Homeland Security Today reached out to the 2020 presidential campaign field — President Trump, GOP challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, and 24 Democratic Party challengers — with a series of questions on security policy perspectives and objectives. We will be posting the Q&A here as each candidate responds and noting that the forum has been updated with new submissions. Check back regularly to learn where the presidential hopefuls stand on critical homeland security issues.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-Calif.)
HSToday: What do you see as the greatest terrorist threat facing our country right now and how would you confront it?
Swalwell: The Anti-Defamation League found the number of white supremacist murders in the United States more than doubled in 2017 compared to the previous year. The ADL also found white supremacists’ propaganda efforts increased 182 percent, with 1,187 distributions across the U.S. in 2018, up from 421 total incidents reported in 2017. Just look at Charlottesville, the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the guy who allegedly tried to burn a mosque before killing one person and injuring three by shooting up a synagogue in Poway. Newly emboldened evil is on the march.
Our federal law enforcement agencies should be pulling out all the stops to neutralize what’s clearly one of the deadliest systemic threats our nation now faces. FBI Director Christopher Wray last month testified to Congress that the danger of white nationalist and white nationalist extremists in America is “significant,” and a “persistent, pervasive threat.” The Justice Department agrees. Yet President Trump has said he doesn’t believe rising white nationalism is a threat. The next administration will have to acknowledge the threat and step up funding for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute any and all violations.
I would also implement better coordination between the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the Justice Department; state and local agencies; Health and Human Services mental health programs; Department of Education training and school programs; and Department of Labor training and retraining programs. In tandem, we can prevent people struggling with mental illness or other vulnerabilities from embracing violent extremism narratives.
The President of the United States should have the moral fiber to criticize and ostracize white nationalists even if they praise him; this President clearly does not. His pandering knows no bounds, and his moral equivocation is taken as a green light by those who spew hatred, including those who turn to violence.
This doesn’t mean we should be complacent about external threats. As a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I am working hard to protect Americans – and that means combatting terrorism everywhere. The United States must maintain a leading role in building partnerships and coordinating activities with both foreign governments and multilateral organizations. Alienating our allies and undercutting our intelligence community, as President Trump has done, only makes this harder.
HSToday: Your thoughts on the cyber threats facing U.S. infrastructure and your plan to fight this.
Swalwell: Cybersecurity affects every American individually — with privacy concerns, identity theft, or worse — and our nation as a whole, as foreign adversaries seek to exploit America’s virtual soft spots to attack our democracy (as Russia did) or our infrastructure, a new frontier of war that could cause chaos across our nation and its economy.
As an Intelligence Committee member, I’m well-versed in the cyber threats facing America and how we should be protecting ourselves against them. And as a member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, I know what government can and should be doing to keep Americans’ data and infrastructure safe.
As President I would establish a cyber security national guard – a corps of tech experts interested in serving our country – to be the front line of defense for our infrastructure, voting machines and communication systems.
With much of our infrastructure owned and operated by the private sector, we must ensure that government and the private sector cooperate to share threat information. We must continue progress we’ve made in having DHS, the FBI and the Energy Department connect with the private sector this way. The newly created Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within DHS needs better funding in order to help accomplish this mission.
We must also increase funding for protection, training, security exercises, and backup systems at facilities such as power and water stations, chemical processing plants, oil refineries, hospitals, critical supply lines, 911 emergency call systems, and more.
By refusing to acknowledge Russia’s unquestionable interference in 2016’s election, President Trump has given a green light to any and all attackers for the future; by saying he would still be willing to listen to political information stolen and provided by a foreign power without necessarily notifying the FBI, he has actually invited such attacks. Those who attack us must be held accountable, whether by stiff sanctions or otherwise, but never coddled.
I’ve authored H.R. 2424, the Duty to Report Act, to require that federal campaign officials notify law enforcement if offered assistance by agents of another government. And I’ve authored H.R. 2853, the Corporate Duty to Report Act of 2019, to require companies to disclose to the government when a foreign person, country, or organization attempts to subvert our election once again with political ads.
HSToday: Tell us your plan for operational control of the border and processing amnesty-seekers.
Swalwell: Our immigration system is fundamentally broken and needs comprehensive reform to be brought into the 21st century. We must provide a road map for undocumented workers to earn legalized status and citizenship, protect Dreamers, reduce backlogs, and reunite families.
At the southern border, we must immediately unite children and their families and stop the policy of separating families. We must also reverse the policy of mandatory and indefinite detention of asylum-seekers.
We must beef up technology and manpower at our ports of entry and for the Coast Guard, and we must provide more funding and staffing for immigration courts and related legal services to handle increased asylum claims and other cases in a speedier way.
A full-border wall is absurd, costly, and ineffective. It’s showmanship, but what we really need is leadership. That includes not just going to our border but going beyond it, to work with other Central and South American nations as well as relevant NGOs to address the root causes of mass migration from nations including Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. If this requires increased foreign aid to stabilize those nations and end the poverty and violence that’s sending people on a 1,000-mile walk for safer lives, then that’s the investment we should make.
HSToday: What would be your funding priorities for the Coast Guard and maritime security?
Swalwell: Coast Guard drug interdiction accounts for more than half of all U.S. government seizures of cocaine each year, and enforces immigration laws at sea, intercepting human trafficking operations that often put immigrants at deadly risk. And the Coast Guard’s maritime security and safety services keep our global trade and our economy safe and moving forward.
Yet the Trump Administration’s FY 2020 request proposed $9.3 billion in discretionary funding, which must be appropriated by Congress, down from $10.3 billion in discretionary funding appropriated for fiscal 2019. That’s unacceptable. As President I would fully fund the Coast Guard to keep our nation safe.
That includes funding for icebreakers – as Russia and China have increased their presence in parts of the Arctic region – as well as cutters, particularly Offshore Patrol and Fast-Response cutter models.
HSToday: What would be your legislative and/or executive priorities to move the country toward a culture of emergency preparedness?
Swalwell: Being prepared requires modernizing and maintaining our roads, rails, bridges and waterways. America’s infrastructure is deteriorating and the Trump administration is playing games with funding. Rebuilding and strengthening our infrastructure must be a priority.
We must fully fund the National Flood Insurance Program, the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Program, the National Dam Safety Program, and the National Levee Safety Initiative. It is also important to implement effective collaboration and clear communications across all levels of government, the private sector, and the public.
We must include climate change in FEMA’s strategic plan. Currently, the plan eliminates any references to climate change or any reference to rising sea levels, extreme weather events, or any other term related to the potential impacts of climate change. That’s ridiculous, considering the huge threat it poses to America’s economy and American lives.
Our building regulations must account for future risk as well, from earthquakes to wildfires in places where residences meet wilderness, to climate-change related weather emergencies such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.
From Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, we’ve learned both that households, communities, and local organizations need better training and resources to prepare for calamity, and that FEMA needs to be more agile in its responses – including having contracts in place in advance with reputable companies that can deliver emergency provisions such food, water, fuel, shelter, and other supplies in a timely way.
HSToday: Describe how your administration would foster the relationship between federal agencies and the homeland security private-industry community.
Swalwell: Our greatest private-industry innovations must be incorporated into our homeland security strategy, so we need to fund and support the mission of the DHS Science and Technology Directorate as it engages industry and facilitates partnerships to advance commercial technology solutions that meet our challenges.
I’ve cosponsored the bipartisan H.R. 618 to establish an Office of Critical Technologies and Security to coordinate security policy relating to critical emerging, foundational, and dual-use technologies between the National Security Council and the National Economic Council.
HSToday: How would you address the increasing warnings about our changing climate from a homeland security perspective?
Swalwell: Climate change threatens our national security, our economy, our environment, our lives. Let’s believe in science, and act accordingly. Climate change should no longer be the start of an argument — it should be the start of a workday for millions of Americans going to good-paying jobs in sustainable energy and energy efficiency. I’m a cosponsor of the Green New Deal resolution. And as President, I’ll convene a new global climate summit here in the United States; this is a global crisis, and we must work with the world to address it.
The Trump administration has stripped any mention of climate change in the 2019-2022 FEMA strategic plan. Let’s stop burying our heads in the sand: I would insist on coordination across all federal departments to ensure adequate funding and cohesive mitigation efforts to protect our military bases, critical infrastructure, food production, and other critical systems. We’ll have to pay particular attention to coastal areas threatened by sea level rise, and to low-lying areas particularly susceptible to flooding.
We also must incentivize and facilitate smarter planning and construction that accounts for increasingly severe weather events and wildfires.
We must make plans both for internal displacement and international forced migration as people are forced from their homes due to droughts, floods, and other climate chaos.
HSToday: How would you address the public health crisis fueled by an increasing number of unvaccinated Americans?
Swalwell: The recent measles outbreak is a completely avoidable crisis that puts the health of the public, particularly children, at risk. Rather than lead our nation out of this crisis, President Trump, who has previously peddled unfounded theories on vaccines, has instead dedicated his time toward tweeting his grievances with the Mueller report, the media, and his political opponents.
I’m a father of two children under age two, and they’re being vaccinated. Vaccines save lives. There is no link between vaccines and autism. I believe California, West Virginia and Mississippi are right to reject religious and personal belief exemptions, leaving only medical exemptions; nobody’s beliefs should put other people’s lives at risk.
The views expressed here are the candidates’ and inclusion does not reflect endorsement by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com.