Terror Group’s Threat to Mall of America Sharpens DHS Funding Debate

Westgate Mall terror.jpg

Feb 22 2015

A video released by the Al-Qaeda affiliated terror group Al-Shabaab on Sunday called for attacks on American shopping malls, specifically mentioning the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Al-Shabaab has attacked a shopping center in the past. It claimed responsibility for the 2103 attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 62 and injured over 120.

The video prompted Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to specifically warn about the danger of shopping there, and to call on Congress to finally pass a bill to fund his Department, which will run out of money on February 27.

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“I would say that if anyone is planning to go to the Mall of America Today, they’ve got to be particularly careful,” Johnson said on CNN’s State of the Union. “There will be enhanced security that will be apparent to people who go there but public vigilance, public awareness, and public caution about situations like this is particularly important. It’s the environment we’re in, frankly.” 

DHS, which oversees border security, air and marine transport security, the Federal Emergency Management Administration myriad other functions, is operating on a short-term funding bill that expires at the end of the week. It was not fully funded, because Republicans, at the end of 2014, decided that they wanted to use the leverage that comes with the threat of defunding the important agency to pressure President Obama to undo several executive orders that ease the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants.

The House passed a DHS funding bill that has language attached barring the executive branch from using any money to fund the executive actions taken by the president. However, Democrats in the Senate have blocked a vote on the measure in that chamber. President Obama has also promised to veto a bill defunding his actions should it reach his desk.

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Asked by CNN’s Gloria Borger what would happen is DHS funding is not renewed by the end of the week, Johnson said, “It’s absurd that we’re even having this conversation about Congress’s inability to fund Homeland Security in these challenging times. But if by the end of the week Congress has not funded the Department of Homeland Security, we will have to furlough some 30,000 workers, mostly at headquarters. People on the front line – aviation security, maritime security – will be forced to come to work without a paycheck and so for the working men and women of my dept. is very significant vey serious and congress needs to appreciate that.” 

Additionally, he said, DHS’s grant-making process, which funds programs in law enforcement agencies of all sizes across the country “grinds to a halt.” The Federal Emergency Management Administration, he said, in the midst of a very harsh winter, “will have to furlough something like 80 percent of its permanent appropriated workforce.”

The battle over DHS funding was complicated last week by a federal judge in Brownsville, Texas, who issued a ruling declaring the president’s executive orders illegal, and issued an injunction barring the government from enforcing them.

Johnson characterized the president’s actions as simply admitting the reality of an existing situation and trying to make the best of it. Among other things, the plan would allow several million undocumented immigrants who have not committed crimes and who have led productive lives in the U.S. for years, to apply for a work permit, bringing them into the open and, among other things, collecting taxes from them.

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These are people, he said, who “will not be deported in any administration, Republican or Democrat.”

The administration, he said, would challenge the ruling. “This is what appellate courts are for,” Johnson said on ABC’s This Week. “We will be seeking an emergency stay, probably tomorrow.”

He added, “We will appeal and we will seek a stay so that we can go back to implementation of our efforts to build accountability in the non-documented community.”

Prominent Republicans appeared on several programs Sunday to call for a clean DHS funding bill, even offering the court case as a way to justify dropping the immigration riders.

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“I am willing and ready to pass a DHS funding bill and let this play out in court,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who recently announced that he would seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. “The worst possible outcome for this nation is to defund the Department of Homeland Security, given the multiple threats we face to our Homeland and I will not be a part of that.” 

Asked if he thought the House of Representatives, whose Republican members are strongly against the President’s moves on immigration, would go along, he said, “I hope my House colleagues will understand that our best bet is to challenge this in court. That if we don’t fund the Department of Homeland Security we’ll get blamed as a party.

“To anyone who is watching the world as it is, I have never seen more terrorist organizations with more safe havens, with more money with more capability to strike the Homeland than I do today, and that’s a direct result of a failed foreign policy by President Obama and the worst thing to do is to add gasoline to the fire by having the Republican Party defund the Department of Homeland Security.”

On CNN, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the founding director of DHS, restated a position he took in an interview with The Fiscal Times last week, in which he also called for a clean funding bill. 

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“Fund it,” he said. “This is an inside the beltway game.” 

While he condemned the president’ executive actions, Ridge continued, “Having said that, I don’t think this country has faced the breadth and depth of these foreign policy challenges – Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, ISIL – the gravest we’ve ever seen. So, to be talking about immigration and using a funding mechanism to really undermine the department…these are great patriots all, they go to work every day trying to make sure America is safer and more secure.” 

He concluded, “I want my Republicans to give the secretary a clean funding bill and use the legislative process to engage America around the desperate need – social, humanitarian, and economic – for robust immigration reform.”

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