President Obama nominated former Pentagon lawyer Jeh Johnson Friday to head the Department of Homeland Security, as top Senate Republicans warned of a battle ahead to ensure the department’s enforcement of immigration laws.
“Jeh has a deep understanding of the threats and challenges facing the United States,” Mr. Obama said as he introduced Mr. Johnson in the White House rose garden. “Jeh also knows that meeting these threats demands cooperation and coordination across our government. He’s respected across our government as a team player.”
Mr. Johnson, whose first name is pronounced “Jay,” said his nomination is a “tremendous honor.”
“I was not looking for this opportunity,” Mr. Johnson said. “But when I received the call, I could not refuse it.”
Noting that he is a New Yorker who was in the city during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said, “I love this country, I care about the safety of our people.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Johnson would replace Janet Napolitano, who announced her resignation in July to lead the University of California system. His nomination comes as Mr. Obama is renewing his push to get a reluctant House to approve the Senate version of comprehensive immigration reform.
“We need someone who knows how to secure the border, not dial for dollars,” Mr. Cornyn said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, said the nomination will “focus the attention of the Congress and the country on the open refusal of DHS political appointees to impartially execute their law enforcement mission” on immigration.
Mr. Sessions said immigration officers report that violent criminals are released every day back into communities.
“They even sued [former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano] over the non-enforcement directives they have received,” he said. “Enforcement has collapsed, officer morale has plummeted, and the integrity of the entire immigration legal system is in jeopardy.”
He said Mr. Johnson will have to demonstrate to the Senate a “commitment to achieving management control of this sprawling department and its law enforcement duties, a determination to restore the depleted morale of immigration officers who have been blocked from doing their jobs and a resolve to enforce the laws of the land, and a repudiation of the far-reaching non-enforcement protocols issued by the prior DHS Secretary.”
One leading outside group echoed the fears of the GOP lawmakers about what Mr. Johnson’s selection says about immigration policy as the House weighs a bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill supported by Mr. Obama.
President Obama’s choice “provides no reassurance to the American people that the government will enforce our immigration laws,” Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform said in a statement. “That lack of confidence must halt any consideration of immigration legislation in the House of Representatives.”
While serving as the top legal counsel at the Pentagon in Mr. Obama’s first term, Mr. Johnson played a key role in developing the administration’s guidelines over the legality of the use of drones to kill terrorism suspects overseas.