resources to keep the nation safe.
Funding to keep open the country’s third-largest federal agency — a sprawling 240,000-strong bureaucracy in charge of Border Patrol, airport security and cyberattacks, among other duties — runs dry Friday unless both chambers of Congress pass a funding bill. Agency funding has bipartisan support. The point of division comes with the addition of House Republican amendments that would strip out cash to support President Obama’s executive actions on immigration reform — a move Democrats find unacceptable.
“If Congress wants to have a debate about immigration, they should have a debate about immigration … but we have to get out of the business of leveraging one with the other,” Johnson said. “It’s bad governing, it’s bad policy, it’s bad politics.”
The partisan bickering comes at a time when Minnesota local law enforcement — with federal help — is augmenting security around the nation’s most popular shopping center after a terrorist group last Saturday released a 75-minute video encouraging attacks on Western shopping centers.
Nearly $10 million in federal funding is funneled to Minnesota law enforcement for extra security, which includes resources to the Mall of America.
Should a shutdown occur, about 80 percent of those employed with Homeland Security — including airport screeners and border patrol officials — would have to stay on the job, but without pay. Another 20 percent of workers would be furloughed.
In Minnesota, Homeland Security employs some 1,700 people, including 472 Border Patrol officers, 953 Transportation Security Agency workers, 153 Immigration and Customs Enforcement and 74 Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel.
Asked whether the United States may be more vulnerable during a shutdown, Johnson said, “A shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security has real consequences to homeland security and public safety. Period. End of sentence.”
On Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans signaled late Tuesday they would be amenable to a “clean” funding bill — that is without any restrictions on funding all of the department’s programs.
There likely would be a separate vote to repeal Obama’s immigration reform executive actions.
Both Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken urged Republican colleagues to back the “clean” bill and move on to other battles.
Sending the wrong message
Klobuchar said much of the rapid response to bolster security around the Mall of America came from important state grants from the federal government.
“A lot of that has been enabled by the federal funding and a lot of that would go away if Department of Homeland Security was shut down,” she said. “This doesn’t make sense, it sends the wrong message to terrorists.”
Franken, speaking on the Senate floor, said Republicans have wasted a lot of time on this and he lacks patience with “politicizing” national security.
“These threats are real,” he said.
Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen, whose district includes the Mall of America, voted for the funding bill, but also supports the amendments to strip out funding for Obama’s immigration reform measures.
Through a spokesman, Paulsen called on the Senate to pass the House bill — unlikely since Republicans have tried four times to no avail in the past two weeks. He did say he would consider “any bill the Senate is able to pass” that keeps the department open.