Senate confirms new Homeland Security chief

The Senate on Monday confirmed Jeh Johnson to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security in a 78-16 vote.

Johnson will take the place of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, who announced her retirement this fall.

Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) said Johnson was well qualified to fill the position, citing his previous experience in the Pentagon as general counsel of the Department of Defense. 

“Mr. Johnson is well prepared for the challenges that will face him if he is confirmed,” Carper said ahead of the vote. “He is just the kind of person we need for this challenging and high-profile position.”

Carper said the Senate should be working harder to fill other vacancies within the DHS as well.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said he opposed Johnson’s nomination because he didn’t answer GOP questions about immigration laws.

“We need a strong leader that can blend these agencies into one harmonious whole … to make this the best agency in the United States government,” Sessions said. “And the nomination of Jeh Johnson doesn’t come close to this. … He is not a good choice.”

The vote on Johnson's nomination was agreed to last week as part of a deal to prevent Saturday work.

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Senate Republicans had been insisting that the Senate stay in session constantly, as a protest against a Democratic rule change that prevents filibusters against executive branch nominees. They kept the Senate in session for more than two days straight last week in protest.

Last month, Senate Democrats unilaterally voted to change the chamber's filibuster rules. The rule change means only 51 votes are needed to end a filibuster on nominations below the level of the Supreme Court. Previously, 60 votes were needed.

The Senate will spend the rest of the week on the bipartisan budget agreement and Defense authorization bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday that he’d like to vote on several more executive and judicial nominees before the Senate adjourns for the holiday, including the nomination of Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve and John Koskinen as commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.