Rich Cooper

Dec 1, 2009

It’s been observed by many over this past year that the House Homeland Committee has lost a lot of its ‘umph.’ It’s hearings, while covering a range of important issues, have not garnered much attention or for that matter, resulted in some of the big policy and programmatic changes that some of the Congress’ other committees have produced in the same time period. There may be many reasons for that.

Part of it is the on-going jurisdictional battles the House Homeland Committee has to face with more powerful committees (e.g., Transportation & Infrastructure, etc.).

Another reason is the departure of some very senior and distinguished committee members (e.g. Rep. Jim Langevin [D-RI] – the smartest guy in Congress on cyber security issues, etc.). As a result, the Committee has not had much time in the sun. That will change on Thursday morning and all because of two egocentric, reality TV wannabes who showed up uninvited to places they don’t belong.

Bumping an already scheduled hearing, “Moving Toward More Effective Immigration Detention Management” with the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism, Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) has called the entire Committee membership together to grill U.S. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan and America’s newest pariahs, Tareq and Micheale Salahi, about what did and did not happen last Tuesday night at the White House State Dinner.

There are a lot of questions that need to be asked and publicly answered about the protection of our President, his family and Heads of State. God knows there are probably a few members of the White House staff and Secret Service who have been transferred to a radar station in Nome, Alaska as a result of the Salahis selfish and self-indulging behavior (“Look at me! Look at me!”). The fact remains, however, that this is a horrific breach of security, and it is my sincere hope that Thursday’s hearing addresses this issue rather than becoming a finger-pointing show trial-circus – which it has every possibility of becoming.

I can picture much of the questioning already. There will be the raised voices of several members, all waving their hands and arms expressing how serious they take this matter. (My money is on Reps. Peter King [R-NY], Chris Carney [D-PA], Bill Pascrell [D-NJ], Jane Harman [D-CA] and Mark Souder [R-IN] as being the most “animated.”) All of it will make for great YouTube highlights and quotable quotes for the 24-7 news cycle. Their “animation” is certainly deserved, but this is the moment for this Committee to show its value and maturity and not stoop to some of the TV performances we have seen in many past congressional hearings.

If Thursday’s hearing becomes just a session to beat the hell out of Director Sullivan and further mock the Salahis, the Committee will blow the opportunity they have been given. If the Committee membership doesn’t think Mr. Sullivan knows the consequences of what could have happened with other ill-intentioned gate crashers, they are kidding themselves. Sullivan and the entire Secret Service know the costs and are already moving faster than Congress could ever imagine correcting the failures of last week.

As for using the hearing to further mock the Salahis, that’s a waste too. These two people don’t merit any more attention than they have already received. There are as many owed creditors, disgruntled family members and employees willing to talk about them and expose them for what they are as there are media outlets willing to saturate us with every gross tabloid detail.

It’s ultimately up to Chairman Thompson on how this all turns out, depending on how he runs the hearing. My hope is that he grabs this opportunity to show that the Committee is deserving of more respect than it receives from its congressional peers and the larger homeland community. If he’s able to keep Thursday’s assembly from turning into a TMZ-media circus, he will have seized the opportunity before him. If he doesn’t, I’m sure the writers of Saturday Night Live will be at the ready to chronicle whatever unfolds and turn it into something we will all be talking about next week.

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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