Candidates Debate National Security

Editor’s note: This is the second article in a series based on a debate held by The Post-Journal and The OBSERVER between Congressional candidates Tom Reed and John Plumb.

With several threats facing the U.S., the 23rd Congressional District candidates issued their priorities to keeping the country safe during a recent debate with The Post-Journal and The OBSERVER.

In defeating ISIS, U.S. Rep. Tom Reed said he’s open to supporting ground troops, but only when the president and commander-in-chief introduces a proposal with a clear goal and an exit plan. For John Plumb, former official with the Pentagon and National Security Council, defeating ISIS will require targeting and eliminating leadership.

Reed, Republican incumbent, opened the debate as he stated the need to identify the threat as radical Islamic terrorism. Once the threat is recognized, Reed said the military must have the resources and training necessary to identify and go at the threats. Reed said that means strong and robust cybersecurity measures to address and attack online threats.

“That’s easier said than done because when you talk about the Internet, we also have freedoms that you have to balance against,” Reed said. “To put power into one person or into one process without any checks and balances on it is something some folks advocated for. That is a lot of power and oversight in one person’s mind to say that’s a good site or that’s a bad site.”

Eradicating ISIS requires work at the executive and congressional levels, Plumb said. At the executive branch, Plumb said a relentless focus is warranted to remove, capture or kill ISIS leadership. At the congressional level, Plumb said Congress has failed to pass a new authorization for use of military force. Right now, he said the U.S. is fighting ISIS with a law passed by Congress in 2001 to fight Al Qaeda.

“(Al Qaeda) is gone and we’ve effectively dismantled it,” he said. “For 15 years, Congress hasn’t decided to put enough skin in the game. I don’t know why, but it’s hurting the whole country and it’s disingenuous to complain about executive overreach if you’re not actually working with the executive branch to try to provide solutions and oversight.”


Plumb said he supports fully funding the Joint Terrorism Task Force in order to fend off threats and bombing plots like the recent ones in New York City and New Jersey. Intelligence sharing between the U.S. and allies must improve as Plumb said the foreign countries haven’t kept up.

“The attacks in Brussels and Paris are related to not putting enough funding into intelligence networks and sharing information back and forth,” he said. “There’s a lot of diplomatic barriers to sharing information back and forth and we need to make sure we knock them down.”

The candidates went at one another over the issue of secure borders as Plumb criticized Reed for voting on March 3, 2015, to shut down the Department of Homeland Security by defunding it. Plumb said members of the New York Congressional caucus wrote an open letter stating the importance in keeping the department running, but Reed refused and voted against it.

“It shows he’s playing games,” Plumb said.

In response to Plumb, Reed said he didn’t shut down Homeland Security as it’s a mischaracterization of his vote.

“I never shy away from one issue we got to deal with, and that’s federal spending and getting our national debt under control,” Reed said. “It was all part of that conversation and there was still time and folks didn’t want to do it because they didn’t want to take the heart.”

Discussing the threat of Iran, Reed said the nuclear deal must come back to the table and be rejected with sanctions reimposed to send a message. Plumb said the Iran deal isn’t one he would have pushed through, but removing an Iranian nuclear weapon is “massively helpful to the entire planet.”

Between Iran and North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, Reed said it’s a nightmare scenario to think that the two countries could coordinate and escalate the situation going forward.

“They don’t play by our rules and they don’t think the way we do,” Reed said. “That’s a real threat that needs to be dealt with and looked at.”

As a member of the Navy, Plumb said he’s been to South Korea conducting war games against North Korea. Plumb said the problem is serious as the capital of Seoul is in North Korea’s artillery range.

“It’s a very unstable situation and it requires long-term strategic thinking by the U.S., South Korea and Japan, and slowly encouraging China,” Plumb said.