Vote Explanationby Senator John McCain
Posted on 2013-12-17
McCAIN. Mr. President, I regret that I was absent from the Senate
yesterday and was unable to vote on the nomination of Jeh Johnson to be
Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Had I been here, I
would have voted in opposition to this nominee.
Reforming our broken immigration system is one of the Nation's top priorities. To that end, ensuring that our borders are secure and preventing illegal entry is absolutely vital. In my capacity as the senior Senator from Arizona and one of the lead advocates of [[Page S8908]] comprehensively reforming our immigration system, I have a solemn obligation and a constitutional prerogative to make sure that the Department of Homeland Security, DHS, accomplishes that mission. In furtherance of that obligation and that prerogative, I--indeed Congress--must count on DHS cooperation to provide any relevant information I and this body request.
Unfortunately, in connection with the Senate's effort to craft legislation to help secure our borders, the former DHS Secretary unjustifiably refused to provide such information. The information I asked for was intended to let Congress and the American people judge for themselves if progress is being made to protect our borders from illegal entry. To date, I never received that information from this administration.
So first during his confirmation hearing and then in writing, I asked Mr. Johnson to commit to me that, if confirmed as the new DHS Secretary, he would provide me that same information. Unfortunately, on grounds that I find to be specious and unacceptable, he declined. On the basis of his response, I can only conclude that, if confirmed, the level of cooperation between DHS and me, particularly on the vitally important issue of border security--when comprehensive immigration remains such a vitally important issue--would remain business as usual, and that is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to me and to the people who interests I am committed to representing.
For this reason, I have no choice other than to oppose Mr. Johnson's nomination.
I have known Jeh for some time. I have respect for his work while General Counsel for the Department of Defense. In particular, I applaud his efforts in the development of the Department of Defense's policy regarding the use of deadly force in connection with counterterrorist operations and other important defense and national security issues.
But what I have seen all too frequently is the inability or unwillingness of appointed officials within this administration to free themselves from the unelected, unpointed, political staff in the West Wing that put political expediency ahead of meaningful governance. I can have no tolerance for another Secretary who will act as nothing more than a road block on behalf of those with a political agenda and is either unwilling or unable to provide transparency into the actions of this department and its components.
Congress, particularly those of us who are the border, has the right to have that information. It is our responsibility and obligation to our constituents. I have constituents in my State who every night, there are people who are crossing their border illegally. I have constituents that every day, drug smugglers are going across their property and their homes. They certainly have the right, as citizens, to know what measures need to be taken in order to control our border.
Earlier this year, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill with 67 votes that included unprecedented increases in spending to help secure the border. The information we based these spending increases on came directly from leadership within the Border Patrol, and I believe it will be successful. But the American people deserve to have more than my faith in the efforts of the Border Patrol as to whether the border is made secure. Our constituents are relying on us to finally secure the border but also be good stewards of their tax dollars and to have the capabilities to ensure their money is being used wisely and if not, to make the appropriate adjustments.
When developing this legislation, we requested information from Secretary Napolitano that I believe would have helped make the legislation stronger and potentially garner more support from my Republican colleagues. This information was never provided to us, I believe, for solely political reasons but has ultimately harmed our ability to get comprehensive immigration reform legislation signed into law.
This is the source of my disappointment with Mr. Johnson: His refusal to commit to provide the information necessary would prevent Members of Congress from making reasonable and informed decisions that serve the American people. And Mr. Johnson did so under circumstances that other Members of this body have sought--and obtained--commitments of cooperation.
For example, here is what Secretary Kerry said in response to a request for answers regarding the Bengazi raid: ``[H]ere's what I say to you. After 29 years here--in my 29th, I respect the prerogatives of the United States Senate and the members of Congress. You represent the American people, you're the other branch of government, you have the right to know what took place. And I have an obligation commensurate with the, you know, regulations and classifications and privacy and other things that are at play here, to help you get the answers, and we'll do that.'' And what did I get from Mr. Johnson? ``If I am confirmed . . . I promise that addressing your letter will be a top and immediate priority for me.'' For years, we were told that apprehensions are down and the border is more secure. In reality, we all knew that the economy was the primary driver in reducing potential illegal border crossers. In the last 2 years, with slight improvements in the economy, we have seen a 20 percent increase in the number of apprehensions. Does that mean the border is less or more secure? For years DHS has been telling us they are developing a border security index in a shift away from using apprehensions as the sole measure of success and to get a true measure of security along the border. We have been waiting 3 years with no sign that the index will be made public. All indications are the development of the index has been shelved.
Until Congress is provided greater information on the capabilities and deficiencies of the Department of Homeland Security's abilities to secure the border, Congress will not be able to determine if the border is secure.
I regret that Jeh Johnson has refused to commit to providing this information to Congress, and I do not support his nomination.