President Obama’s 2017 budget request is set to take a beating later this month from an unlikely critic: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
De Blasio is set to testify at a March 15 hearing of a House Homeland Security subcommittee examining cuts to the Urban Areas Security Initiative, a federal grant program open to cities particularly vulnerable to terrorism threats, according to congressional aides and the mayor’s office.
Last year, the program made $587 million available nationwide, and New York received $180 million of that. Obama’s 2017 budget plan released last month proposes reducing the program to $317 million, with New York alone facing a cut of nearly $90 million.
“We need the Congress to step up and protect the people of New York City against terror and protect the people of the United States of America against terror,” de Blasio said at a Feb. 17 news conference decrying the cuts. “As a city and as a nation, we cannot afford to reduce our commitment to fighting terrorism. This is a time of increased threats. It’s a time of more complex threats. Therefore, the tools we use to prevent terror are more necessary than ever.”
The hearing will be chaired by a New Yorker – Rep. Daniel Donovan, a freshman lawmaker and former state prosecutor who is the only Republican in the New York City delegation.
Donovan won the seat in a special election last year and has since carved out a moderate record, notably joining the fight to win a renewal of federal aid for 9/11 responders. He was named chairman of the Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications subcommittee last month by Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas.
“Nothing – especially not partisan politics – should stand in the way of defending against terror attacks,” Donovan said in a statement Wednesday. “Congressional bipartisanship prevailed in our fight to provide 9/11 first responders with health care and screenings. I expect a similar display of cooperation in ensuring vulnerable cities get the security resources they need. Mayor de Blasio runs the city that is the world’s top terror target, and I look forward to hearing his testimony.”
If you’re expecting de Blasio to go for Obama’s jugular, that is unlikely. “President Obama has done an outstanding job in fighting terrorism,” the mayor said at the Feb. 17 news conference. “But let’s fix this problem right now and make sure New York City has the resources that we need to keep fending off these terror attacks.”
But having a prominent elected official of the same party criticizing a presidential policy decision is never a good look for the White House.
De Blasio is not the only prominent Democrat to break with Obama over the Homeland security cuts. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate’s No. 3 Democratic leader, appeared with de Blasio at the news conference last month.
“I think they’re very cognizant of the need and have given resources,” Schumer said of the Obama administration. “But here they made a big mistake and the mistake shouldn’t stand.”
After Schumer spoke out, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest blasted him in a news briefing by noting his position opposing Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran: “He was wrong about that position, and when people look at the facts here when it comes to funding for homeland security, they’ll recognize that he’s wrong this time, too.”
The Associated Press reported last month that New York uses the allotted funds for fire department emergency response training, as well as police counterterrorism training and an active shooter training course.
Asked about de Blasio’s testimony, a White House spokesman pointed to Earnest’s remarks in the Feb. 17 news briefing, where he noted that “there is $600 million that’s sitting in that account” of Homeland Security funds available to New York.
“There are ample resources that are available, and those ample resources are available and provided by the Obama administration because of our ironclad commitment to the safety and security of New York and communities all across the country,” he said.