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For a ‘smart’ secure border, ‘we need some creativity,’ says Rep. McCaul

February 23, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
The Trump administration is continuing its push to increase security both along the southern border and at U.S. points of entry. Judy Woodruff speaks with Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who has just returned from a tour of the border and launched a congressional task force focused on stopping potential extremists from entering the U.S.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn now to the Trump administration’s push to increase security along the southern border and at U.S. points of entry.

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Representative Michael McCaul, joined me a short time ago from his home state of Texas. He toured the U.S.-Mexico border yesterday as part of a congressional delegation.

I asked if he believed it’s necessary to build a physical wall along the entire border, as the president has suggested.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL, R-Texas: No, I don’t think we need a 2,000-mile wall down there.

We need a physical barrier, multilayered approach, using both physical infrastructure, but also technology and personnel. Those are the three main things that Border Patrol tells us they need. And we need some creativity to make a smart border to get operational control.

And so what we saw yesterday, Judy, I thought was very interesting was how, in McAllen and Hidalgo county, they created a levee to protect them from floods that was in essence a concrete levee that could operate and looked sort of like a wall, but, at the same time, was embraced by the local community residents as being a solution to the problem, that the county judge in Hidalgo County told us they wanted us to go that direction, rather than erecting a 20-foot concrete wall.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s interesting you say that, because I was going to ask you about a number of other Republican members of Congress, your colleagues, who are saying a wall may be part of the solution, but it’s not the only solution.

I saw Congressman Will Hurd, who represents a border district, said the wall is the most expensive and, in his words, least effective way to secure the border.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL: Well, I think it’s necessary in some places to basically slow down illegals or potential terrorists or funnel them.

And we essentially, Judy, because of the Secure Fence Act, have fencing between San Diego almost all the way the El Paso.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL: I think the Rio Grande Valley sector, where I was with the speaker yesterday in my state of Texas, presents a challenge, because you have a river.

It’s not just land. You have a river there and you have land owners that have — want to have access to that river. And so I think these creative solutions like this concrete levee system I think provide a creative way to do it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Chairman, you announced today the launch of a congressional task force. You’re calling it denying terrorists entry into the United States, looking for all the potential pathways by which extremists, in your word, might enter this country.

How is this going to be different from what the federal government has been doing and spending billions of dollars doing since 9/11?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL: Well, we had a foreign fighter task force last Congress that provided legislative solutions, some of which were signed into law by then President Obama, dealing with foreign fighter threat from the caliphate, Iraq and Syria, into Europe and into the United States.

We’re going to be examining, how can we more properly screen and vet people coming into the United States? We will also be looking at the border. We will also be taking a look at, how can you vet refugees as well?

You know, I think you can enhance this process and certainly deploy ICE officials at consular offices where they apply for the visas and have a higher vetting process on the front end, when they’re applying for the visas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, one of the things you focus on in this document that I was looking are American citizens crossing back into this country. We know that the people behind some of the most recent terror attacks in this country in San Bernardino, Orlando were American citizens.

But what more can you do? How do you screen American citizens without profiling them or without violating their civil liberties?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL: Well, I think you always have to be a little more careful, like we saw in the executive order, denying lawful permanent residents access in the United States.

I think that was the glitch in that executive order that I think will be remedied in short order, I am told. But I think you can look at — the case Rahami, the New York bomber, is a prime example of how we could have maybe done a better job.

This is where the FBI had opened a case. His father said he’s a terrorist. And, after the fact, we find out his travels to Afghanistan and Pakistan led him to more radicalized mosques.

And yet we didn’t have that intelligence ready to vet him when he was going through secondary screening trying to come back into the United States.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL: And what was the result? Two bombs going off, one in New Jersey and one in New York.

And that’s the kind of example of a case, better intelligence-sharing, connecting the dots, looking at social media. Any employer is going to look at your social media before they hire you. Why aren’t we doing that when we screen people coming into the United States?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Another thing I want to ask you about is something President Trump said today about enforcing immigration. He talked about the effort to round up immigrants as a military operation and he talked about ridding the U.S. of, in his words, really bad dudes.

Is that how you see this?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL: We have to comply with federal law in doing this.

You can’t just put the military in the streets of the United States rounding up illegal aliens. I think that would be a violation of federal law. And I think Secretary Kelly, General Kelly, came out not too long after that to correct that statement that he has no intent to dispatch, you know, military officers into the streets.

We have a civilian police force in the United States for a reason, and that’s our police officers, our ICE agents, not the military. I think that would be a big mistake.


Just a couple of other quick things I want to ask you about, Mr. Chairman. The president also said today that if countries are going to have nuclear weapons, then he said the United States needs to be at the top of the back, in his words, meaning increasing the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Do you see that?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL: Well, I know that in my dealings with the president and looking at the SALT treaty with Russia in terms of how they built more capability than we have, I think all along his theme has been, we want to build a greater military, one that is respected around the world.

I believe the previous administration shrunk from some of our responsibilities as a superpower and made the world a more dangerous place. I think he’s trying to project strength, so we can have peace through strength in the end.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you, finally, about meeting your constituents. In your case, it’s Texas’ 10th District. It stretches from Austin to the Houston suburbs.

I’m sure you know that thousands, maybe tens of thousands of Americans have been gathering at town halls sponsored by your Republican colleagues in Congress the last couple of weeks, many of them angry, many of them upset about policies of President Trump.

Are you going to be meeting with your constituents in the near future?


And, look, this is what democracy is all about. People have every right to protest whoever’s in the White House, without fear of persecution. If this happened in Iran, people would be shot on the streets. This is the United States of America, and we have a First Amendment that protects this kind of speech.

And I think it’s just part of the democratic process. I’m planning to hold what’s called a telephone town hall, where we have greater bandwidth, and I will be able to reach probably 40,000 to 50,000 of my constituents throughout my district in effective sort of media technology.

So, we …


JUDY WOODRUFF: And in person, too?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL: We do meet with them.

Unfortunately, we had protesters at my office in Austin. And we meet with them and talk to them and make sure that their voices are heard, too, because, you know, we represent all Americans, just not one side of the aisle.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you agree with the president’s words, finally, Mr. Chairman, that these are, in his words, so-called angry crowds that are actually planned out, in his words, by liberal activists?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL: Well, they are activists.

But we had the Tea Party that were activists. And now we’re seeing this sort of liberal phenomenon of activists that are speaking out. And they have every right to do so. I think we need to respect that in this country. It’s just part of the democratic process.

So, I don’t condemn them. I try to educate them as best I can. But, above all, I think what’s missing right now in this country is really a tone of civility and the fact that we are all Americans. And I think that’s a message that, unfortunately, I’m not hearing a lot from our leaders today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I think a lot of people would agree with you about that.

Chairman Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, thank you very much.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL: Thank you, Judy.