Napolitano Says She 'Wasn’t Scheduled' to Be at Hearing That Democrats Scolded Her for Missing

By Nicholas Ballasy | February 10, 2010 | 6:55 PM EST

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (AP Photo)

( - On Jan. 27, the same day of the State of the Union address, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano failed to attend a public hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security about the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253. She was publicly scolded by committee Democrats for not showing up, and avoiding tough questions from the committee.

At the time, Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.) said, "I am very dismayed that the secretary herself isn't here. I mean, it's probably fair to ask, 'Where the hell is Secretary Napolitano?'"  Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) said: "She is the secretary of Homeland Security. She is in Washington, D.C. She was invited to testify at this very important hearing, and she should have been here. ... I am very personally disappointed that she isn't here."

Last Thursday, Feb. 4, Napolitano attended a meeting with the Democratic members of the House Committee on Homeland Security – Republican members were not allowed to attend. In addition, while media outlets were not allowed to cover the meeting, Secretary Napolitano spoke to in the hallway prior to the closed-door event. asked, “Madame Secretary, why were unable to attend the public hearing [on Jan. 27] but you were able to attend the State of Union address?”
Napolitano said, “I wasn’t scheduled to be at that hearing.”

“That had been a prior arrangement with the chairman and his staff,” she said. “The deputy secretary would testify, and that I would be here at this (Feb. 4) briefing for members and also, of course, I have, of course, the full budget hearing.”
At the Jan. 27 hearing, the chairman of the committee, Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson, said he spoke with the secretary two days before the hearing but did not discuss whether she was attending or not.
“I don’t want the committee to be misled,” said Thompson at the time.
“Now, I talked with the secretary two days ago,” he said. “We did not talk about her non-attendance or attendance at this hearing. Staff did communicate, based on a directive that we received that the secretary would not be here, and we worked on Assistant Secretary Lute’s presence.”
“That changed, and, at a minimum, based on that change, somebody could have communicated back to the committee one way or the other that we told that you weren’t going to be here, we are here now, but we still can’t come because of some other things,” said Thompson. “That is the courtesy, I think, the committee still deserves. It does not require comment.”
Napolitano also told before the private meeting with Democrats on Feb. 4 that Republicans would have an opportunity to question her. asked the secretary, “If Republicans on the committee want to have the opportunity to question you, are you going to let them do that, question you?”
Napolitano said: “Oh yeah, absolutely. I think security should not become a partisan issue and you kind of get a sense of that in the air in Washington, D.C. We need to undercut that so, immediately after this, I have a meeting with the ranking member and I will make him the same offer that I’ve made the chair, which is to informally brief members on the efforts on homeland security before we go into formal hearings.  But, as I said, we have our formal budget hearing this coming week so lots of exchange between the Department (of Homeland Security) and the committee.