Even as President Barack Obama formally announced his intent to nominate former Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson as Homeland Security secretary, the pick faced some GOP skepticism.
Obama called Johnson “an outstanding public servant who I’ve known and trusted for years” in a Friday afternoon announcement in the Rose Garden.
“From the moment I took office, Jeh was an absolutely critical member of my national security team, and he demonstrated again and again the qualities that will make him a strong secretary of Homeland Security,” Obama said. “Jeh has a deep understanding of the threats and challenges facing the United States.”
But Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas expressed “grave concerns” about a nominee without significant experience in the law enforcement community.
“Texas represents the largest portion of our Southern border — an area that has seen an increase of violence, drug trafficking and illegal crossings. Rather than selecting someone who knows the unique dynamics of our Southern border, President Obama has tapped one of his former New York fundraisers,” Cornyn said in a statement. “We need someone who knows how to secure the border, not dial for dollars.”
And Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., one of the most vocal critics of the Senate’s bipartisan immigration plan, used word of the nomination to once again blast the administration’s approach to immigration enforcement, including the deferred action policy for individuals who came to the U.S. as children.
“This nomination should focus the attention of the Congress and the country on the open refusal of DHS political appointees to impartially execute their law enforcement mission,” Sessions said.
Carper, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, was one of several lawmakers noting the high vacancy rate in senior positions at the DHS. House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, also noted the number of vacancies in senior roles at the department.
“Even with this prospective nominee, over 40 percent of senior leadership positions at DHS are either vacant or have an ‘acting’ placeholder. The lack of leadership at the White House is reflected in the holes in leadership at the Department, and these important positions must be filled in order to fill the holes in our homeland security,” McCaul said.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy called the vacancies at the DHS “a disservice to the American people.”
“Jeh Johnson possesses many qualifications needed to lead the Department, and I intend to raise with him many of the Judiciary Committee’s priorities,” the Vermont Democrat said in a statement.
The Department of Homeland Security is a sprawling collection of federal agencies that were merged together in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. While certainly a coincidence, Johnson noted that his birthday falls on the 11th of September and that he was in Manhattan on the day the two hijacked airliners took down the World Trade Center towers 12 years ago.
“When that bright and beautiful day … was shattered by the largest terrorist attack on our homeland in history, I wander the streets of New York that day and wondered and asked, ‘What can I do?'” Johnson said.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., had pushed the White House both publicly and privately to choose another New Yorker for the job: police commissioner Ray Kelly. A Kelly nomination would have set up a battle over the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” policy, however.