McCain is at his best

At Wednesday’s Senate Homeland Security hearing, “Nine Years After 9/11: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland,” critical issues regarding the various aspects of terrorist threats were addressed with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, FBI Director Robert Mueller and the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter. The hearing covered everything from focusing on homegrown terrorists and encouraging average Americans to continue their diligence in reporting suspicious activity or potential threats (slogan: “If You See Something, Say Something!”) to addressing the terrorist threat posed by our porous borders.

If Bob Woodward is correct in what he claims in his new book, Obama’s Wars, and President Obama actually said to Woodward in July that “we can absorb a terrorist attack,” and also, shockingly, is under the misguided impression that we, as a nation, have “absorbed” 9/11, then it’s clear we are in need of more hearings on homeland security in both the House and Senate, as well as a pretty big apology to the families of the 9/11 victims still waiting to “absorb” their tragic losses.

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With this president seemingly ambivalent about aggressive anti-terrorist measures, we are in dire need of a Congress willing and able fill that dangerous void — a Congress that will ask the tough questions and demand answers.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) did just that. He asked Leiter what happens to suspected terrorists when they are captured by U.S. forces in another country. Where are they detained for interrogation? The response was more than a bit disturbing. 

Leiter was vague, saying, “It would obviously depend in part on the circumstances of their capture” and that a terrorist could “potentially be turned over to the country in which he was captured, or his own country.” Despite being pressed by a visibly irritated McCain on what the various situations might be that would dictate that a person or persons suspected of plotting a terrorist attack against the U.S. be released to their own country, a host country or anyone other than U.S. forces, Leiter had no answer, and proceeded to hem and haw like a fifth-grader explaining his unfinished book report, finally stammering, “It depends on many, many factors,” unable to elaborate.

Barely containing his frustration, McCain tersely suggested to Leiter that “maybe you can look into it and give us a better answer. That’s not a good answer.” While it wasn’t what made the news headlines about the hearing, it was an astonishing moment for those of us in the hearing room.

That was even before McCain forced Napolitano, his colleagues, the press and the entire room to face the fact that our porous borders and the federal government’s limp response to illegal entrants into our country pose serious risks to the security of our homeland. Napolitano, on the other hand, in her 15-page statement to the committee, failed to mention it even once.

Delightfully prickly as ever, McCain used his time to question Napolitano with some pertinent and direct queries that, while casting an uncomfortably tense aura over the room, were nonetheless welcome, necessary and extremely responsible. 

It was McCain at his best.

As Napolitano attempted to paint a picture of a DHS making great strides in securing the borders and dealing effectively with illegal aliens already in the United States, McCain wasn’t having any of it. “I know that you are very busy, but from my visits to the southern part of my state, they don’t see this kind of improvement, Madam Secretary. In fact, they are more worried than they have ever been.”

In 2006, when McCain offered a plan to grant amnesty to illegals while simultaneously building fences and securing the borders in order to stem the tide of illegal entrants, the public blowback was intense. Americans didn’t want to hear politicians talk about what to do with illegals already here until they had actually done something to stop the flow. McCain listened to the people, went back to the drawing board and ever since has fought to protect the borders. He understands it’s his job (something congressional Democrats likely now wish they’d done over the past year regarding ObamaCare).

John McCain was certainly doing his job at Wednesday’s hearing.

Jacobus, president of Capitol Strategies PR, has managed congressional campaigns, worked on Capitol Hill and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. She appears on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News as a GOP strategist.