GOP seeks better ties with new DHS head

Republicans’ frustration with former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was on full display Wednesday as they urged President Obama’s pick to succeed Napolitano to be more responsive to Congress.

Department of Homeland Security nominee Jeh Johnson pledged at his confirmation hearing Wednesday that he would cooperate with congressional inquires and run a transparent department if confirmed.

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During her tenure, Napolitano was a frequent target of conservative criticism, on issues ranging from more invasive Transportation Security Agency screening procedures to the decision to suspend the deportation of certain immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.

Johnson’s pledge to play nice with Congress quickly ran into some resistance at his confirmation Wednesday.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) demanded Johnson commit to telling Congress what was required for 90 percent of the Southern border to be controlled.

When Johnson did not commit, McCain said he would not support Johnson’s confirmation until he got a “yes or no answer.”

“I want to know if you will give this committee the exact metrics needed, sector by sector, so we can obtain 90 percent,” McCain said.

Johnson responded that he was inclined to agree to it, but that he needed to consult with officials at the DHS before doing so.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, blasted Johnson’s written responses to the committee, saying they were copied from past administration nominations.

Coburn laid out a series of questions that the committee had posed to the department but was still waiting for a response, asking Johnson to pledge to fulfill each of the requests.

“We've asked the department for a sector-by-sector border security plan. As a matter of fact, the former secretary promised to get me that within two days of a breakfast meeting Sen. [Tom] Carper and I had with her,” Coburn said. “We are still waiting on that.”

At the same time, Coburn said that he didn’t think Coburn’s nomination was in any danger. 

“When you are confirmed — I'm not gonna say if, I think you're gonna be confirmed — I surely hope we can work together through the upcoming years to fix the Department of Homeland Security before it's broken,” Coburn said.

Democrats and the White House say they don’t expect any significant obstacles to Johnson’s confirmation. A handful of Republicans have expressed opposition over his previous role as an Obama campaign fundraiser and his lack of border security experience.

In his written statement, Johnson said filling the numerous senior vacancies at the department and improving morale were his top two priorities, listed ahead of counterterrorism, border security and cybersecurity.

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) also emphasized the need to fill the DHS vacancies, which has been a lingering sore spot for lawmakers.

At the hearing, Johnson also faced pressing questions from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on drones, surveillance and the administration’s targeted killing program.

The questions directed to Johnson were tied to his past job as the Pentagon’s general counsel, where he helped develop many of the administration’s counterterrorism and drone policies.

Paul, a vocal opponent of the administration’s drone program, asked for Johnson’s opinions on whether his visa bill was protected by the Fourth Amendment and whether Americans who are not involved in combat can be killed oversees.

Johnson did not push back against Paul’s questions, saying several times that he did not have a legal opinion or agreeing with the Kentucky Republican.

“Do you think we should target American citizens oversees for killing who are not involved in combat? I’m thinking of propagandists, other people who may have committed treason but haven’t been charged or convicted,” Paul asked.

“As you pose it, I think my answer would be no,” Johnson responded.