A Senate panel on Thursday postponed a confirmation vote on Kirstjen Nielsen to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security until at least Monday until she supplies answers to nearly 200 questions the committee posed following her nomination hearing on Wednesday.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, addressing Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the ranking member on the panel, said at the outset of committee meeting to consider Nielsen’s confirmation that “hopefully before Monday you’ll get the answers” to the questions so that the nomination can be moved to the Senate floor if “you’re satisfied.”
Based on Johnson’s remarks, it would appear most of the questions are from Democrats on the committee.
McCaskill said that Democrats haven’t been delaying the nomination, just waiting for information before considering it, and suggested that there may be lingering concerns about her lack of experience leading a large organization.
“I understand that she’s 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 who have been governors,” McCaskill said. “And if you look at Jeh Johnson, he had had an extreme responsibility for lots of folks within the military. So I think the questions are fair and I really appreciate you acknowledging and at a minimum the members ought to get their questions answered.”
Jeh Johnson was the Homeland Security Secretary for the last three years of the Obama administration. Sen. Johnson noted that Johnson received 42 questions from committee members after his confirmation hearing versus 197 for Nielsen.
McCaskill said that once the committee receives Nielsen’s answers, she will “try to help facilitate moving this as quickly as possible.”
President Donald Trump nominated Nielsen in October to lead DHS. She is currently the deputy to John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, and served as his deputy when Kelly was Secretary of Homeland Security. Kelly took on his White House job in July.
Under the administration of President George W. Bush, Nielsen was a legislative policy director at the Transportation Security Administration, and at the White House she worked for the Homeland Security Council on preparedness and response issues. She has also spent a number of years doing public policy research in the areas of cyber security and homeland security and worked as a corporate lawyer.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) on Wednesday questioned Nielsen’s leadership abilities and experience, noting that she hasn’t led an organization of “even 100 people, much less 240,000.”
Nielsen said that she has had opportunities professionally and as a volunteer to lead.
“And to me a big part of managing is to be very clear about mission, to be very clear about roles and responsibilities to empower those that I work with, and to ensure they have the tools and resources they need,” she replied to Carper. “I think many of the leadership skills that have brought me to this place are scalable. What I would do should I be confirmed is work with the operational components, ensure that my expectations of them are very clear. I believe in accountability just I hope you would hold me accountable, I would hold others accountable.”
Nielsen said her principles are “integrity, transparency, teamwork and unity of effort.”
Former Homeland Security Secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, who both served in the Bush administration, have endorsed Nielsen and Chairman Johnson said that Kelly has called her a “superstar.”
During her confirmation hearing, Nielsen said there is no need for a physical wall along the nation’s entire southern border that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, Depending on operational needs, border security will require a mix of barriers, technology, personnel, and policies, she said.
Congress is currently waiting for DHS to provide it with a comprehensive strategy for border security. The strategy was due on Oct. 3 but hasn’t been delivered yet, which may be “one of the reasons” that the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee hasn’t marked up its version of an FY ’18 spending bill for the department, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), said. Tester is the ranking member on that subcommittee. The House Appropriations Committee has already marked up the DHS spending bill.