DHS Chief Hits Back at Claim Agency Is Too 'Distracted' with Border Wall to Deal with Hurricane Response: 'We Have a Multi-mission Focus'

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) acting chief has hit back at claims that he and his agency are too "distracted" with bringing President Donald Trump's border wall ambitions to fruition to focus on "other duties," such as disaster response, as Hurricane Dorian creeps towards Florida's east coast.

In a Sunday interview with Face The Nation host Margaret Brennan, acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan refuted claims he is distracted by his department's bid to see as much as 500 miles of Trump's border wall built before the 2020 presidential election.

"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," Brennan said during the interview. "How do you respond to that?

"I'm not distracted [and] I can assure you the FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] leadership here is not distracted," McAleenan said, speaking from the FEMA's headquarters in Washington, D.C., where officials have been tracking Hurricane Dorian as the category 5 storm batters the Bahamas.

"We have hundreds of professionals who have tremendous experience in monitoring and responding to storms and they are doing their job right here behind me right now. And I'm here supporting them," McAleenan said.

"We have a multi-mission focus always at the Department of Homeland Security," he added. "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."

While McAleenan maintained that DHS's mission has always been a dynamic one, he was also forced to defend his agency's request to divert roughly $150 million out of FEMA's disaster relief fund to the border.

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed the DHS for its "stunningly reckless" decision to make the request "on the eve of hurricane season."

"The President's brazen assault on the Congress's most fundamental Constitutional power, the power of the purse, is cruel, deeply dangerous and made in bad faith," Pelosi said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Stealing from appropriated funds is always unacceptable, but to pick the pockets of disaster relief funding in order to fund an appalling, inhumane family incarceration plan is staggering—and to do so on the eve of hurricane season is stunningly reckless," she said.

Asked to address Pelosi's comments, McAleenan said the House Speaker was "badly misinformed" about the impact the funding diversion would have.

"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," McAleenan said.

"The Disaster Recovery Fund for major disasters has over $25 billion in it. We're talking about a $155 million in a base level fund," the DHS chief said, adding that "no money has actually been moved at this point, to begin with. So, she's not informed."

Asked whether the DHS does plan to move the money in the future, however, McAleenan repeated that "no money has been transferred at this time."

He said his agency would "continue to monitor the impacts" and would potentially move ahead with the plan to divert emergency relief funding to the border if necessary.

As Hurricane Dorian makes its way towards the U.S. on Monday, McAleenan said U.S. residents "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," he said.

"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," the DHS head added.

So far, parts of Georgia and South Carolina have been evacuated in preparation for the storm, with forecasts also warning that Florida is at risk.

In the Bahamas, a young boy is believed to be the first reported fatality from the storm.

The young boy, named by The Bahama Press as Lachino Mcintosh, is reported to have drowned while his family tried to flee their home in Abaco. His sister is also missing, according to the local outlet.

Hurricane Dorian made landfall on the southern end of Elbow Cay on the Caribbean islands on Sunday. It is the first Category 5 storm to hit the region since 1992 and is believed to be the worst the Bahamas has ever seen on record.

kevin mcaleenan
Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan holds a news conference to announce new rules about how migrant children and families are treated in federal custody at the Ronald Reagan Building August 21, 2019 in Washington, D.C. McAleenan has denied being too 'distracted' by the DHS's efforts to build President Donald Trump's border wall between the U.S. and Mexico to focus on disaster relief. Chip Somodevilla/Getty