Former Gov./DHS boss Ridge: ‘It’d be a cold day in hell’ before he’d let ‘uninvited’ federal agents into Pa.

Former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge speaks at a House hearing on a proposed nuclear subsidy on April 8, 2019. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

(*This story was updated at 3:29 p.m., on 7/21/20 with additional comments from former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge)

The nation’s first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security had sharp words for his former agency Tuesday, condemning the Trump administration’s decision to send federal officers into the streets of Portland, Ore. to quell protests, saying it was “counterproductive,” and that it was not the agency’s mission to act as domestic law enforcement.

“The department was established to protect America from the ever-present threat of global terrorism. It was not established to be the president’s personal militia,” ex-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said during an interview with Sirius XM host Michael Smerconish.

Ridge, the former two-term Republican Pennsylvania governor, who was tapped by President George W. Bush to lead the domestic security agency two decades ago, said “it would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to an uninvited, unilateral intervention into one of my cities.”

*Ridge prefaced his remarks by saying that “had I been governor, even now, I would welcome the opportunity to work with any federal agency to reduce crime or lawlessness in the cities,” but believed the White House was wrong to do it unilaterally.

On Monday, President Donald Trump told reporters that conditions in Portland, which has been rocked by weeks of protests, had deteriorated so badly that he had no choice but to send unbadged federal officers, who include DHS personnel into Portland, according to The Washington Post. The White House has said it may deploy similar units to other cities controlled by Democratic mayors, including Philadelphia.

The tactics, which have seen uniformed officers pull protesters into rented minivans and taken into custody, have provoked harsh criticism from civil libertarians.

According to published reports, the White House has ignored requests by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to have federal officers leave the city.

“What they are doing is sharply escalating the situation,” Wheeler told CNN, according to Politico. “Their presence here is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism. And it’s not helping the situation at all. They’re not wanted here …  In fact, we want them to leave.”

Trump has painted the protesters, who are largely peaceful, as “anarchists” who “hate our country,” the Post reported.

Speaking to Smerconish Tuesday, Ridge said such an approach is “counterproductive,” and would make the situation worse instead of better.

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“Had I been governor, even now, I would welcome the opportunity to work with any federal agency to reduce crime or lawlessness in the cities,” Ridge said. “But I would tell you, it would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to an uninvited, unilateral intervention into one of my cities. … And I wish the president would take a more collaborative approach toward fighting this lawlessness than the unilateral approach that he’s taken.”

Ridge prefaced his remarks by saying he came to the issue with two perspectives: One as a former governor and the other as the nation’s first homeland security czar, which promoted Smerconish to note that “It sounds like you have two perspectives that come to the same conclusion.”

“Amen,” Ridge responded. “Either way, I don’t care for it at all. DHS wasn’t designed for that purpose. And as governor, working in concert with the federal government to address these problems, I’d say that would greatly enhance the possibility of a positive outcome. But when you work unilaterally, and perhaps even against the work that’s going on in the states and the communities, I think it’s counterproductive and it sends the wrong signal. Frankly, I also think it sends a horrible signal globally that we’re just going to send in uninvited federal agents to deal with a state and local problem.”

John L. Micek
John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. He's been covering Pennsylvania politics for more than 20 years and most recently served as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Micek's commentary is syndicated to more than 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. And he's a regular contributor to a host of broadcast outlets in Pennsylvania and abroad.