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Homeland Security Warns Of Terrorist Threats Against U.S. Malls


Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, issued warnings yesterday. He said people should be vigilant when visiting the enormous Mall of America in Minnesota. That's after a video, said to come from the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab, called for Muslims to attack shopping malls. The secretary's remarks came as he went on Sunday TV talk shows to make the case for funding for his department, which is scheduled to run out of money soon because of a partisan fight in Congress. Cokie Roberts is tracking this story. She is with us, as she is most Mondays. Hi, Cokie.


INSKEEP: So what exactly is the warning from Secretary Johnson?

ROBERTS: Well, that the Mall of America could be at risk because of these videos that have come from these extremist groups saying go after shopping malls. But more generally - and I think more scarily - he's saying that we don't have to have somebody coming in from outside the country to replicate the kinds of terrorist attacks that we've seen recently in places like France. That it can be homegrown that someone could act as a result of appeals from groups like ISIS, or ISIL. And, of course, the minute you say something like this, it has a chilling effect. He was careful to say I'm not saying don't go to the Mall of America, but be vigilant when you go there. Now, of course, it's a huge tourist draw and so it can affect the economy to say something like that. And, by the way, retailers are already having a bad winter because of the weather. And that, in turn, has an impact on state budgets because sales taxes go a long way to funding them.

INSKEEP: Now, I'm obliged to remember that during the Bush administration, there were a number of remarkably conveniently timed terror warnings - politically timed - and those were questioned at the time. Here is Secretary Johnson making this warning just as he's arguing for funding for his department. Is anybody raising questions about that?

ROBERTS: It's been very muted because no one wants to be in the position of denying the possibility of a terrorist attack, but, obviously, it is coming at an interesting time. He is asking for money for his department. And it also comes as a recent Gallup poll shows that Republicans are doing much better than Democrats on the question of which party do you trust more to handle terrorism. Now, the president had a big summit on the issue at the end of last week. There had been no polling since then, but it hasn't been going well for the president or the Democrats on the issue. Now, it's, you know, it is a huge issue. You have to keep in mind that if people are afraid of terrorism nothing else really matters. The economy doesn't matter; nothing matters if you're afraid to go outside your house.

INSKEEP: At the same time, Republicans want to raise this other issue in connection with the Department of Homeland Security - their concerns about President Obama's immigration policies.

ROBERTS: Well, that's right, and that's why the department isn't funded. And they, of course, have to figure out a way to do that because they now hold the majority in Congress and so this could be a crucial time for the department. Now, Republicans have voted to strip the department of the money having to deal with immigration in the House. That bill cannot pass the Senate.

And so any time that Speaker Boehner is asked about, well, what are you going to do about that, he says, look, the House has acted. Now it's up to the Senate. And he says it with a certain degree of glee because, of course, all through the Democratic-controlled Senate the House was asked over and over again why aren't you doing something? Why aren't you doing something? So now he gets to throw it in the Senate's ballpark. But, you know, this happens, Steve, sometimes after a party gets the majority for the first time in a while. They realize that it's not easy. Now, they like it a lot better than being in the minority, don't get me wrong. They love those chairmanships and all of that, but actually having to govern and get something done turns out not to be as easy as they expected it to be.

INSKEEP: OK, thanks very much. That's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays here on MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.