Johnson approves of potential successor
Homeland Security chief says McCaul is strong on border security.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson gave one of his potential successors a stamp of approval on Wednesday, saying Rep. Michael McCaul is the strongest member of Congress when it comes to border security.
Mr. Johnson and Mr. McCaul were responding to criticisms reported in The Washington Times from advocates for stricter enforcement of immigration laws who said they hoped President-elect Donald Trump picked someone else for the Homeland Security chief.
Mr. McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the barbs were misplaced and said he has spent his career in Congress trying to get a handle on illegal immigration.
“To say somehow I am not strong on immigration is laughable because, whether it’s sanctuary cities to every vote on the floor of the House, I have strongly voted against illegal immigration,” he said at a forum at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “I have co-sponsored virtually every bill. I introduced the SAFE Act, which would stop the flow of Syrian refugees into this country. I also strongly support the Secure Fence Act.”
Mr. McCaul is one of those vying for the top job at Homeland Security, and he was in New York on Tuesday meeting with Mr. Trump. He’s also helping with the transition team that is preparing to reverse a number of Obama administration immigration policies.
His critics told The Times that they were displeased with Mr. McCaul’s border security bills, which broke with most other congressional legislation that proposed specific enhancements such as a set number of agents or fencing. Instead, Mr. McCaul’s legislation demanded Homeland Security come up with a strategy.
His 2013 version of the bill won bipartisan support and was so popular that Democrats adopted it as their own border proposal in their comprehensive immigration overhaul measure, which was never voted on.
Mr. McCaul’s 2015 version was more controversial, emerging from his committee on an 18-12 vote with all Democrats on the panel voting against it. Democrats said the legislation set goals that were impossible to meet, and proposed “petty penalties” on Homeland Security officials who missed the deadlines.
Major conservative voices in the immigration debate, including Sen. Jeff Sessions, a close adviser to Mr. Trump and the president-elect’s pick to be attorney general, criticized the McCaul bill for failing to address specific border problems such as the administration’s de facto “catch-and-release” policy for many illegal immigrants.
Border security activists, meanwhile, dubbed Mr. McCaul “pro-amnesty.”
The congressman said his critics were blaming him for factors outside his control. He said his committee only has jurisdiction over the border, not interior enforcement, so he couldn’t delve into workplace enforcement or faster deportations for those caught inside the U.S.
The congressman also said he’s been stymied on Capitol Hill by jurisdictional fights.
For his part, Mr. Johnson was asked at the forum whether he had a favorite to succeed him, and he declined to say. But he did jump in to defend Mr. McCaul when the congressman was asked about his immigration critics.
“On his behalf, I don’t know anybody who is stronger on border security in Congress that I have dealt with,” Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Johnson agreed with Mr. McCaul that jurisdictional issues have damaged the government’s attempts to get a handle on homeland security.
The secretary said he answers to perhaps 100 committees and subcommittees on Capitol Hill, and he and Mr. McCaul said that makes it impossible to get a broad policy bill through Congress.
Even smaller bills, such as a visa security measure, didn’t move until after the 2015 terrorist attacks, Mr. McCaul said.
“It took a Paris to make that happen,” he said.
The congressman said he’s going to propose a change to House rules that would give one committee chief jurisdiction over the department, and he said there’s “momentum” behind the push.