Freshman congresswoman Lauren Underwood crossed a line today during a hearing where acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan was testifying about the crisis on the southern border. Rep. Underwood noted that 5 children in Border Patrol custody have died since December. That’s true but Underwood then stated that it was her conclusion, based on evidence, that the deaths were part of an intentional policy. Rep. Mike Rogers the ranking Republican member on the committee said Rep. Underwood’s remarks were tantamount to accusing the Secretary of murder and asked that her remarks be stricken from the record. After a vote, Underwood’s remarks were removed. Here’s how the exchange went down.
“Why do these tragedies keep happening,” Rep. Underwood asked.
“They’re happening because the crisis is exceeding the resources provided,” Acting Sec. McAleenan replied. He continued, “That’s why we’ve asked for more and we’ve asked for more authority to deal with it, to prevent this crisis from happening in the first place and from the children being put at risk. We’ve deployed the funding from FY19 that Congress has authorized. We’ve increased our temporary facilities by 500 beds in [inaudible], by 500 in El Paso. We’ve got three additional soft-sided facilities coming online in June. We’ve deployed medical practitioners. We now have over 100 certified medical practitioners in our two busiest sectors. We’ve asked for more money to extend that.”
“But people keep dying, sir,” Underwood replied. She added, “So this is obviously more than a question of resources. Congress has been more than willing to provide the resources and to work with you to address the security and humanitarian concerns. But at this point, with five kids that have died, 5,000 separated from their families, I feel like and the evidence is really clear that this is intentional. It’s intentional. It’s a policy choice being made on purpose by this administration, and it’s cruel and inhumane.” There was an audible reaction in the room when Rep. Underwood said it.
“That’s an appalling accusation, McAleenan replied. He added, “Our men and women fight hard to protect people in our custody every single day.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the committee, asked Underwood to restate her comments and she read the same statement from a page in front of her, once again saying the deaths were intentional.
At that point, ranking Republican member Rep. Mike Rogers said, “You cannot impugn the character of the witness by stating that he intentionally murders children. That is completely inappropriate and her words should be taken down. She was very explicit.”
“I did not say murder. I said that five children have died as a result of a policy choice that he has said…” Underwood said.
Rogers interjected, “You said it was intentional. That is murder.”
“He has said that he stands by the policy decisions of this administration, that’s what he said at the beginning of his testimony,” Underwood said, referring to Sec. McAleenan.
“I did not say that at all,” McAleenan said.
Underwood continued, “And he says he stands by the budget request. This is a policy choice.”
“And he said the policy is they stopped those detentions. They don’t do any of those separations. He’s made that clear repeatedly. You refused to listen to him. That’s not the point,” Rogers replied. “You said he intentionally supported policies that caused the death of children. That is wrong; your words need to be taken down.”
After a recess and a vote, the members of the committee who were present voted 9-7 to remove Rep. Underwood’s comments from the record.
Having watched the clip, it’s true Rep. Underwood didn’t use the word “murder” but I don’t see what else an intentional policy leading to the death of children could mean. In fact, the children who have died in Border Patrol custody didn’t die from abuse but from pre-existing illness and conditions they had when they arrived at the border. Border Patrol has added medical screenings to the list of things they do when people arrive, but the numbers are overwhelming the system. As many as 3,000 people a day are turning themselves over to Border Patrol to claim asylum. Our system was not designed to handle this many people. Even former Obama-era DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has said as much.
Here’s the exchange. This clip was pulled by Breitbart News: