WASHINGTON -- President Obama’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security moved a step closer to confirmation Wednesday, advancing to the full Senate after a swift committee vote.
At a time when many top presidential appointments have been blocked by Senate Republicans, Jeh Johnson’s nomination has proved remarkably smooth thus far. The Senate Homeland committee took just moments to approve Johnson with a voice vote during a meeting Wednesday, less than a week after his confirmation hearing.
Just two of the panel’s Republicans, Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), asked to be recorded as no votes. McCain is expected to ultimately support him, having called Johnson “highly qualified” for the post.
Johnson had earned the admiration of Republicans during his time as the Pentagon’s chief counsel. He was also endorsed by a bipartisan group of leading judicial and military figures and law enforcement groups, as well as all three former secretaries of Homeland Security. Janet Napolitano, Obama’s first Homeland secretary, stepped down in September to lead the University of California system.
If confirmed, Johnson will take the helm of an agency long criticized for poor management and waste. Created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, DHS encompasses 22 disparate agencies and has more than 240,000 employees.
“He is a strong leader, well prepared for the challenges that await him,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Homeland Security committee, said during the brief committee meeting.
“It’s one of the most dysfunctional departments in government. And I think we’re going to have a good leader to straighten that out,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the panel’s ranking Republican.
The department still has several other vacancies its top ranks. The nomination for the No. 2 job, the deputy secretary, has been held up by Republican concerns about a pending inspector general investigation over whether the candidate, Alejandro Mayorkas, interfered in a visa program for foreign investors.