This week the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on H.R. 5611, the Homeland Safety and Security Act, as offered by Majority Leader McCarthy (R-CA). The bill has multiple policy problems from a conservative standpoint and should be opposed.
As currently drafted, H.R. 5611 has three main sections:
- A section formally establishing an office at the Department of Homeland Security, the Office for Partnerships to Prevent Terrorism (OPPT), with a new high ranking, Assistant Secretary for Partnerships to Prevent Terrorism, who will be appointed by Secretary Jeh Johnson. This office makes permanent the current Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Community Partnerships, which conducts the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs and was created by Secretary Johnson without congressional approval. The new Assistant Secretary is provided the authority to issue grants and lead the agencies “efforts to prevent violent extremist activities.”
- A section that allows the Attorney General to delay the transfer of a firearm for up to three business days and petition a court to permanently block the transfer of a firearm to a person who “is being investigated as a known or suspected terrorist”.
- A section revoking passports previously issued to any individuals who become a member of or otherwise affiliated with a foreign terrorist organization, or have aided, abetted, or given material support to such an organization.
While the revoking passports for individuals associated with terrorist organizations is a good proposal, the most significant sections of this bill fall far short of an effective, conservative, or even appropriate response to the Orlando terrorist attack.
The first section of the bill is the bulk of the legislation. Unfortunately, it further codifies a failed approach to fighting Islamic terrorism at DHS called “countering violent extremism” or CVE. While the bill attempts to swap out every mention of CVE with “radical Islamist terrorism” (as compared to earlier legislative proposals), H.R. 5611 is clearly CVE-under-another-name. It renames and formally authorizes the current Office for Community Partnerships at DHS, which is the driving office for their CVE policy, as the “Office for Partnerships to Prevent Terrorism (OPPT).” Then, it also creates a new, powerful executive branch position, the “Assistant Secretary of the Office for Community Partnerships,” tasked with coordinating with FEMA and the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties office of DHS to distribute grants.
Again, while the bill does not contain the phrase “countering violent extremism” (as past legislative versions have), the only term actually defined is “violent extremism.” As both Heritage and Heritage Action have written, this is a failed strategy that House Republicans should reject and ensure is not made permanent within the agency.
Furthermore, there is no effective prohibition against funding groups like CAIR, and other unindicted co-conspirators from the Holy Land Trial, or other potential Muslim Brotherhood front groups, from receiving the grants or participating in the “community outreach.” The bill’s prohibition leaves it to the discretion of the new Assistant Secretary. The bill also authorizes at least $30 million in spending over five years on CVE activities, including partnerships with community groups and internet-engagement activities, such as online counter messaging campaigns that will not help keep our homeland safe.
If House Republicans do not trust Secretary Johnson, who has a poor track record of abusing the rule of law with respect to immigration, then they should have no confidence in his appointed Assistant Secretary, who would not even be confirmed by the Senate.
While the bill deserves to be rejected for the ineffective CVE portion, the inclusion of Senator Cornyn’s already-failed gun control language is also troubling.
For context, less than two weeks ago, Rep. Massie attempted to offer two amendments to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act that would have helped ensure D.C. residents can exercise their given right to keep and bear arms. But House Leadership and the Rules Committee blocked these amendments from being considered by the Republican Majority, even though these same amendments passed the House last year.
In regards to the process, House Leadership is now putting forth a bill, without any committee consideration, impacting American citizens’ Second Amendment rights to have firearms, presumably in an effort to placate Democrats for their floor antics. Such a move essentially rewards Democrats with a debate on gun control after completely upending the regular order of the House.
On the substance of the policy itself, Section 5 of H.R. 5611 is essentially the same language of a Senator Cornyn amendment that was recently rejected by the Senate. As written, there are multiple problems with the language.
The bill assumes that many things will work properly and in a timely fashion. In reality, they probably won’t, and in some circumstances, probably cannot. What if the FBI doesn’t want it publically known that a person is being, or has been investigated for terrorism in the last five years? Keeping tabs on a known or suspected terrorist is often preferred over swooping in and letting him know the government is “on” to him.
Additionally, the bill is silent with respect to the type of evidence the government must produce at the emergency hearing, or whether that hearing could be conducted (in part) as an ex parte hearing. And the bill is silent with respect to whether the government will be allowed to present classified evidence to the judge (presumably a federal judge), and whether the defense will be able to see unclassified summaries of that evidence. For the average American who now has to retain a lawyer and argue for their Second Amendment rights, they are potentially walking into court without a sufficient basis to defend themselves.
In short, the language falls far short on specifics and may be impracticable to implement. House Leadership should go back to the drawing board before jamming through legislation, out of regular order, that impacts the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.
In the wake of the Orlando terrorist attack, Congress should absolutely consider legislation to better protect our homeland from jihadi terrorist attacks, Islamist infiltration, and other terrorist threats. If House Republican Leadership is serious about regaining the narrative from a liberal media that is obsessed with gun control, and the House floor from obstructionist Democrats, they should advance legislation that would instead expand access to firearms, so that our law-abiding citizenry can be better armed and prepared to respond to any future terrorist attacks. But creating more bureaucracy and increased gun control is not the right response.
Reports suggest there is wide opposition to this legislation among House Republicans and there are ongoing discussions about changing the language. As currently written, Heritage Action opposes H.R. 5611 and would include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard. We will evaluate any new potential language as it is made available.
Heritage Action Scorecard
“Countering Violent Extremism” Bill Is Wrong Response to Orlando Terrorist Attack
The Unmentionable Origins of Terrorism
Key Vote “No” On Revised Collins Gun Control Amendment (H.R. 2578)
Taking Away Constitutional Rights at the Discretion of the Government