Mehlman falsely suggested Democrats were primarily responsible for delaying creation of Department of Homeland Security

››› ››› JOE BROWN

On the November 1 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman asserted that "[a]fter the 9-11 attacks, when it came to a Department of Homeland Security [DHS], [Democrats] delayed for more than 100 days creating that department because they were worrying about the public employee unions," falsely suggesting that it was primarily Democrats, not Republicans who were responsible for delays in creating DHS. Mehlman made a similar statement on the November 2 edition of MSNBC News Live during the 10 a.m. ET hour in a discussion with MSNBC chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell. In answering a question from O'Donnell about Senate Democrats' decision to force the Senate into a closed session the day before, Mehlman characterized the move as a "political stunt" and stated: "You may remember that this was the same Democrat [sic] leadership, or the same Democrat [sic] team that delayed for more than 100 days the creation of the Department of Homeland Security because of the fact that they were worried about the public employee union."

In fact, Democrats played a leading role in legislation to create DHS, an initiative the Bush administration opposed for more than seven months after Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) first proposed it. Neither Hardball host Chris Matthews nor O'Donnell informed viewers of this fact in response to Mehlman's misinformation.

A brief history of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security

Lieberman and Specter proposed the creation of a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security in legislation (S.1534) introduced in the Senate on October 11, 2001. The White House initially opposed this legislation. In an October 24, 2001, press briefing, then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer stated: "[T]he president has suggested to members of Congress that ... it does not need to be a cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security ... because there is such overlap among the various agencies, because every agency of the government has security concerns. They have different divisions across various agencies, whether it's the Department of Defense, whether it's the CIA, whether it's the Department of Interior, whether it's Department of Treasury." In discussing the proposed merger of several agencies responsible for border security at a March 19, 2002, White House press briefing, Fleischer again expressed the White House's opposition to creating DHS:

Q But if we're talking about consolidating all of these agencies, why not create a Department of Homeland Security, as many lawmakers have suggested? And rather than take Customs, Border, whatever, and put it all under DOJ [the Department of Justice], why not bring it all under the auspices, under one umbrella of Homeland Security?

[...]

FLEISCHER: [C]reating a cabinet office doesn't solve the problem. You still will have agencies within the federal government that have to be coordinated. So the answer is, creating a cabinet post doesn't solve anything. The White House needs a coordinator to work with the agencies, wherever they are.

Lieberman, Specter, and then-Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) proposed new legislation on April 11, 2002, to create a cabinet-level Department of National Homeland Security, as well as a White House Office of Combatting Terrorism. The legislation actually introduced in the Senate (S.2452) on May 2, 2002, differed slightly from this proposal. It was sponsored by Lieberman and co-sponsored by Specter, Graham, and three other Democrats: then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA), and Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) and Harry Reid (D-NV), who is now the Senate Democratic leader.

On May 30, 2002, then-Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge stated that he would "probably recommend [President Bush] veto" a bill that created a cabinet-level DHS if such a bill were passed by both houses of Congress. Ridge cited concerns that the director of a cabinet-level department would be accountable to Congress as well as to the president as his reason for opposing such a bill. Ridge stated: "I believe that the president and future presidents always would be well served having an adviser coordinating the actions among [the] multiple agencies," adding, "I don't think you get that if you are accountable to Congress."

In a televised address on July 6, 2002, Bush reversed his administration's previous position, urging "Congress to join me in creating a single, permanent department with an overriding and urgent mission: securing the homeland of America and protecting the American people." By then, 225 days had passed since Fleischer's first statement opposing the creation of DHS.

On June 24, 2002, then-House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-TX) introduced in the House of Representatives H.R.5005, a bill setting up DHS. When the Senate passed a version of H.R.5005 on November 19, 2002, then-Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) "acknowledged that Democrats had written 95 percent of the bill," according to a November 20, 2002, article in The New York Times. Bush signed H.R.5005 into law on November 25, 2002.

Although Mehlman was correct in arguing that Democratic lawmakers held up final passage of the bill over its exemption of DHS employees from civil service protection and its empowerment of the president to remove employees from unions, the 116-day delay resulting from these disagreements (from the bill's July 26, 2002, passage by the House until its November 19, 2002, passage by the Senate) was little more than half of the 225 days it took for Bush to reverse his position on the creation of DHS.

From the November 1 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Ken, one of the reasons the Senate Democrats pushed for that odd secret session today was to try to expose the role of the vice president. His chief of staff was just indicted on five counts, 30 years in prison, and at the heart of it was his dishonesty, his lying under oath. Should we know more about the vice president's role?

MEHLMAN: Chris, what you saw today was the latest political stunt by the Democrats. It's unfortunate, but it's actually not surprising. If you think about it, unfortunately too often since the beginning of this war on terror, the Democrats' first response has been politics. Think about it. After the 9-11 attacks when it came to a Department of Homeland Security, they delayed for more than 100 days creating that department because they were worrying about the public employee unions. Then in '04, he [presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)] was for it [the Iraq war] before he was against it. I think one of the reasons the Democrats lost in '02, the Senate, and lost the presidential election in '04, was because the public saw people who politics was their first answer in this very serious war on terror. They're making the same mistake today.

From the November 2 edition of MSNBC News Live :

O'DONNELL: We are joined by the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman. Ken, thank you for joining us.

MEHLMAN: How are you doing, Norah? What an introduction.

O'DONNELL: Exactly. Let me ask you about what happened up on the Senate yesterday. Of course, the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, accused Democrats of hijacking the Senate. It is the first time in 25 years that either party has succeeded in forcing a closed session. Why was the Republican leadership caught off-guard?

MEHLMAN: I think that what Senator Frist was surprised by was this Democrat [sic] political stunt. You know, Norah, one of the unfortunate things we've seen too often in the war on terror are Democrats who seem to think politics first and national security second. You may remember that this was the same Democrat [sic] leadership, or the same Democrat [sic] team that delayed for more than 100 days the creation of the Department of Homeland Security because of the fact that they were worried about the public employee union.

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Government, National Security & Foreign Policy
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