WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders are calling on Congress to pass legislation that would shut down a new Department of Homeland Security working group tasked with combatting disinformation and block federal funds from being used for similar activities.
The Biden administration has come under fire since Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently announced the creation of the group, called the Disinformation Governance Board, because opponents argue its purpose is vague.
In response to the backlash, DHS released a fact sheet last week about the group's goals, which it said are to protect "Americans' freedom of speech, civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy" in the department's disinformation work.
Mayorkas said at a Senate hearing about his department's budget request last week that DHS has worked over the last decade to prevent disinformation from threatening the nation but that he thought there weren't enough safeguards to ensure that its work doesn't infringe on fundamental rights.
"And so we put together a working group to ensure that the guide, guardrails, are in place, that we have clear definitions, that we have good policies and practices in place, to protect the very rights that also are our responsibility not to infringe upon," he said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Wednesday that the group, which he dubbed President Joe Biden's "ministry of truth," was an "un-American abuse of power," and he accused Democrats of aiming to use the group to "manipulate the facts and discredit the truth when it's inconvenient for their narrative."
"It’s a scheme conjured up by Washington Democrats to grant themselves the authority to control free speech," McCarthy said at a news conference calling for the group's termination. "They fear Americans' having unfettered access to information because it will challenge the power that they want to have over people’s lives."
McCarthy and other key GOP lawmakers claimed that the administration wants to exploit the office and manipulate information. They also accused the group's executive director, Nina Jankowicz, of previously spreading misinformation. Jankowicz was a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center, a public policy think tank, where she studied the intersection of democracy and technology in Central and Eastern Europe.
When her appointment was announced late last month, she tweeted that she would help shape the government's "counter-disinformation efforts" and said "a HUGE focus of our work, and indeed, one of the key reasons the Board was established, is to maintain the Dept’s commitment to protecting free speech, privacy, civil rights, & civil liberties."
Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., who introduced the measure to dismantle the group, said Wednesday that "free speech is under attack here in America" and that it is part of the administration's efforts "to try to silence dissenting voices."
"Misinformation has become a rallying cry for the left to discredit facts that are inconvenient to their liberal agenda," she said. "The Russia collusion hoax, Hunter Biden’s laptop, the Covid lab leak theory were all labeled misinformation by big tech until the truth finally prevailed."
Boebert's bill has no chance of coming up for a vote in House, where Democrats have a majority. But Republicans could try to influence spending decisions, including discussions about defunding the group, in debate on the next government spending package.
Separately, 20 state attorneys general sent a letter to Mayorkas last week threatening to take legal action against DHS over the board if it isn't disbanded.
The GOP group wrote that “the existence of the Disinformation Governance Board will inevitably have a chilling effect on free speech” and that “the resulting damage to our political system and our culture will be incalculable.”