A smooth hearing for John Kelly The nominee to lead DHS struck a bipartisan tone.
Homeland Security nominee’s tone differs from president-elect’s
President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for homeland security secretary struck a markedly different tone from the president-elect on some of Trump’s signature issues on Tuesday, calling for increased outreach to Muslims and saying the controversial southwest border wall might not “be built anytime soon.’’
Retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly made the remarks at his confirmation hearing before a Senate committee that was unusual for its bipartisan tone during a highly partisan era. Kelly was greeted warmly by Republicans and Democrats alike and appeared to be on his way to an easy confirmation for the highprofile post of running the Department of Homeland Security.
Long known for his blunt manner, the former chief of the U.S. Southern Command added several layers of uncertainty to Trump’s promised crackdown on illegal immigration, which was the centerpiece of the presidentelect’s campaign and which Kelly would oversee at DHS.
Kelly appeared to play down the importance of Trump’s promised wall, telling senators that “a physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job’’ and that technology such as drones and sensors are also needed to secure the U.S.-Mexico border. He said the structure might not “be built anytime soon” because it is such an immense project, appearing to contradict Trump, who has said building the wall is “easy’’ and can be “done inexpensively.” House Republicans said last week they plan to fund the wall, which some experts have estimated will cost more than $20 billion.
Kelly said he would “keep an open mind” on the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. The 2012 initiative has given temporary protection from deportation to hundreds of thousands of people who arrived in the United States as children. Trump vowed during the campaign to reverse it.
The rhetorical difference between Trump and his prospective DHS chief was perhaps most striking on the subject of Muslims. While Trump once called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States as a counterterrorism measure, Kelly noted that when he was a Marine officer in Iraq, his forces secured stability in part by reaching out to clerics and other Muslim leaders.
“I don’t believe it is appropriate” to target any group of people solely based on religion or ethnic background, including through the development of a registry, Kelly told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
His remarks, which also included a vow to promote “tolerance,’’ seemed to reinforce his declaration during his opening remarks that he would always give “those in power” his “full candor.’’ Though he never openly broke with the future commander in chief, his words helped win over Democrats concerned about Trump’s incendiary remarks.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, thanked Kelly for his “service to this country” and said his vow to speak truth to power had been “music to my ears.’’ She added that the committee “is not here to participate in some partisan or political exercise.’’
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the committee’s chairman, called Kelly “just an extraordinary individual, a great American who has served faithfully and sacrificed mightily for this nation.’’
Trump’s team was drawn to Kelly because of his experience at the Southern Command, where he oversaw military operations across Central and South America and worked with several DHS agencies. Kelly is also a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, which advises the DHS secretary on a variety of security issues.
In documents released Tuesday by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, Kelly said that upon his confirmation he would resign from DynCorp International, a McLean military contractor where he has worked since June as an adviser at a salary of $166,000. He also vowed to resign from advisory or board positions at two other defense contractors and a private equity firm, which are paying him a combined $73,000.
Kelly also said that he owns a consulting business, Oak Square Perspectives, but that it is dormant and has never had clients. He said it would remain dormant during his time at DHS.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), left, Ron Johnson (R-Wis) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) question retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, above, during his confirmation hearing for the Cabinet job of homeland security secretary in Washington.