Former Bush homeland security adviser urges Mayorkas confirmation amid DHS 'heightened threat' warning

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A former homeland security adviser for President George W. Bush on Thursday said President Biden’s nominee for DHS secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, should quickly be confirmed to his post amid the agency’s advisory warning that the U.S. is under a “heightened threat environment.”

The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday issued a National Terrorism Advisory bulletin after consulting with the intelligence community and federal law enforcement partners.

“There is currently a heightened threat environment across the United States that is likely to persist over the coming weeks,” the bulletin read, adding that the agency does not have any information to indicate any “specific” or “credible” plots, but it cited violence and unrest across the country related to the presidential transition.

But Ken Wainstein, who served as the first assistant attorney general for national security and later as Bush’s homeland security adviser, pointed to the heightened threat environment and stressed the importance of Mayorkas’ Senate confirmation.

“It’s pretty simple. National security organizations don’t run on autopilot — they need leadership,” Wainstein told Fox News. “They need to have that when you’re at a time of heightened threat, as we are today.”

Homeland Security Secretary nominee Alejandro Mayorkas takes his seat to testify during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Bill Clark/Pool via AP)

Wainstein stressed the importance of “focused and centralized leadership,” pointing to the Bush administration and the importance of a “seamless transition in the national security space.”

Wainstein said the Bush transition period was “truncated” due to the challenges to the 2000 election, adding that “one could argue we’re in an analogous situation today — where we had a less than seamless transition, which makes it all the more critical that we get leaders in place.”

“Mayorkas is well-equipped and experienced to hit the ground running as DHS secretary and make an impact from the first moment that he is in that role,” Wainstein said, adding that “there is nobody in the world who knows more about DHS and how to make it function well and function well with its partners throughout the country to harden and protect the homeland.”

“The reality is, you can have all the processes in place, you can have all the boxes on the org chart for your national security agencies, but those agencies aren’t going to be effective unless they have leadership pushing the agencies and pushing those processes,” Wainstein continued, adding that Mayorkas will keep a “laser focus on the goal of protecting homeland security.”

Meanwhile, with regard to the threat environment in the wake of the Capitol riot earlier this month and the unrest in Portland and Seattle in recent days, Wainstein said administrations in the past had not raised domestic terror to the “priority level it needed to be at.”

“It has been around for a while,” Wainstein said. “But this is a particular variant of it that, right now, is a serious concern given the politics of our day.”

Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced that Biden had requested a “comprehensive threat assessment” on domestic violent extremism from ODNI in coordination with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

Psaki told reporters that the National Security Council would also build a new capability to focus on domestic violent extremism, which she referred to as “DVE.”

Psaki said the decisions on policy will rely on law enforcement and guidance from the intelligence community and the goal would be to “disrupt violent extremist networks and more.”

“We are coordinating relevant parts of the federal government to address DVE,” Psaki said, adding that the NSC is “addressing evolving threats” and reviewing the role of “social media, operational responses and more.”

Psaki on Tuesday was asked about reports that Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines was reviewing individuals engaged in violence during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot as domestic violent extremists and whether ODNI would also review those engaged in unrest in Seattle and Portland, Ore.

“All violence happening around the country will be reviewed by the tasking by the national security team,” Psaki said.

Wainstein’s comments come after former DHS secretaries for former President George W. Bush, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, and former DHS secretaries for former President Barack Obama, Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson, also urged the Senate to “promptly consider and confirm” Mayorkas.


Mayorkas was voted out of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, 7-4, with Democrats and GOP Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, voting to advance the nomination.

If confirmed, Mayorkas would be the first immigrant to run the department.

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