Statement of Chairman Tom Carper on the Nomination of Jeh Johnson to be Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security

WASHINGTON – Today, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) took to the Senate Floor to urge his colleagues to confirm the Nomination of Jeh Johnson to be the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.


Chairman Carper’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

Mr. President—I rise today to speak in strong support of the nomination of Jeh Johnson to serve as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

I have been concerned for many months about the high number of senior level vacancies at DHS.  In fact, the Department has been without a Senate confirmed Deputy Secretary since April and without a Senate confirmed Secretary since early September.  

That is simply too long for such critical positions to be vacant, especially since DHS has been without Senate-confirmed leadership in a number of other senior leadership positions, as well. 

The list of vacancies includes the position of Deputy Secretary, as well as the heads of Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Inspector General.  Working with the President, we need to do something about it.  Today, we can.

It is my hope and expectation that we will vote to confirm a new Secretary to lead the Department within the next few hours, allowing Jeh Johnson to be sworn in and to start work later this week.

Getting a Secretary of Homeland Security quickly confirmed is essential to help effectively run this Department and to protect the safety of our citizens.   

The Department is a large and complex entity with a diverse set of missions and challenges. It is composed of 22 distinct agencies spread across various locations throughout the country.

And 10 years after its creation, DHS still lacks a strong sense of cohesion

Moreover, given the nation’s fiscal challenges, DHS, like many federal agencies, is being asked to do more and get even better results with fewer federal dollars.  

That being said, over its 10 years, the Department has celebrated several important milestones. In fact, just last week, for the first time ever, DHS received a clean financial audit. 

This is a major accomplishment and one for which I heartily congratulate the Department.  

As the old saying goes, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.  Now that the Department can now achieve a clean audit, it is my hope that it’s financial management practices will continue to improve. In order to build upon this and other successes, I believe the Department needs Senate-confirmed leadership.

There is no doubt that even on a good day, serving as Secretary of DHS is a really hard job.

Jeh Johnson, however, is no doubt up to this enormous task.  I strongly support his nomination. 

Mr. Johnson is a seasoned national security expert who is eminently qualified to take the reins to run the challenging Department of Homeland Security. 

After graduating from Morehouse College and then Columbia Law School, Jeh Johnson started his career in private practice. 

Later, he became an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he prosecuted public corruption cases. He then returned to the private sector where he became a partner at the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

While working at this law firm, Mr. Johnson again answered the call to public service.  First as the Air Force’s top lawyer in the second term of the Clinton Administration and more recently in the first term of the Obama Administration as the top lawyer for the entire Department of Defense.

In both positions he confirmed by the United States Senate with strong bipartisan support.

Having served in such important positions at the Department of Defense has no doubt helped him develop a number of outstanding skills that will enable him to lead the Department of Homeland Security effectively.  There are few better places to learn how to manage a complex national security bureaucracy than at the Department of Defense.

For example, for four years, he was part of the senior leadership team that ran the Defense Department.

He played a critical role in overseeing more than 3 million military and civilian personnel scattered around the country and the world, including having direct responsibility for nearly 10,000 attorneys.

He provided key advice to two exceptional Defense Secretaries–Bob Gates and Leon Panetta  — and was an important member of their management teams.  To me, this is invaluable experience for the huge task to which he has been nominated.

He also participated in almost every discussion of consequence for the Department, helping to shape the policies that directly impacted the lives of our brave men and women in uniform and their families.

In fact, during his time at the Pentagon, Mr. Johnson developed a reputation for tackling some of the toughest issues in the Department and finding a way to build consensus and develop thoughtful and effective policy. For example, he won praise from both sides of the aisle for his work on the issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and on the Military Commission system.

Additionally, Mr. Johnson was an influential member of the President’s national security team and helped design and implement many of the country’s policies to fight terrorism and dismantle the core of al Qaeda.

Because of his experience in these positions and in other demanding roles, Mr. Johnson is well prepared to face the challenges that will await him if he is confirmed by the Senate. 


But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Mr. Johnson has received high praise from many distinguished former government officials from both sides of the aisle.

In a letter to my Committee, for example, every single former DHS Secretary – Tom Ridge, Michael Chertoff and Janet Napolitano – lauded  Mr. Johnson as an “eminently qualified nominee.” 

They went on to further state that, and I paraphrase, “Jeh Johnson’s service at the highest levels of the U.S. Department of Defense, — the largest government agency in the world — provided him a keen understanding of how to successfully execute large-scale operational missions of varying complexity and purpose. ”

Here’s what former Defense Secretary Bob Gates, a highly-regarded and much-admired manager himself, said about Jeh Johnson and his time at DOD: “Take my word for it: [Jeh Johnson] has successfully managed an array of major initiatives across the biggest bureaucracy in the government – and, in so doing, won the esteem of virtually everyone with whom he worked.”

Similarly, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this about Jeh Johnson: “Jeh has proven himself to be a talented, capable, bipartisan, and trusted public servant.  I give my strongest recommendation and full support to his confirmation as our nation’s next Secretary of Homeland Security.” 

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, who stepped down in late 2011, has also expressed his deep confidence in the nominee, stating, “Jeh Johnson is as fine a person and professional as I have ever met. I am confident in his choice and that he will succeed in leading this most complex organization at a critical time in our country.”

Let me read that again: “Jeh Johnson is as fine a person and professional as I have ever met. I am confident in his choice and that he will succeed in leading this most complex organization at a critical time in our country.”

Mr. Johnson has also received encouraging words of praise from a number of law enforcement groups, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association and National Fraternal Order of Police.

I would also add that at Mr. Johnson’s confirmation hearing, our Ranking Member, Dr. Coburn, made known his support for Jeh  Johnson and even went so far as to ask him to consider staying on as Secretary after the 2016 election.  That is a very high compliment indeed.    

Mr. Johnson is undoubtedly a highly skilled leader.  He is just the type of person we need for this extremely important and challenging position. 

Mr. Johnson, of course, will not be alone in this task of leading DHS.

It is critically important that Mr. Johnson be allowed to surround himself with a capable leadership team.  We can help.  Indeed, we must help.

At DHS alone, there are 14 Presidentially-appointed positions that are without a permanent replacement. Of these, 10 require Senate confirmation.  I call this “Executive Branch Swiss Cheese.”

As we consider Mr. Johnson’s nomination, we must remember that protecting the homeland is a team sport and those of us in the legislative branch are critical members of this important team.

If Mr. Johnson is confirmed, we must do our part to expeditiously, but thoroughly, vet and confirm his leadership team, as well.

We must put aside partisan differences, work together, and give the President and the Department the entire team it needs to better protect our homeland. That includes confirming Ali Mayorkas for Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.

But today, the question before us is Mr. Johnson’s nomination.  For any of my colleagues still on the fence about Mr. Johnson’s nomination, I leave you with a few thoughts on his character and integrity.  

I’ve gotten to know Mr. Johnson pretty well over the last few months.  I’ve been impressed by his forthrightness, his thoughtfulness, his core values and impeccable moral character, as well as his deep commitment to public service. 

He treasures his family and strives to honor their legacy through his work.

I had the privledge of meeting several of his family members at his confirmation hearing last month. His wife is an accomplished professional in her own right. In fact, Jeh met his wife when she was practing dentistry.

Together they are the parents of two young adults that any parent would be proud to call their own. He is also a devoted son and brother.

Although they could not attend his confirmation hearing, I know his parents are deeply proud of the son that they raised.

I noticed at his confirmation hearing that Jeh proudly wore a pin that was his great grandfather’s who worked as a Pullman train car porter in the early 20th century.  

I think that quiet statement says a lot about the importance of family to Jeh and how the values and character his family instilled in him are always with him.

And it’s clear he that he is a student of history and draws inspiration from the civil rights movement.

One of Jeh Johnson’s guiding principles is a lesson he learned from Dr. Benjamin “Bennie” Mays, the former President of Morehouse college and a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “you earn a living by what you get; you earn a life by what you give.

Think about that for a second … and then think about all the times Jeh has left the comforts of the private sector (three times before) so that he could give back and serve the public in government. 

With that in mind, I think we know what kind of leader we are getting in Jeh Johnson and what he will bring to the Department of Homeland Security.

I urge my colleagues to join me in voting today for Jeh Johnson. Thank you Mr. President.