Senate panel unanimously advances key Biden cyber nominees

Nominee for National Cyber Director Chris Inglis is sworn in on June 10
Greg Nash

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved two of President Biden’s nominees to serve in the nation’s top cybersecurity positions.

The committee approved former National Security Agency (NSA) Deputy Director Chris Inglis to serve in the newly created national cyber director role at the White House, and approved former NSA official Jen Easterly to serve as director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

While the nominations advanced unanimously, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said following the vote that he intended to place a hold on Easterly’s nomination and others until Biden visits the U.S.-Mexico border to address a surge in migration.

“I clearly support Jen Easterly to be the director of CISA; she’s got the right background to be able to do the job. It has no reflection on her nomination, but I am going to hold all nominations including hers until the president visits the border, and I think the president needs to visit the border and tell us how he is going to address the crisis,” Scott said during the committee meeting.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) pushed back against Scott’s hold on the nominees, stating that Biden had “probably been to the U.S.-Mexico border more than anybody on this committee,” highlighting the need to address the “root causes” of migration in order to address immigration issues. 

Given the hold placed on the nominations, timing for a vote in the full Senate is unclear.

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the pending votes. 

Other members of the committee expressed support for both Inglis and Easterly’s nominations, with the committee approval coming in the wake of escalating cyberattacks by both foreign nations and cyber criminals, such as the recent crippling ransomware attacks on Colonial Pipeline and meat producer JBS USA.

“Cyberattacks pose a serious threat to our national security, economy, and way of life, as was illustrated by the Microsoft Exchange, SolarWinds, and Colonial Pipeline cyberattacks,” Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), who served as acting chairwoman of the committee during the hearing Wednesday, said in a statement following the vote. 

”These cyber experts have the necessary experience to address the evolving cyber landscape, and I am pleased to join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance their nominations to the full Senate,” she said. “As chair of the Emerging Threats Subcommittee, I will continue working to combat cyberattacks and bolster our cyber resiliency.”  

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Rob Portman (R-Ohio) also expressed strong support for Inglis and Easterly taking on the key positions. 

“All of these positions are really important. I appreciate the nominees’ willingness to serve; each of them have significant background and record,” Portman testified. “I think that’s one of the reasons that we had a voice vote today. I think there is a lot of appreciation for the public service they have already been able to provide, and the expertise they bring to the job.”

The national cyber director position was created by the most recent National Defense Authorization Act, and is intended to expand the previous White House cybersecurity coordinator position that was eliminated during the Trump administration. 

CISA, the key federal agency that protects U.S. critical infrastructure from cyber threats, has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since former CISA Director Christopher Krebs was fired by then-President Trump in November following CISA’s efforts to combat election misinformation.

Both Inglis and Easterly faced little opposition during their joint nomination hearing before the committee last week, with both highlighting the acute national security threats against the U.S. in cyberspace. 

Tags Biden nominees Charles Schumer Chris Inglis Chuck Schumer cyber crime cybersecurity Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Donald Trump Joe Biden Maggie Hassan Rick Scott Rob Portman Tom Carper

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