President Obama’s nomination of Jeh Johnson to become Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) surprised most because Johnson lacks any immigration experience, Obama’s second term priority. (See news reports by ABC, the Washington Post, and the Christian Science Monitor)
To better understand Mr. Johnson’s view of immigration policy, six Senate Republicans from the Judiciary committee – Charles Grassley (Iowa), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah), and Ted Cruz (Texas) – sent Johnson a letter requesting responses to a number of questions, primarily about immigration. Typically such a request is standard procedure in the vetting process of presidential nominees and this letter was especially relevant since the Judiciary committee has jurisdiction over immigration issues.
However, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) invoking the “nuclear option” several weeks ago, there is a new normal for nominees getting confirmed. Previously, a nominee needed 60 votes to gain confirmation which usually means the nominee needs to secure votes from the minority party. But when Reid changed the rules to only a simple majority, it became clear that every Obama nominee could sail through the Senate with only Democratic support because they currently hold 55 seats.
Empowered with the knowledge that his confirmation was guaranteed, Mr. Johnson sent a cavalier response to the Judiciary Republicans. “I note that your letter contains about 57 specific questions including subparts,” the Johnson response reads. “Respectfully, given that I am a nominee and private citizen, and not part of DHS, I am unable to respond to your letter question-by-question, but can instead provide you with my more general views, as they exist at this stage.” Johnson then proceeded to detail Obama Administration generic talking points, saying he supports “common-sense immigration reform” and “[i]f comprehensive immigration reform is enacted, and if I am confirmed, a priority for me will be the effective implementation of that reform.”
Now that the Senate has confirmed Johnson as DHS Secretary, he can no longer justify his refusal to answer relevant immigration questions on the absurd basis of being a “private citizen” and “not part of DHS.” This begs the question: Will Jeh Johnson do the right thing and provide detailed answers to the immigration questions asked by the Republicans on the Judiciary committee?