Transcript: Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan on "Face the Nation," September 1, 2019

DHS chief says border funding won’t affect storm preps

The following is a transcript of the interview with Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan that aired Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, on "Face the Nation."  


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. He's monitoring the storm from FEMA headquarters here in Washington. Good morning. 

ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY KEVIN MCALEENAN: Good morning, how are you Margaret? 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Very well. What can you tell us about the latest path of what is now a Category 5 storm?

SEC. MCALEENAN: Right, this storm just strengthened into a Category 5 which means there sustained winds over one hundred and fifty six miles an hour. It's now starting to hit the northern islands of the Bahamas and it's moving slowly westward. It's going to impact those islands pretty significantly and then we expect it to stall out about 60 miles off the Florida coast. That's where most models show it holding for over 24 hours before it starts moving in a- in a northerly direction and staying most likely offshore of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you are not projecting landfall in the United States at this point?

SEC. MCALEENAN: Correct, but that does not mean there's not going to be significant impacts from the storm where you expect to see hurricane force winds lashing the coastline of Florida as soon as Tuesday. We expect a storm surge is going to be significant and concerning as well as a prolonged rain event as the storm makes its way north. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: How often are you briefing the president on this?

SEC. MCALEENAN: Regularly I- I briefed him yesterday afternoon. He's going to be here in a few hours with other partners from the cabinet to talk about our preparation. So it's a- it's a constant cycle and you can hear we've got a very busy operations floor behind me at the National Response Coordination Center with the entire federal government response effort being coordinated with over 200 professionals trying to be as prepared as possible for any contingency with this storm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know this week that Speaker Pelosi called it stunningly reckless for Homeland Security to have transferred about 150 million dollars out of the FEMA disaster relief fund to the border. Are you looking at freezing these funds? I mean how do you respond to this criticism?

SEC. MCALEENAN: I- I would say she's badly misinformed about the impact. There will be no impact of the potential reprogramming on our ability to respond to this storm. The Disaster Recovery Fund for major disasters has over twenty five billion dollars in it. We're talking about a hundred and fifty five million in a base level fund. We believe we have fully adequate funding and no money has actually been moved at this point to begin with. So she's not informed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When you say potential reprogramming and no money has been moved, does that mean you may stop this?

SEC. MCALEENAN: Well let me tell you, this is a funding we ask for from Congress in the emergency supplemental. Funding that we anticipated we would need for the humanitarian crisis at the border which has raised concern across Congress. So this is money that we asked for. We didn't receive--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. 

SEC. MCALEENAN: -- And so we've- we've identified sources across the department to help backfill that and we're going to monitor that very carefully. We've got to manage two crises at the same time and again we have plenty of funding in the Disaster Recovery Fund.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So are you going to touch this money or not?

SEC. MCALEENAN: So no money has been transferred at this time. We'll continue to monitor the impacts--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you may--

SEC. MCALEENAN: --we have plenty of funding.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --still go ahead with it?

SEC. MCALEENAN: Yes, we had to notify Congress back in July of the potential for reprogramming. We do have an ongoing border security humanitarian crisis and that funding was identified as critical to manage that as well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So no operational impact, no preparedness impact for you? You can say--

SEC. MCALEENAN: none whatsoever--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that unequivocally?

SEC. MCALEENAN: --none whatsoever I can say that unequivocally.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The- the Washington Post and The New York Times I- I'm sure you saw this week had stories that the president had ordered some land seizures to build his border wall. Is that what you're looking at, land seizures?

SEC. MCALEENAN: So we- we're building the wall consistent with federal law. We have a waiver authority for construction, for environmental laws, and other laws. We also have the ability to- for federal government to buy land and that goes through a regular process through the courts and that's how we're proceeding. And we've been purchasing land for additional border barrier for- for many months now and that's how we intend to continue progress.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because you know that one of the concerns and criticisms Democrats are raising is that you are going to be so focused on immigration and the border that it will distract you from the other duties involved with your job including hurricane response, disaster response. How do you respond to that?

SEC. MCALEENAN: So I'm not distracted I can assure you the FEMA leadership here is not distracted. We have hundreds of professionals who have tremendous experience in monitoring in- and responding to storms and they are doing their job right here behind me right now. And I'm here supporting them. We also- we have a multi mission focus always at the Department of Homeland Security. We're working on the Transportation Security side. We're working on responses to domestic terrorism incidents. So we have a lot going on at the department and we're going to stay focused on all those missions in support of the protection of the American people.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So how should people be prepared in the zones you are watching right now for this hurricane?

SEC. MCALEENAN: So they should be listening to their state and local emergency managers and following their instructions. If there's a mandatory evacuation order they need to respond immediately. If there's a voluntary evacuation order they should consider it. In the meantime they need to be prepared. They need seven days worth of supplies: fuel, food, water, medicine if necessary, pet food. They've got to be thinking about all these things so that they're ready for any contingency with this storm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And those are in the zones you highlighted earlier. Very quickly I want to ask you about what happened yesterday in Texas. Can you tell us anything about what happened in Midland and Odessa? Is the public safe?

SEC. MCALEENAN: So we're following that incident very closely. It's way too soon in the investigation to jump to any conclusions about what happened or the motivations or why, but we're supporting our state and locals and our heart goes out to the victims and their families.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Good luck with the response today. And we will be tracking the storm as well. We'll be back in one minute with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Don't go away.