President Obama Nominates Jeh Johnson As Homeland Security Chief

October 18, 2013  |  


Jeh Johnson flanked by VP Biden and President Obama. Getty Images

President Obama has selected former Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson for Homeland Security chief.  Obama will nominate Johnson, a national security expert who had a role in ending the military’s ban on gays in the military, reports Reuters.

Johnson served as general counsel in the Department of Defense during Obama’s first term. If  confirmed by the Senate, Johnson would succeed Janet Napolitano, who stepped down earlier this year. “If confirmed, Johnson, an African-American, would bring further racial diversity to Obama’s Cabinet,” reports Reuters.  Obama’s Cabinet  has been criticized for its lack of diversity as it has a high number of white men in top roles.

Johnson, who is currently a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP, helped lead a review and authored a report that led to the 2010 repeal of the “Don’t’ Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military.

Johnson was also involved in the administration’s controversal policy over the legality of drone use.

Obama made the announcement during a White House ceremony today. “As a senior member of my management team at the Pentagon, Jeh worked on every major issue affecting America’s security, including border security, counterterrorism, and cyber security,” said former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in a statement. “I urge the Senate to act quickly to confirm him.”

Johnson, who graduated from Morehouse College in 1979 and Columbia Law School in 1982, was involved in helping the Department of Defense provide resources to the Department of Homeland Security during disaster responses such as Hurricane Sandy and the Gulf oil spill, according to a White House official. There’s much discussion about the role that he could play in the upcoming debate about immigration reform.

“Jeh Johnson had a distinguished career at the Pentagon where he has grappled with the challenges of protecting national security while respecting human rights and upholding American ideals,” said Elisa Massimino, head of Human Rights First, in a statement. “The United States has a long history as a nation of immigrants, and part of that legacy includes our commitment to protecting refugees. We urge Jeh Johnson to make this vulnerable population a priority as his nomination moves forward.”

During his remarks, Johnson spoke about his personal experience as a New Yorker dduring the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“I am a New Yorker, and I was present in Manhattan on 9/11, which happens to be my birthday,” he said. “When that bright and beautiful day was shattered by the largest terrorist attack on our homeland in history, I wandered the streets of New York and asked ‘What can I do?’ Since then, I have tried to devote myself to answering that question.”

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