Dems get testy twice with Trump Homeland Security chief

Dems get testy twice with Trump Homeland Security chief
© Greg Nash

Senior Senate Democrats had two testy exchanges with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenEx-ethics chief calls on Trump to end 'monstrous' migrant policies Laura Bush blasts Trump migrant policy as 'cruel' and 'immoral' Merkley leads Dem lawmakers to border amid migrant policy outcry MORE during a contentious hearing Tuesday that touched on President TrumpDonald John TrumpEx-ethics chief calls on Trump to end 'monstrous' migrant policies Laura Bush blasts Trump migrant policy as 'cruel' and 'immoral' US denies report of coalition airstrike on Syria MORE’s travel ban.

The first came when Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyStudent rips DeVos at school safety commission for failure to take on guns DeVos: Safety commission won’t focus on role of guns in school violence Stakeholder group urges Senate panel to fund Amtrak, Northeast Corridor MORE (D-Vt.), the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, accused Nielsen of failing to follow up as promised to questions about a controversial report asserting that the 402 of 549 people convicted of international terrorism in the U.S. were foreign-born.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It’s been four months, even though you stated you would get back to me, so let me try again,” Leahy began, before diving into questions about the report.

After Nielsen reiterated a commitment to follow up with him, Leahy interrupted her:

“Oh come on. It’s been months and months and months,” he said. 

Nielsen said she did not have data on how many of the 402 foreign-born persons in the Homeland Security report came from countries listed in President Trump’s travel ban, nor how many came to the United States through the diversity visa lottery, which the Trump administration has framed as a security threat. 

“I do not have that information with me today, sir,” Nielsen said.

She also did not have information on how many of the people in question were extradited from abroad specifically to undergo trial in the United States, which led to criticism from Leahy.

“These facts are still on the White House website,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be any backup for them. But it becomes what our policy is made on. I could make any policy if I just want to make up the facts.”

The second clash came when Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayIBM-led coalition pushes senators for action on better tech skills training Members of Congress demand new federal gender pay audit Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Health chief grilled on Trump drug pricing plan, ObamaCare case MORE (D-Wash.) pressed Nielsen over increased detentions for asylum-seekers who crossed the border illegally.

Murray was concerned specifically with pregnant women seeking asylum. She said groups like the American Pediatrics Association have raised concerns over whether detention centers are safe for expectant mothers and their children. 

“When your department is doing something that is wrong and misguided, and in my opinion cruel and an embarrassment to our country, I think it’s wrong, and I urge you to reverse course on this,” Murray said.

Nielsen said the detention centers provide prenatal care, separate housing, specialists and take detainees to appointments.

“I will say the reason they’re detained is because they illegally crossed our border,” said Nielsen.

“If they went to a port of entry, that would not be a crime,” she added, sparking an incredulous response from Murray asking if she was trying to discourage pregnant women from seeking asylum.

“No, I’m trying to discourage them from breaking the law. If they come through a port of entry, they have not broken the law, they can make their asylum claim,” Nielsen said.

Murray shot back: “But to put them in a detention center, that is inhumane.”

The two continued talking over each other before Murray, citing limited time, said they would have to disagree and moved on to questions about the annual cost of detentions, which she said was quadruple the amount per detainee than the federal government spends on education per student.