John­son ap­proves of po­ten­tial suc­ces­sor

Home­land Se­cu­rity chief says McCaul is strong on bor­der se­cu­rity.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DINAN

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.

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