Updated, 3:50 p.m.:
Announcing Friday that Jeh Johnson, the former general counsel for the U.S. Defense Department, was his pick to become the next sectretary of the Department of Homeland Security, President Obama lauded Johnson's experience in saying he was the right fit for the post.
Johnson's ability, the president said, was instrumental in targeting al-Qaida elements in Pakistan and helped craft policy that repealed the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“From the moment I took office, Jeh was an absolutely critical member of my national security team,” the president said, according to an emailed transcript of his remarks. “As the Pentagon’s top lawyer, he helped design and implement many of the policies that have kept our country safe.”
He added: “As a member of the Pentagon's senior management team, first under Bob Gates and then under Leon Panetta, he helped oversee the work of more than 3 million military and civilian personnel across the country and around the world. And I think it's fair to say that both former secretaries Gates and Panetta will attest to the incredible professionalism that Jeh brings to the job, and the bipartisan approach that, appropriately, he takes when it comes to national security.”
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, congratulated Johnson and urged the U.S. Senate to quickly confirm the nominee. Cuellar, whose district includes the country’s largest inland port, said he had confidence that Johnson would “make an excellent head of the essential agency.”
“As former member of the Committee on Homeland Security and current member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, I recognize the vital importance of ensuring that we continue to support the agency that keeps our fight against terrorism nimble, effective, and cutting edge,” Cuellar said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Friday that he has “grave concerns” over the person President Obama is expected to announce as his choice to replace former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Jeh Johnson, the former general counsel to the U.S. Department of Defense, has been tapped to lead the agency, the Associated Press reported. If confirmed by the Senate, Johnson would head the department charged with overseeing, among other things, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Secret Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Transportation Security Administration.
Cornyn said Johnson lacked the experience to head the agency and criticized his personal and political ties to the president.
“After this administration’s mismanagement of DHS, in particular its failure to secure the border, Texans expect a nominee with serious management and law enforcement experience,” Cornyn said in a statement. “Texas represents the largest portion of our Southern border — an area that has seen an increase of violence, drug trafficking, and illegal crossings.”
A 2007 New York Times profile of Johnson, then a high-profile New York attorney, indicated he was one of the president’s key fundraisers and supporters during his first campaign for the White House.
“Rather than selecting someone who knows the unique dynamics of our Southern border, President Obama has tapped one of his former New York fundraisers. We need someone who knows how to secure the border, not dial for dollars,” Cornyn said.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, the chairman the House Homeland Security Committee, said he was looking forward to learning about Johnson’s plans to improve the agency and was pleased that the administration “has finally taken seriously” the efforts to fill positions at DHS. But he also took a swipe at the White House for what he deemed its failure to address the other vacancies within the department.
“Even with this prospective nominee, over 40 percent of senior leadership positions at DHS are either vacant or have an ‘acting’ placeholder,” McCaul said in a statement. “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.”
Napolitano, who served as the governor of Arizona before assuming her role at DHS, announced in July she was resigning from the agency to head the University of California.