WASHINGTON (CNN) — Lawmakers on Capitol Hill reacted with shock and sadness Tuesday to the terrorist attacks in Brussels with members of both sides vowing to stand by the Belgian people. But with the calls for solidarity, congressional Republicans also quickly vented frustration that the Obama administration hasn’t done enough to counter ISIS, the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the deadly strikes.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, two of President Barack Obama’s fiercest critics on counter-terrorism, issued a joint statement calling the attacks “sadly predictable” and charged that “the administration still has no plausible strategy to destroy ISIL on anything close to an acceptable timeline.” ISIL is another acronym for ISIS.
“Time has never been on our side in this conflict, and the failure to recognize the urgent realities of the war against ISIL will carry a grave price for our nation and our people,” they said.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said he was not surprised by the attacks because “most folks in the intelligence world have been warning” it could happen.
“If people can get in and out of warzones, so can explosives. So can guys that don’t belong in the country, guys that are there to specifically carry out an attack,” he said. “Unfortunately until major changes are made in the strategy to take on ISIS and Al Qaeda and radical Islam more of this is going to continue to happen.”
“Radical Islam is at war with us,” said GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. “For over seven years we have had a president who refuses to acknowledge this reality,”
“We are reminded just how desperate the rest of the world is for true leadership and a true commitment for destroying terrorist groups,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, a member of the GOP leadership.
Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, said “we must finally execute a real strategy that brings the war to ISIS in Syria and Iraq, that puts America in the lead, and that destroys this civilizational cancer at its source.”
One top Democrat defended Obama’s counter-terrorism policies and said Washington must focus on preventing a similar attack in the United States.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer argued the Obama administration has done a “very good job fighting terrorism.” But he said in the wake of the Brussels attacks, which occurred at an airport and train station, Congress should take steps to “tighten transit security” domestically.
“It’s critical that we look at the safety and security of our transit systems to ensure this kind of attack doesn’t occur on American soil,” Schumer said at a news conference. “I believe the administration is doing a very good job fighting terrorism but you can never be too careful.”
Schumer said Democrats want to include in an upcoming FAA bill language to improve counter-terrorism training for TSA screeners, increase vetting of aviation employees, and add resources to airports to tighten security around their perimeters.
No threat to Washington
In the hours after the attack, House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to reassure the public he didn’t think U.S. faced an immediate threat of a terrorist strike.
“I have absolutely no reason to believe there is a threat here,” the top House Republican said when asked at a news conference whether the Washington or the Capitol was in danger.
“This scene is just so horrific,” Ryan said. “One minute, people are going about their day. The next minute, people are running for their lives. This is a terrorist attack in the heart of Europe. As our countries have always done, we must confront this together.”
Ryan planned a moment of silence on the House floor to express sympathy for those killed in injured in the attacks.
Senators in Europe
Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, and five bipartisan colleagues from the panel were in Europe when the attack happened. For security reasons, an aide to the senator wouldn’t disclose their whereabouts however they had spent the weekend in Poland.
“Our government has offered robust support to our partners in Belgium, and I will continue to track the events closely as they unfold,” Burr said in a statement issued by his office.
While there were sharply partisan critiques on the administration’s policies there were also calls from top leaders for Americans to stand with its European allies who have suffered greatly in recent months.
“The United States stands with Belgium during this difficult time, and we pledge to do everything we can to assist our European allies as they mourn this terrible loss,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. “Senseless acts of terrorism will never intimidate us or break our resolve. We stand united in this fight. The United States and our allies will bring these depraved purveyors of death to justice.”
“Americans are saddened and horrified by the attacks on Brussels,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Our nation stands in solidarity with the people of Belgium and we will renew our determination to prevent more senseless violence against the innocent.”
“We must use all the tools at our disposal to fight back,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. “The way to prevent attacks like this is to develop good intelligence and always be vigilant. We can and must root out terrorist organizations like ISIL, interrupt plots before they are executed and protect innocent civilians.”