Bonnie Watson Coleman learning quickly about the politics of Homeland Security

 New Jersey Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman speaking at a hearing on border security on Jan 21, 2015.

New Jersey Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman speaking at a hearing on border security on Jan 21, 2015.

Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) said she spent one of her first committee sessions as a U.S. member of Congress in a 12-plus-hour struggle trying to prevent anti-immigration measures from being snuck into a homeland security bill.
 
Though it wasn’t what she’d call a fun day on the job, it did give her some insights into what she will likely be up against in the years ahead. “It was absolutely frustrating, but very illuminating,” Watson Coleman said.   
 
The committee in question is Homeland Security, of which she’s a minority member. She admits that it wasn’t her first choice for a committee assignment. Or second or third, for that matter. 
 
But she’s still excited about it, because she considers the issues under the committee’s purview to be very important.  “I think the ultimate goal is to keep our land, our people and our resources safe,” Watson Coleman said. “And to be able to respond to issues of natural crisis or man-made crisis in an immediate and responsive way.”
 
Her other committee assignment is Oversight and Government Reform. As of late last week, she’d had no meetings with that committee.
 
Important as she believes the committee’s responsibilities are, she said she’s aware that many have come to regard the words “homeland security” as synonymous for inappropriate government surveillance. She takes those concerns very seriously.
 
Watson Coleman said that the bill the committee discussed last week was presented as funding authorization legislation that wasn’t included in the omnibus spending bill Congress approved in December, ostensibly because homeland security was important enough to warrant its own funding mechanism.
 
“We were asked to mark it up without reading it,” she said. “We spent a lot of time that day and evening literally reading every word of that bill.”
 
She said that’s a big difference between Washington from Trenton is in the legislature you at least get advance access to bills before being asked to consider them.
 
The bill, she said, was “glommed with a bunch of anti-immigration initiatives” aimed at undermining President Obama’s immigration policy.    
 
Despite the long day of debate, the committee eventually reported the bill. As one member of Congress in the minority party, there’s only so much she can do.
 
But she doesn’t see the conditions she’ll face as cause for despair, so much as an indication that she’ll have to be that much more savvy and fight that much harder. “It’s a process where you have to be very patient,” she said.
 
Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat, is in her first term in Congress. She represents New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District, which include parts of Mercer, MIddlesex, Somerset and Union counties. Some of the towns in her district include: Trenton, Princeton, South Brunswick, Manville and Scotch Plains.
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This post is part of our South Jersey Politics Blog

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