Editor’s Note: Bennie G. Thompson, a Democrat, is the US representative from Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District and is chairman of the US House Committee on Homeland Security. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN. The piece has been updated to reflect the latest news.
In nearly 28 years in Congress – including six spent as chair of the US House Committee on Homeland Security – I have never experienced a day quite like that which my colleagues and I endured in early January. Having lived through 9/11 and other attacks, most Americans have little difficulty appreciating the threat of foreign terrorism and the need to vigilantly guard against it. But never in our lifetimes has the threat of domestic terrorism struck so close to the bedrock of our nation.
Given this unprecedented domestic assault, the lingering atmosphere of lawlessness and intimidation in our capital and the credible threat of additional violence directed at our national government and statehouses across the country in the days ahead, it would be an abdication of our most vital responsibility to the American people to further compromise their security and that of our republic in this moment. To ensure Americans’ safety and fulfill the oath of office, the US Senate must move quickly to confirm Alejandro Mayorkas to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security.
The Cuban-born Mayorkas, 61, was among President-elect Joe Biden’s first picks for his Cabinet in late November. He is not an unknown commodity, and he is one of the most knowledgeable homeland security experts in the country.
Under former President Barack Obama, Mayorkas served as both the DHS deputy secretary and the head of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency within the department. And prior to his time in DHS, he was a US attorney in the Central District of California. In sum, Mayorkas is a deeply experienced leader, hailed by both Democrats and Republicans, who has been previously confirmed by the Senate on three occasions to serve in his previous roles. If confirmed, he’d become the first Latino and immigrant to serve at the helm of DHS.
As deputy secretary of the agency, he helped lead a successful effort to guard against terror attacks, enhance our nation’s cybersecurity and strengthen cooperation between the federal national security apparatus and state and local agencies. That proven record and crisis-tested experience is why Mayorkas has been endorsed by a broad, bipartisan range of former national security officials and law enforcement organizations – and it’s why we need him back on the job today.
This is no time for delays or political gamesmanship – not when American lives, and the American way of life, are on the line. By moving swiftly to confirm Mayorkas, Congress can send a clear message to all those who seek to intimidate or inflict violence upon our nation: that they can no longer exploit our political divisions to assault the principles that unite us. Of course, more important than the message is the practical imperative – it is crucial that we have a highly qualified, capable Homeland Security secretary in place to safeguard our nation and protect us against all manner of threats.
It’s no mystery why nominees to lead our national security agencies are historically given confirmation votes no later than Inauguration Day – as Obama’s and President Donald Trump’s Homeland Security nominees were confirmed on January 20 of 2009 and 2017, respectively.
America’s enemies, both foreign and domestic, thrive on and are emboldened by any inkling of chaos, dysfunction or vacuums of vigilant leadership in our security capabilities. Having a qualified, competent secretary of Homeland Security at the helm right away is critical even at times when threats are relatively quiet. Having one at the helm under today’s conditions may well be an existential necessity.
Given the blaring threat of further violence following the Capitol attack – to say nothing of ongoing foreign terrorism threats, a pending crisis at our border and the massive cyberattack recently perpetrated by Russia against our government and private sector – there is simply no excuse to delay a vote on the confirmation of Mayorkas.
In this vulnerable moment for our nation, having seen the deadly reality of the threat up close, I implore my colleagues in the Senate to come together on behalf of the American people, follow historical practice and confirm our next secretary of Homeland Security as soon as possible.