Kelly Confirmed to Lead Department of Homeland Security

Former Southcom commander to handle immigration, border security, domestic terror threats

John F. Kelly
John F. Kelly / AP
January 20, 2017

Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly was confirmed as Donald Trump's secretary of homeland security on Friday evening, soon after the inauguration of the new president.

The Senate voted 88-11 to confirm Kelly to lead the Department of Homeland Security, an agency formed after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Kelly faced little resistance during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs last week, during which he faced questions about Trump's plan to build a wall on the southern border, immigration, cyber security, the drug trade, and homegrown terrorism. Kelly was commended by Republicans and Democrats as a formidable choice for the job given his experience commanding the U.S. Southern Command.

Kelly, who served 45 years in the Marine Corps, emphasized his belief in the principles of respect and tolerance, respect for the rule of law, and his willingness to "speak truth to power."

Kelly served as commander of the U.S. Southern Command between 2012 and 2016, retiring last January. He previously served as a senior military assistant to former defense secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.

"General Kelly is the right choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security. He led our men and women in uniform during three tours in Iraq, oversaw the operations at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and served as commander of U.S. Southern Command," Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), who chairs the committee, said following the hearing last Tuesday.

"General Kelly's extensive and relevant experience has provided him with a deep knowledge and understanding of the grave security threats facing our nation and the sacrifices that are required to keep us safe."

The Department of Homeland Security handles a number of issues, including immigration, border security, domestic terror threats, the protection of critical infrastructure, and cyber security. It operates on a budget exceeding $40 billion and employs about 240,000 workers.

As the fifth secretary of homeland security, Kelly takes over for Jeh Johnson.

Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis was also confirmed on Friday to serve as defense secretary in the Trump administration. Some of Trump's other Cabinet picks are likely to face more difficult roads to confirmation.