With Napolitano out at DHS, White House begins to vet replacements

President Obama and his security advisors are busily compiling and vetting a list of possible candidates to replace outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

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With immigration reform on Congress’s front burner, the next nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will receive an extraordinary amount of scrutiny. But their resumes must go above and beyond the current immigration debate, according to those close to discussions.

As the federal government’s largest umbrella department, DHS oversees more than two-dozen agencies and areas, including the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The following is a list of those being floated to become the next Homeland Security secretary.

William Bratton

With Republicans clamoring for more enforcement, both along the border and in America’s fight against terrorism, Bratton is the obvious choice for Obama.

As the former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and former commissioner of the Boston and New York City police departments, Bratton has earned his stripes and knows the threats facing America intimately.


Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said Obama needs to choose a secretary who is an enforcement expert but is adept at juggling the plethora of other issues that come with immigration, such as naturalization and customs.

Bratton’s no stranger to the gamut of areas within DHS’s purview. He has been a sitting member of the department’s advisory council for years, which provides policy and strategy recommendations to the secretary.

Ray Kelly

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Friday to recommend Kelly, the current commissioner of the New York Police Department (NYPD), who has long been floated as a possible candidate to take the helm of DHS.

DHS’s next “leader needs to be someone who knows law enforcement, understands anti-terrorism efforts, and is a top-notch administrator, and at the NYPD, Ray Kelly has proven that he excels in all three,” said Schumer in a statement.

Though he enjoys a healthy approval rating among New Yorkers, Kelly has been at the heart of some controversy over the NYPD’s secret spying on Muslims in the city, without probable cause, which could slow down a potential confirmation process.

Immigration advocates look relatively favorably on Kelly, however, calling attention to his three years as head of the U.S. Customs Service under President Clinton.

Richard Clarke

Having served in various security capacities within the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush, Clinton and George H.W. Bush, Clarke’s name was on Obama’s shortlist of potential DHS heads when he first took office in 2009.

His dust-up in 2004 with the last Bush administration over its handling of al Qaeda and terrorist threats in the lead up to the September 11, 2001, attacks could place him squarely in Senate Democrats’ favor.

Thad Allen

As a Coast Guard admiral, Allen used to head the largest of DHS’s many divisions, overseeing more than 40,000 people.

Allen was widely lauded on Capitol Hill for the rescue efforts under his command during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as well as the initial response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf.

Allen was also floated as a possible contender against Napolitano during Obama’s first term.

James Witt

President Clinton’s head of FEMA, Witt got his start in Arkansas but quickly turned FEMA into a well-respected disaster-relief organization that people came to depend on over the course of more than 300 emergencies while he was in office.

In 2005, former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco hired Witte to lead the state’s reconstruction efforts after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area.

Joe Lieberman

Lieberman earned the wide respect of Republicans and Democrats while serving as the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The former senator from Connecticut still has enough pull among his colleagues in the Senate and remains entrenched enough in the details of homeland security to have been called back earlier this year to testify in the House about the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.)

Rogers was widely floated as a possible candidate to be the next director of the FBI and a Senate bid was speculated to be in his future. But with both of those ships having sailed, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee may be hard pressed to turn down an opportunity to head DHS.

The former FBI agent has not been slow to criticize the administration on certain security matters, such as its response to the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, or its course of action in the ongoing Syria conflict, but it has not cost him the fresh bipartisan comity that he helped bring to the committee in 2010.