Senate panel clears Homeland nominee

The Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday cleared Jeh Johnson’s nomination to be the next Homeland Security secretary.

Johnson’s nomination now heads to the Senate floor, where he faces several hurdles from Republican senators.

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The Homeland Security Committee passed Johnson’s nomination in a voice vote, with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voting no by proxy.

The committee's ranking member, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), said he supported Johnson’s nomination after the former Pentagon general counsel provided the committee with a new set of written responses to the committee’s questions.

Coburn blasted Johnson’s initial set of responses for having identical responses to previous administration nominees.

“I have strong concerns about this department — it’s one of the most dysfunctional departments in government — and I think we’re going to have a good leader that’s going to straighten that out,” Coburn said.

Republicans like Coburn frequently criticized former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on a range of issues, from border security and deportations to invasive screening procedures at airports.

McCain is threatening to hold up Johnson’s nomination because Johnson did not commit to providing Congress a way to measure when 90 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border is controlled.

Homeland Security Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Wednesday they were optimistic a solution could be worked out between the Department of Homeland Security and McCain in order to get McCain the information he wants.

Johnson’s confirmation also faces a hurdle from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) who has threatened to block all nominations coming to the floor over the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Graham told reporters Tuesday he is still planning to place a hold on Johnson’s nomination until Congress can interview U.S. personnel who were in Benghazi during last year’s terrorist attack.

“Until I get to interview the witnesses,” Graham said when asked about his hold. “But we are making good progress. I had a very good conversation with the department of State today, and I’m hopeful that we’ll come up with a mechanism to be able to interview the survivors in a bipartisan fashion.”

Graham said that he still supported Johnson’s nomination on its merits.

“Jeh I think is a good guy,” Graham said. “It’s nothing about him. I'd support him.”

President Obama nominated Johnson last month to succeed Napolitano after she left to become president of the University of California.

Johnson was Pentagon general counsel during Obama’s first term and played a major role crafting the administration’s counterterrorism policies.

Paul pressed Johnson on the administration’s use of drone strikes and NSA surveillance during Johnson’s confirmation hearing last week.

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