By KEVIN MCCARTHY, U.S. House Majority Leader
Last week the world was sadly reminded of the existential threat ISIS poses to democracy and religious freedom. And we know now that innocent Americans lost their lives in the cowardly attack in Brussels. These latest attacks offer a reality check on the current strategy to defeat ISIS, which President Barack Obama boasted last year saying, “The strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.” Furthermore, the president declared, “What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning,” he continued.
These remarks exemplify the massive foreign policy disparity between me and many of my House colleagues, and the president. In the House we continue to do what is in our power to keep Americans safer from extremist threats like ISIS. On the other hand, our commander in chief remains reluctant to take the steps needed to destroy ISIS. Instead, he has spent much of his presidency spreading false hope that the “tide of war” is receding despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.
With ISIS conducting terrorist attacks from Brussels and Paris to close to our home in San Bernardino, there is a growing consensus that what the president is doing—and not doing—isn’t working. Contrary to the president’s claim that ISIS is contained, the group has, in the words of former Obama National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon, “metastasized.” Donilon is not the only former official showcasing concern. Mike Morrell, former director of the CIA under the Obama Administration, recently argued, “After Paris, we’ve done very, very little to degrade [the ISIS] network. We’re still not degrading ISIS enough to degrade their ability to attack us in the West.” The White House fails to understand that radical Islamic terrorism knows no boundaries or borders, and extremists like ISIS will do anything to kill those who believe in freedom and liberty. Simply put, the problem is getting worse, and this president isn’t adjusting to that reality.
That is why after the Paris attacks, I took action and formed the Leader’s Task Force on Counterterrorism and Homeland Security. Our goal is to uncover and fix gaps in our nation’s security. The Task Force is made up of the chairmen of the Armed Services, Appropriations, Intelligence, Homeland Security, Judiciary, Foreign Affairs and Financial Services committees. In just a few months, we have been able to develop and implement substantive fixes to our security apparatus. Since November we have passed six bills beefing up the security of our nation while strengthening our allies’ ability to combat terror travel. Most notably, we acted to solve a massive liability within our visa waiver program.
Before the House acted, people who had traveled to terror hotspots and who held passports from visa waiver countries could enter the U.S. with very little scrutiny for up to 90 days. With the war on terror being waged by transient militants, this gap provided just the opening needed to plot and execute an attack in the United States. Our legislation requires all individuals who have traveled to Iraq, Syria, Iran or Sudan within the last five years to undergo an intensive visa screening process — so that their entry isn’t automatic like it used to be. Furthermore, it requires travelers from visa- waiver-program countries to have electronic passports, which will ultimately help law enforcement agencies share and disseminate information globally. The president signed our legislation into law.
In addition to visa reforms, we have crafted legislation to tackle airport security efforts. In March the House passed the Counter-terrorism Screening and Assistance Act, which requires other countries to strengthen travel screening so threats don’t come to our shores. We also moved closer to passing the Safe Gates Act, which will improve passenger and airline safety at foreign airports that have direct flights to the United States. With what happened at the Brussels airport, our Task Force will thoroughly review vulnerabilities further and work to produce more solutions to help keep our nation safe in an increasingly unsafe world.
The stakes have never been higher, because the dangers have never been greater. Instead of spending time partnering with communist dictatorships, the president should spend the time to produce a whole-of-government, fully resourced strategy that protects American interests in the region, bolsters regional stability, and defeats and destroys ISIL as he pledged to do. That strategy will find willing partners in the House of Representatives, but we need that leadership now.