A Republican senator used his time during a committee hearing to lob partisan insults over a new Homeland Security initiative to combat disinformation.
The proposed Disinformation Governing Board, which is aimed pushing back against false or misleading online content, has drawn criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike for its potential threat to free speech, but DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told the Senate Appropriation Committee the advisory group would get involved only when such content posed a threat to national security.
"With respect to Obamacare, when [Barack Obama] said, 'If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor,' is that something the DGB will investigate?" said Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA).
Mayorkas said the board would only investigate matters relating to national security and tried to offer an example, but the senator interrupted him.
"Let me interrupt you, Mr. Secretary, because I don't have much time," Kennedy said. "I'd like to hear that example and perhaps we can talk privately. I want to continue probing how your DGB would work. When President Clinton was being investigated for having an affair with a White House intern and he said, 'I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,' is that something the DGB would investigate?"
Mayorkas reiterated the advisory board was focused only on content that threatens homeland security, which he said had been a problem for nearly a decade, and he sought to assure senators that privacy and free speech would be protected.
"Will the DGB be given its own police, its own enforcement powers?" Kennedy asked.
Mayorkas explained again that the advisory group doesn't exist yet, but he assured Kennedy that their work would not infringe on the right to privacy or free speech.
"The government's going to tell us what's true, what could possibly go wrong?" Kennedy said, as Mayorkas insisted that wasn't the agency's purpose. "Is the DGB going to accept referrals from the public?"
The Louisiana Republican proposed a hypothetical case where a senator could be subpoenaed by the working group for an alleged false statement, and Mayoraks tried to correct a false statement he said Kennedy had just made.
"Senator, it is so very important that I correct a misstatement that you made that the Department of Homeland Security is going to be the truth police," Mayorkas said. "That is the farthest thing from the truth. We protect the security of the homeland."
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