Hawley to delay Senate confirmation of Biden Homeland Security pick

Sen. Josh Hawley, (R-MO), speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing | Carolyn Kaster-Pool/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley will object to the rapid confirmation vote planned for President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security, part of the national security team that was expected to be confirmed Wednesday.

Hawley, a Missouri Republican, announced his opposition to Alejandro Mayorkas following Tuesday’s hearing on the DHS nominee, who would take office amid law enforcement warnings about potential violence in D.C. and state capitals following the Jan. 6 pro-Trump attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Hawley said in a statement that Mayorkas “has not adequately explained how he will enforce federal law and secure the southern border given President-elect Biden’s promise to roll back major enforcement and security measures.”

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters | Michael Gerstein photo

The objection from Hawley — who has drawn scrutiny for leading objections to the Electoral College certification of Biden as president — is likely to delay the DHS chief’s confirmation for a few days under Senate procedures, although Mayorkas is still expected to be approved. It comes after a hearing in which lawmakers from both parties underscored the significant challenges facing the massive agency tasked with ensuring safety from a range of foreign, domestic and cyber threats.

In his opening statement to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, led by U.S. Sens. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mayorkas said that if confirmed, he will do everything he can to ensure the “horrifying” attack that unfolded at the Capitol on Jan. 6 “will not happen again.”

Mayorkas, who would be the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the agency, faced questions about domestic terrorism in the wake of that violent insurrection effort. He described the threat of domestic terrorism as one of the greatest challenges facing the agency, and said DHS can do a better job at sharing information on potential terrorism threats with state and local law enforcement.

“I look forward to playing a critical role in empowering the Office of Intelligence and Analysis in an apolitical, non-partisan way, to do its important job and tackle the threat that domestic extremism is today,” Mayorkas told senators.

Lawmakers on the panel also pressed him on cybersecurity concerns in the wake of the federal cyberattack last year, and about border security and immigration enforcement.

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Mayorkas said he does not support defunding Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a policy pushed by progressives. When it comes to determining which asylum-seekers are eligible to remain in the U.S., he will guide the agency based on the applicable statutes.

“We will apply the law accordingly,” he said. “If they do not qualify to remain in the United States, then they won’t.”

Hawley, a member of the committee, pushed Mayorkas on Biden’s policy approach to the border, asking whether $1.4 billion approved by Congress in December for border wall construction strongly pushed by President Donald Trump would be implemented under the new administration. Mayorkas responded that he would follow the law in terms of which funds have been obligated and whether any can be discontinued.

“Just today, he declined to say he would enforce the laws Congress has already passed to secure the border wall system,” Hawley said in his statement after the hearing. “Given this, I cannot consent to skip the standard vetting process and fast-track this nomination when so many questions remain unanswered.”

During the Obama administration, Mayorkas led the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which runs the immigration system, and later served as a deputy secretary for DHS.

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Several Republicans, including Portman, asked Mayorkas to explain a DHS inspector general’s report that found he intervened to help prominent Democrats during his tenure running the USCIS. Mayorkas defended his actions, saying he worked in many more cases than just those selective few to try to improve troubled government programs.

“There were dozens and dozens, whether they involved the rich or the poor, the enfranchised or disenfranchised,” he said. “I became involved to be sure that our agency improved each day, that I learned of the problems we were confronted with and that I did everything to fix them.”

Mayorkas was one of five Biden nominees who faced confirmation hearings Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s transition to the next administration. Biden’s picks to lead the departments of Treasury, Defense, and State, as well as his director of national intelligence, went before Senate panels.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat set to become majority leader after Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and the newly certified senators from Georgia are sworn in, said the Senate will vote Wednesday afternoon on those nominations.