Napolitano offers regular meetings with critical House GOPs; Rep. King receptive

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is following President Barack Obama’s lead in reaching out to House Republicans.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, met privately with Napolitano Thursday morning and said he was encouraged by her promise during their discussion to meet with Republicans on the committee once a month.

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King, who has been deeply critical of Napolitano and the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policies, called the one-on-one session a “positive step” but would not describe its full contents, which he said they had agreed to keep private.

“We were trying to find ways to work together – to make sure there was no personal and political difficulties getting in the way of that,” King said.

Napolitano spokesman Matt Chandler described the meeting as a routine part of the secretary’s regular duties.

“Secretary Napolitano meets with Republicans, she meets with Democrats, she meets with Independents, and she meets with members of both chambers,” he said. "Our homeland security is not a partisan issue."

Napolitano’s trip to the House came one week after she faced bipartisan criticism for skipping a Homeland Security hearing on the attempted Christmas Day bombing and sending her deputy instead. It also came nearly a month after a handful of House Republicans, including Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) who serves on the panel, called for her resignation.

Before the meeting with King, Napolitano also held a closed-door powwow with Democrats on the committee. Her office and Chairman Bennie Thompson’s (D-Miss.) office said the meeting was in the works since early December and had nothing to do with her absence at the Jan. 27 committee hearing. She is scheduled to testify before the panel on the department’s budget Feb. 11.

The public display of Democratic outrage over her absence at the hearing inevitably came up during her gathering with panel Democrats. During the hearing, Thompson, as well as Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), griped about her failure to attend, and at one point Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.) asked where “the hell” she was.

Napolitano has been under fire from Republicans and Democrats alike since claiming “the system worked” in the immediate aftermath of the failed Christmas Day bombing, even though she later clarified the remarks.

Thompson for weeks has groused about a lack of communication between the White House, the Department of Homeland Security and the committee, and King specifically called on Napolitano to appear at the hearing examining Northwest Flight 253.

Broun remained unswayed after learning of Napolitano’s offer to meet with House Republicans once a month and still believes she should resign.

“At this time, I don’t see anything that makes me more confident about the safety of our country, our lives, and our property while Napolitano is in charge,” he said in an e-mailed response. “Furthermore, last week President Obama made a big show surrounding his meeting with Republicans and then spent the following week mischaracterizing the discussions. I will not gamble away our nation’s security with more of the administration’s PR stunts.”

Obama met with House Republicans during their retreat a week and a half ago and held a televised public give-and-take about policy divisions that divide Republicans and Democrats.

King would not discuss calls for Napolitano’s resignation within his conference and instead said he was impressed by her offer to meet one-on-one and continue appearing privately before Republicans once a month.

“The fact that she offered and I didn’t ask -- this was not me throwing a tantrum -- is a very positive step,” he said. “People get locked in and the more communication you have the better. I would rather focus on the policy differences than have unnecessary grievances and feuds.”

During their Thursday meeting, King said the two discussed everything from the Christmas Day bombing to more general problems he sees in the counterterrorism and intelligence communities.

King has been an ardent critic of the administration’s decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, at a federal court in Manhattan.

Administration officials now say they are reconsidering that decision. King also is working with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) to rally support for an amendment that would deny funds for moving Guantanamo Bay detainees to a prison in Illinois.

King said he specifically stressed his concern about what he views as a dearth of administration communication during terrorist threats and averted plots compared to the level of information sharing the committee received during the Bush administration.

He used the thwarted terrorism plot to blow up as many as 10 U.S.-bound jets with liquid explosives in 2006 and another to blow up Kennedy International Airport in 2007 as examples.

“Myself and Bennie Thompson received almost hourly updates and almost total access to Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism officials – and they would tell us what was classified and there was never a problem,” he said. “There was a constant feeding of information.”

Last month after the near-calamity Christmas Day, King said, White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan issued an administration-wide notice not to talk to Congress, a decision King said shows little respect for the legislative branch’s oversight role.

“I think John Brennan in the White House wants control,” King said. “He’s too involved in micromanaging the intelligence community and the message.”