WASHINGTON – Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema confronted the acting head of Homeland Security Wednesday over border wall construction she said has ignored the needs of local communities and bypassed environmental assessment reports.
The questions came during a Senate Homeland Security Committee confirmation hearing on the nomination of acting Secretary Chad Wolf – who has been serving in an acting capacity for close to a year.
“Construction began before mitigation plans were complete. I will note that my office received reports of dynamite blasting in Guadalupe Canyon yesterday related to wall construction,” said Sinema, a Democrat. “That will have a permanent impact on our land.”
But Wolf said his agency’s primary concern is national security, not environmental damage, to respond to the national emergency declared by the president.
“The president did issue a national emergency to build a new border wall system, so we’re appropriate. We are waiving regulations to make sure that that work does not slow down and is not delayed,” Wolf told Sinema.
The exchange came during a wide-ranging hearing that touched on everything from the actions of DHS officers during protests this summer in Portland, Oregon, to threats posed by states like Russia, China and Iran.
Republican lawmakers on the committee generally lauded the direction of the agency under Wolf. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spent most of his time praising Wolf and defending his choices as acting secretary while Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc. and the committee chairman, ceded his time to let Wolf address scandals affecting DHS.
But most Democrats on the committee grilled Wolf on his decision to send DHS officers to cities like Portland and his focus on left-wing anarchists over white supremacists. They also questioned the legitimacy of decisions made by a secretary who has served in an acting capacity for so long.