Senators Begin Scrutinizing Homeland Security Nominee

Jeh Johnson is Barack Obama's choice to be the next Homeland Security head. Jeh Johnson is Barack Obama's choice to be the next Homeland Security head. Charles Dharapak/AP

Jeh Johnson, President Obama's pick for Homeland Security secretary, is making the rounds on Capitol Hill this week with senators who will decide the fate of his nomination.

Johnson's nomination was formally sent up to Capitol Hill on Monday, and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee plans to have a confirmation hearing soon. The former chief lawyer for the Pentagon is expected to be asked a range of questions -- from what role he played in authorizing drone strikes to his approach to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency within the Homeland Security Department. Senators also plan to ask Johnson about his views on what to do with Guantanamo Bay detainees and his stance on antiterrorism policy, among other topics.

In advance of Johnson's meeting with committee members, Republicans were wary of prematurely passing judgment Tuesday. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the ranking member on the panel, said he understands that Johnson is widely respected but has several questions waiting for him when they meet Wednesday. "I have a long list of questions that have been sent to him," he told National Journal. "So we are real early in the stage. He has a real great reputation by everyone I've talked to as far as being a man of integrity."

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., another committee member, said she plans to meet with Johnson on Wednesday and is focused on several national security issues. "I want to ask him about terrorism policy and Guantanamo and some other issues," she said. "I want to talk to him about these issues so I haven't made any judgment yet."

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who also serves on the committee, said he is reserving judgment until he learns more about Johnson. "I just don't know enough about him yet. I prefer to hold off," he said, adding he hoped to have a chance to talk with Johnson. "We'll have an opportunity to have a first shot at it."

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who does not serve on Homeland Security but is a member of Senate leadership and has raised concerns about drone policy, is slated to meet with Johnson later this week.

Although Republican senators have largely withheld their views on Johnson, there are a few exceptions. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., announced Monday he was planning to put holds on all administration nominees until the public gets to hear from survivors of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., has said that Johnson will have to answer a litany of questions to show his ability to manage a sprawling department that suffers from low morale, and demonstrate that enforcement of immigration laws will remain free of politics. "This nomination should focus the attention of the Congress and the country on the open refusal of DHS political appointees to impartially execute their law-enforcement mission," Sessions said in a statement when Johnson was nominated earlier this month.

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