Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder may have put U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., in a difficult position with his harsh comments about a law Blunt originally co-sponsored when he served in the U.S. House.
The law establishes federal standards for issuing driver’s licenses. Residents of a few states, including Missouri and Illinois, whose licenses don’t comply could be denied access to federal facilities or commercial airplanes. Passports will work if federal agencies say those licenses are no longer acceptable government issued identification.
The Department of Homeland Security recently notified officials in Missouri, Illinois and two other states that they had not received an extension and their licenses could not be used as of Jan. 10.
The Real ID Act of 2005 was a response to the 2001 terror attacks in that it was presented at the time as being necessary to close a “loophole” in so-called asylum laws and prevent terrorists from being issued driver’s licenses. The Republican initiative passed the House as HR 418, with support from 219 Republicans and 42 Democrats. Blunt, Todd Akin and Jo Ann Emerson, all Republicans, were original co-sponsors of the bill. Democratic Reps. Emanuel Cleaver, D- Kansas City and Lacy Clay, D-University City, voted against the measure.
The bill’s language was later folded into an emergency appropriations measure, in part, to fight the global war on terror. That bill HR1268, won overwhelming support in both chambers. All four U.S. senators from Missouri and Illinois including Kit Bond, R-Mo., Jim Talent, R-Mo., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Barack Obama D-Ill., voted for the final bill, which was signed into law by then president George W. Bush.
In February 2005, the Joplin Independent newspaper quoted Blunt as saying the U.S. needed a “uniform law” concerning the issuing of driver’s licenses to protect against terrorists. “The Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers used American driver’s licenses to board those planes on that terrible day. The lead mastermind, Mohammed Atta, was only able to acquire a six-month visa, but he qualified for a six-year Florida driver’s license.”
Blunt said then that the bill would bring about consistency in how states issue licenses to foreign visitors. “We need a uniform law in the United States that issues driver’s licenses to foreign visitors that expire when their visas expire. It’s common sense, and it will keep us safe.”
Overreach and the 10th Amendment
On Tuesday, Kinder called on Blunt, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo, and the rest of the state’s congressional delegation to stop what he called “Homeland Security’s strong-armed tactics against the citizens of Missouri” in what he termed an “intrusive and misguided federal law.”
Kinder says Homeland Security would violate the 10th Amendment to the Constitution if it invalidates the state’s driver’s licenses for use to access federal facilities.
“The real-world implications of a nationalized ID system, with biometric photo data that allows for long-distance identification and tracking of residents is disturbing,” said Kinder in criticizing the scope of the law. “That’s why in 2009, the Missouri General Assembly passed HB361 to thwart the federal government’s continued encroachment on Missourians’ liberties.”
The issue of security, specifically cybersecurity, has been important to Blunt. The recently approved omnibus spending plan includes language sponsored by Blunt to encourage businesses to voluntarily share information with the federal government about cyber threats.
“The measure will enhance our cybersecurity, while ensuring that we protect the privacy rights of individuals,” Blunt said in a statement at the time Senators approved the measure. Privacy groups are critical of the measure, but the language was included in the omnibus package with the blessings of the White House.
St. Louis Public Radio Wednesday reached out to Blunt, noting his original co-sponsorship of the law, his current seat on the Senate Selected Committee on Intelligence and his frequent criticism of what he says is the failure of the Obama administration to adequately address threats posed by the Islamic State. Blunt did not return the request for an interview nor did he or his office provide a statement by the time this story was published.