Senate panel delays vote on Trump’s Homeland Security pick

Senate panel delays vote on Trump’s Homeland Security pick
© Greg Nash

A Senate committee on Thursday delayed a vote on President Trump's choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) due to a number of outstanding questions. 

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate probes FBI's heavy-handed use of redactions to obstruct congressional investigators Hillicon Valley: DHS gets new cyber chief | White House warns lawmakers not to block ZTE deal | White nationalists find home on Google Plus | Comcast outbids Disney for Fox | Anticipation builds for report on FBI Clinton probe Graham jokes about Corker: GOP would have to be organized to be a cult MORE (R-Wis.) announced the panel would delay voting on the nominee, Kirstjen Nielsen, at the start of a meeting Thursday morning. He seemed to indicate that the majority of the questions came from Democrats on the committee. 

Ranking member Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillNail manufacturing exec who voted for Trump blames him for layoffs, asks Democrat for help The American economy is stronger than ever six months after tax cuts The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Immigration drama grips Washington MORE (D-Mo.) insisted that the minority members were doing nothing “to delay anything for this nomination.” 

The panel was originally scheduled to vote on Nielsen's nomination for DHS secretary on Thursday morning, one day after her confirmation hearing. 

Johnson signaled Thursday that the vote would be delayed until at least Monday, as Nielsen, who's currently Trump's deputy chief of staff, works to answer nearly 200 follow-up questions that she received from committee members. 

“To put things into perspective, about the only comparable secretary nomination mid-cycle was Jeh Johnson. He got 42 questions for the record after the nomination hearing,” Johnson said, referring to the last Homeland Security secretary under the Obama administration.

“Kirstjen Nielsen got 197. Jeh Johnson’s nomination was moved out of committee within 23 days. We’re at the 24-day mark here,” Johnson continued. “I just think it’s important for this department in particular to have leadership at the helm.” 

Trump formally nominated Nielsen on Oct. 12, two-and-a-half months after John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE was sworn in as his chief of staff. In the meantime, Elaine Duke has served at the helm of the agency in an acting capacity. 

In that time, the department has had to contend with major disasters including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the California wildfires. 

Johnson said that answers to the questions are expected before Monday. 

“What I’m hoping, then, is if you get those questions, if you’re satisfied, we could move the nomination off the floor because I think it is extremely important,” Johnson said, adding that he hopes to work with Senate leadership to get Nielsen's nomination to the full Senate for a vote as swiftly as possible. 

“I certainly agree that we want to do this as quickly as possible, but that delay was more about us waiting for information that we always get for nominees,” McCaskill interjected. “Nobody was doing anything on our side to delay anything for this nomination."

Nielsen is well-regarded in Republican circles for her prior experience on George W. Bush’s Homeland Security Council and later at the Transportation Security Administration. She worked under Kelly at DHS when he served as secretary this year, later moving with him to the White House when he became Trump’s chief of staff. 

Nielsen received applause for her experience from both Democrats and Republicans on the committee during her confirmation hearing Wednesday, though some expressed concerns about her lack of leadership experience. 

“Why should we believe that, as smart as you are, and as well-spoken as you are, that someone who, as far as I know, never led an organization of even 100 people, much less 240,000, is ready to take on this responsibility?” asked Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy: Inhofe defends Pruitt after criticisms | Agency releases study on water contaminant | Trump rescinds Obama ocean policy Dems press EPA nominees on ethics, climate Overnight Energy: Senate panel sets Pruitt hearing | Colorado joins California with tougher emissions rules | Court sides with Trump on coal leasing program MORE (D-Del.).

McCaskill echoed those concerns on Thursday. 

“I understand that she is getting more questions, but in light of her responsibility and in light of the fact that, while I think she’s got great subject matter expertise, this is clearly a much bigger operation than she has ever had responsibility for before, unlike most of the secretaries of Homeland Security,” the Missouri Democrat said. 

“I think the questions are fair, and I really appreciate you acknowledging that, at a minimum, the members ought to get their questions answered,” she added. 

McCaskill told Johnson that she would “help facilitate moving [the nomination] as quickly as possible as soon as those questions are answered.”