October 18th, 2013
03:33 PM ET
9 years ago

Obama nominates former Pentagon lawyer to head Homeland Security

Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama on Friday formally nominated Jeh Johnson, the former top lawyer at the Defense Department, to be the new Homeland Security Secretary.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, Obama praised Johnson's work leading the Pentagon's 10,000 civilian and military lawyers as general counsel, a position he was named to in 2009 and held until he left for private practice last year.

Johnson is "an outstanding public servant who I've known for years," Obama said of his nominee, who must be confirmed by the Senate.

A campaign contributor to Obama's presidential bid in 2008, Johnson has been with the Obama administration for most of its existence, including working on the transition team.

"He demonstrated again and again the qualities that will make him a strong Secretary," Obama said, highlighting Johnson's expertise, particularly on issues of terrorism.

Johnson, 56, was one of the key architects of Obama's anti-terrorism tactics, especially the extensive use of drone strikes. At the Pentagon, he was responsible for the prior legal review and approval of every military operation approved by the President and Defense Secretary

Johnson was one of the first administration officials to look ahead towards the end of the so-called "war on terror." In May, Johnson said the United States should no longer see combating terrorism as a "self-defeating" perpetual fight, but one that must at some point end, "like all wars."

Obama praised that forward vision Friday.

"Jeh was one of the leaders who spoke eloquently about how we meet today's threats in a way that is consistent with our values, including the rule of law," the President said. "He's been there, in the Situation Room, at the moment of decision."

How much opposition Johnson will face on the path to Senate confirmation remains unclear. Some past Obama nominations have been held up by months and even years. Several senators expressed trepidation at Johnson and his close connections to the President.

"DHS is the most mismanaged department in the federal government," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, said in a statement.

"It would appear that the President plans to nominate a loyalist and fundraiser to this post. This is deeply concerning. This huge department must have a proven manager with strong relevant law enforcement experience, recognized independence and integrity, who can restore this department to its full capability."

Sen. John Cornyn expressed much the same hesitation. The Texas Republican was particularly concerned with border security, an experience he worries that Johnson lacks.

"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."

Johnson was also at the forefront of the repeal of the controversial "don't ask, don't tell policy" that banned openly gay members of the military. He was a key architect of the Pentagon report that explained how gay and lesbian service members would not affect combat readiness.

"Congress ended up using that report," Obama said, "to justify repealing 'don't ask, don't tell.' And America and our military are stronger because we did."

If confirmed, Johnson would be the fourth head of Homeland Security and the first African-American. Created by former President George W. Bush in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the agency is responsible for the entirety of the domestic U.S security apparatus, responding to natural disasters with FEMA and terrorism and border issues via the NSA, FBI and Border Patrol.

9/11 continues to have a strong influence on Johnson, who said when accepting the nomination that the native New Yorker had been in Manhattan when the planes struck the World Trade Center. The date is also his birthday.

"I wandered the streets of New York that day and wondered and asked, what can I do?" Johnson said.

"Since then I have tried to devote myself to answering that question."

Johnson would replace former Secretary Janet Napolitano, who left the agency last month to head California's public university system. The agency has since been run by acting Secretary Rand Beers.

Filed under: DHS • President Obama
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. The Real Tom Paine

    Well, since Joe Arpaio is being investigated by the Justice Department for racial profiling and being sued, they had to find someone who would actually check the legality of their actions before proceeding.

    October 18, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  2. Rick McDaniel

    That means one thing for certain.......the political spying on Americans is going to get even WORSE than it already is.

    October 18, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  3. The Real Tom Paine

    -Rick McDaniel

    That means one thing for certain.......the political spying on Americans is going to get even WORSE than it already is.
    Secede! Secede! Fire on Fort Sumter! On to Washington! Let's burn some more Dixie Chicks CDs!

    I'll be you had a Y2K shelter, too.

    October 18, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  4. Wake up People!

    I wonder how soon the hearings will begin??

    @Tom Paine
    Are you serious about the whacko Sheriff Joe?

    October 18, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  5. Rudy NYC

    "DHS is the most mismanaged department in the federal government," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, said in a statement.
    And, what information does he have to back that statement up? My guess is that if he had any actual evidence of his claim would he would have shouted it out louder than "Benghazi". But, you gotta love the right wing bait and switch spin. The goal is to sway public opinion against Mr. Johnson.

    Sessions expresses false outrage and faux indignation at the department, which has nothing to do with Mr. Johnson. He wants people to be upset and angered with DHS because of unspecified management issues, and then project them onto Mr. Johnson. The basic technique is to get people angry about one issue, but discussing another issue that there are already angered about. In this case, DHS, Mr. Sessions has to *manufacture* the outrage, but his base will eat it up, anyway.

    October 18, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  6. Thomas

    @Rick McDaniel
    That means one thing for certain.......the political spying on Americans is going to get even WORSE than it already is.

    Rick , if your party " Tea Party " was in power they would be be doing more then spying !

    You are from the Party who invented the Military , Industrial , Intelligence , corporate COMPLEX !

    Go Drive around DC , all those new buildings , they are 60% intelligence based companies . And you know who started them , just guess ?

    GW BUSH ! And they all need to be fed by the fed ! Or they become angry , then they show there anger to Eric Cantor and his friends and they get fed dinner .

    We have more intelligence companies doing the same thing it's insane . And now Amazon has taken over IBM's contract with the government . So online ordering and stoping terrorist will never be the same .

    At some point and time , your DNA will be located in minutes , welcome to the new world !

    October 18, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  7. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    With Mr. Johnson and the new FBI director in place, you can see that the administration is putting people with morale character and legal expertise in positions where executive power won't be abused.

    October 18, 2013 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  8. Rudy NYC

    Rick McDaniel

    That means one thing for certain.......the political spying on Americans is going to get even WORSE than it already is.
    There's an easy fix for that. Cut the budget for DHS. They're already the second largest defense department in the world. The largest would be none other than our own Department of Defense. The DHS budget has grown from 20 billion when it was first formed to currently well over $100 billion annually. It's the "industrial military complex" that Eisenhower tried to warn us about.

    October 18, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  9. rs

    So, Republicans, back to filibusters with Mr. Cruz' already sworn opposition to the nominee.

    October 18, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  10. Sniffit

    OK, whose turn is it to play the game of 'let's hold up the nomination process"? Who's gonna use their secret hold or threaten an actual filibuster this time? Anyone wanna guess? Will it be Rubio? Cruz? McCain? Maybe Miss Lindsey? Guess correctly and you win one internets!

    October 18, 2013 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  11. Data Driven

    Bald version of Denethor from Lord of the Rings - amirite?

    October 18, 2013 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  12. The Real Tom Paine

    @ wake up people:

    Yes, I'm quite serious. I checked before I penned my reply.

    October 18, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  13. Wake up People!

    Thanks Tom!

    Now that's great news.

    October 18, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  14. James

    Another Lemming joins the group–

    October 18, 2013 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  15. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    I never heard of this gentleman and I suspect most other people haven't either. Of course this won't stop our knuckle dragging friends from making derogatory comments about him.

    October 18, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |