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 JohnsonKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow House panel advances DHS cyber vulnerabilities bills 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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Ranking member Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMcCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination Wyden says foreign hackers targeted personal accounts of senators, staffers Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls 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 Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan senators unveil proposal to crack down on surprise medical bills Super PACs spend big in high-stakes midterms 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.”