We’re in that time of the year in Washington when there are lots of big vision speeches occurring – from the State of the Union to the minority party’s rebuttal, there are lots of reflective remarks going on about what’s going right, as well as what is going wrong in America. It all depends on who is delivering the speech as to which tenor the address will take.
In what could be termed as the beginning of a farewell tour as the term-limited chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) took the stage at George Washington University on Monday to offer his take on the “State of National Security.” His remarks were certainly a reflection of his tenure as chairman as there seemed to be no part of the homeland or national security landscape that he did not mention during about 20 minutes of remarks. But a more accurate title for his remarks would have been, “If the only the Senate would act….”
Without being a braggart, Chairman McCaul gave a rundown of everything the House Homeland Security Committee has done over the past year. It was a substantive list. From authorization work for newer DHS offices and missions such as the National Protection and Programs Directorate and the Blue Campaign, ways to spur faster technology deployments at TSA, looking at online radicalization efforts by ISIS, etc., to examining FEMA’s performance in some of the biggest storms in U.S. history, McCaul’s Committee has not been by any measure a dormant institution.
His pride in that work and the “pragmatic solutions to our problems” that he’s encouraged and shepherded over the past year and his previous years in the chairman’s seat was on full display. It was also a reflection of the enormous time and energy that he and his fellow committee members had invested to address “our problems.”
In detailing that exhaustive work, McCaul mentioned that more than 60 bills that his committee had worked on and passed now sat on the other side of the U.S. Capitol with the Senate, waiting for some sort of action.
While he never slumped his shoulders or sighed into the microphone, you could sense a visible air of frustration that surrounded the state of affairs with homeland security legislation. Unlike their Democratic counterparts, Republican committee chairmen are term-limited, meaning they don’t serve a literal lifetime as has happened in the past with senior congressional members who have attained chairman’s gavels and never gave them up. As such, term-limited chairmen know they have a limited amount of time to get done what they want to get done, because in their political and legislative world the clock really is ticking down to an expiration date.
McCaul is deservedly proud of his work and his stewardship of House Committee. Unlike a number of other congressional committees and hearings, McCaul never allowed House Homeland or its hearings to devolve into cable TV shouting matches. Sure, there were times members on both sides of the aisle would raise their voices or object to lines of questioning being tossed at Obama or Trump appointees or other witnesses. That’s a natural part of the oversight and legislative process, but in an era and town where decorum and respect are endangered species, McCaul showed leadership and respectful poise on issues that needed them.
Which is why his frustration at the Senate’s inattention to his committee’s work is so deserved. If anyone of us had put in all of the work to take on some of the toughest and most complex security issues and that work never got addressed, even by members of your own majority party, you’d be understandably frustrated, too.
That does not mean that the Senate or, specifically, McCaul’s Senate counterpart committee, Homeland Security & Government Affairs, should just rubber-stamp the work that he and his colleagues have done. No way! That’s not the way our legislative system was designed to work, but having some semblance of addressing the inbox that McCaul and his committee have filled seems to be overdue.
Streamlining the Byzantine and overly redundant congressional oversight of DHS is certainly one way of addressing those needs. But so, too, is a healthier respect and a more expeditious addressing of the hard work that’s been done by your legislative colleagues who are just as equally vested in addressing the complex problems the country faces as those with longer terms of office possess.
It would seem in the time that McCaul has left as House Homeland chairman he has no desire to take his foot off the legislative gas and coast into the end of this congressional session, simply resting on the laurels of work he’s already completed in previous years. Despite the deserved frustration he may feel about his work being unattended by the Senate, McCaul seemed more intent to keep on showing us that there are still a lot more “pragmatic solutions” to be worked on to address the homeland’s problems.
And if that means he keeps sending completed bills to the Senate to add to the growing pile for action and attention, my guess is that he’s OK with that, too. He just wants to be sure everyone knows he’s doing the job he said he would do when he took over the committee five years ago. That’s not going to stop until his time as chairman is over.