Jeh Johnson, President Obama's nominee to head the massive Homeland Security Department, won Senate committee approval on Wednesday, clearing a key hurdle as he seeks to take the reins of a complex bureaucracy still suffering growing pains 10 years after it was created.
Mr. Johnson cleared the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on a voice vote, though two Republicans, Sens. John McCain and Rand Paul, asked that they be recorded as opposed to his nomination.
The department has been without a confirmed secretary since Janet Napolitano left the post in September — one of a number of vacancies at top positions.
Sen. Tom Coburn, the ranking Republican, said that despite some policy differences, Mr. Johnson is the right man to get a handle on the sprawling department.
"I have strong concerns about this department. It's one of the most dysfunction departments in government and I think we're going to have a good leader to straighten that out," he said. "I found him an open and honest broker that wants to solve problems."
Mr. Johnson's key qualification for the post is that he was the top lawyer at the Pentagon in Mr. Obama's first term.
All three former department secretaries have endorsed him for the job.
But Mr. McCain opposed Mr. Johnson because the nominee wouldn't give his assurance that he would turn over information regarding border security plans from 2009, which the Arizona Republican has been seeking for some time.
During his confirmation hearing earlier this month Mr. Johnson said he would be inclined to provide the information but wouldn't issue a guarantee, saying he wanted to see what the objections were from within the department.
The Homeland Security Department, created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, includes the Secret Service, the three immigration agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Coast Guard, among other components. It also has chief responsibility for cyber security.
A handful of Senate Republicans who sit on the Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Mr. Johnson last week asking that he give a hint as to whether he will continue Ms. Napolitano's immigration policies, including her decision to stop deporting most rank-and-file illegal immigrants and instead chiefly focus on those with major criminal records.
The GOP senators also asked whether Mr. Johnson would do more to encourage state and local police to aid in immigration enforcement.
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