Senators Begin Scrutinizing Homeland Security Nominee

Jeh Johnson looks on as President Obama introduces him as his nominee to be the next Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Rose Garden of the White House, October 18, 2013.
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
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Stacy Kaper
Oct. 29, 2013, 11:15 a.m.

Jeh John­son, Pres­id­ent Obama’s pick for Home­land Se­cur­ity sec­ret­ary, is mak­ing the rounds on Cap­it­ol Hill this week with sen­at­ors who will de­cide the fate of his nom­in­a­tion.

John­son’s nom­in­a­tion was form­ally sent up to Cap­it­ol Hill on Monday, and the Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity and Gov­ern­ment­al Af­fairs Com­mit­tee plans to have a con­firm­a­tion hear­ing soon. The former chief law­yer for the Pentagon is ex­pec­ted to be asked a range of ques­tions — from what role he played in au­thor­iz­ing drone strikes to his ap­proach to Im­mig­ra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, an agency with­in the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment. Sen­at­ors also plan to ask John­son about his views on what to do with Guantanamo Bay de­tain­ees and his stance on an­ti­ter­ror­ism policy, among oth­er top­ics.

In ad­vance of John­son’s meet­ing with com­mit­tee mem­bers, Re­pub­lic­ans were wary of pre­ma­turely passing judg­ment Tues­day. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the rank­ing mem­ber on the pan­el, said he un­der­stands that John­son is widely re­spec­ted but has sev­er­al ques­tions wait­ing for him when they meet Wed­nes­day. “I have a long list of ques­tions that have been sent to him,” he told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “So we are real early in the stage. He has a real great repu­ta­tion by every­one I’ve talked to as far as be­ing a man of in­teg­rity.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., an­oth­er com­mit­tee mem­ber, said she plans to meet with John­son on Wed­nes­day and is fo­cused on sev­er­al na­tion­al se­cur­ity is­sues. “I want to ask him about ter­ror­ism policy and Guantanamo and some oth­er is­sues,” she said. “I want to talk to him about these is­sues so I haven’t made any judg­ment yet.”

Sen. Rob Port­man, R-Ohio, who also serves on the com­mit­tee, said he is re­serving judg­ment un­til he learns more about John­son. “I just don’t know enough about him yet. I prefer to hold off,” he said, adding he hoped to have a chance to talk with John­son. “We’ll have an op­por­tun­ity to have a first shot at it.”

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who does not serve on Home­land Se­cur­ity but is a mem­ber of Sen­ate lead­er­ship and has raised con­cerns about drone policy, is slated to meet with John­son later this week.

Al­though Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors have largely with­held their views on John­son, there are a few ex­cep­tions. Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., an­nounced Monday he was plan­ning to put holds on all ad­min­is­tra­tion nom­in­ees un­til the pub­lic gets to hear from sur­viv­ors of the at­tack on the U.S. con­su­late in Benghazi, Libya, last year.

Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, R-Ala., has said that John­son will have to an­swer a lit­any of ques­tions to show his abil­ity to man­age a sprawl­ing de­part­ment that suf­fers from low mor­ale, and demon­strate that en­force­ment of im­mig­ra­tion laws will re­main free of polit­ics. “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 in a state­ment when John­son was nom­in­ated earli­er this month.

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