Smooth confirmation hearing for Homeland Security nominee

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration's choice to lead the Homeland Security Department soared through his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday with little of the usual partisan politics that have blocked many of the president's recent nominees.

Jeh Johnson, a former top Defense Department lawyer, faced some pointed questions but almost no opposition from senators, who generally prefaced their questions with praise for him and his qualifications.

"Fortunately for our nation, he is a strong leader and well prepared to face the challenges that will await him," said Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The hearing came a day after Senate Republicans blocked another of President Obama's judicial nominees, Cornelia "Nina" Pillard, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the committee, indicated that he was confident Johnson would be confirmed. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) agreed that the confirmation process would be "very smooth."

The rare bipartisan support for Johnson, a longtime Obama supporter, has been attributed largely to his track record for reaching across the aisle to work closely with Republicans.

If confirmed, Johnson would become the third African American in Obama's Cabinet. A vote is expected by the end of the year.

Senators at Wednesday's hearing noted that the Homeland Security Department, the government's third-largest, was facing many challenges, including balancing privacy with security and addressing immigration.

Johnson said in his testimony that he supported "comprehensive, common-sense immigration reform," and vowed to be transparent with the American people and with Congress during his tenure.

The most ardent questioning for Johnson came from McCain, who threatened to withhold his vote unless the nominee committed to releasing certain internal departmental data regarding border control that McCain has been unable to receive.

When Johnson told McCain that he would commit to working with him and that he was inclined to give him the information, McCain pressed him further.

"I'm not asking for your inclination," McCain said. "I am asking for a yes or no answer. ... Unless you can tell me that you can give me the information, which this committee has the right to have, I cannot support your nomination."

In response, Johnson said: "Before I commit unequivocally to your question — and part of me very much wants to do that — I think I need to talk to people at DHS to better understand the issue."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World