Sen. Hawley blocks quick consideration of Biden's Homeland Security nominee
Posted January 19, 2021 4:58 p.m. EST
CNN — Sen. Josh Hawley blocked quick consideration of President-elect Joe Biden's Homeland Security nominee, Alejandro Mayorkas, on Tuesday, leaving the third-largest federal department without confirmed leadership as it faces national security concerns, a pandemic and an incoming president prepared to roll out ambitious immigration plans.
The Missouri Republican's decision stemmed from an exchange with Mayorkas hours earlier during the nominee's confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
"Mr. 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," Hawley said in a statement.
"Just today, he declined to say he would enforce the laws Congress has already passed to secure the border wall system. Given this, I cannot consent to skip the standard vetting process and fast-track this nomination when so many questions remain unanswered," he continued.
Hawley questioned Mayorkas on Tuesday about funds appropriated for the US-Mexico border wall and whether they would be spent as intended, in light of Biden's pledge to halt wall construction.
While Mayorkas committed to following through with Biden's promise, he maintained he'd do so "in adherence to the laws that guide us."
"Senator ... if I may strike at the fundamental point that I believe you are inquiring of, which is, will I follow the law and the execution of my responsibilities should I have the privilege of serving as the secretary of Homeland Security? And the answer is yes, I will follow the law," Mayorkas said, adding that he would need to understand "what the law provides with respect to the obligation of funds to construct the border wall and see what the opportunities are to discontinue any such obligations if in fact the law permits and act accordingly."
The government has long-standing authority to terminate contracts, though it comes at a cost, according to contracting experts. A US official previously told CNN that some contracts can be modified. But the department's mission extends beyond immigration. DHS is also playing a leading role in securing the US Capitol for the inauguration and is involved in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Our nation is facing unprecedented crises and threats to American national security, from the devastating Coronavirus pandemic to massive cyber breaches across government and the private sector -- and as we have seen too clearly in recent weeks -- rising domestic terrorism and anti-government violence. The Department of Homeland Security is the lead agency charged with combatting these threats and more, and it needs qualified, Senate-confirmed leadership in place immediately," Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement, urging his colleagues to confirm Mayorkas.
Under President Donald Trump, DHS has been rattled with consistent leadership turnover, including in the final weeks of his administration. Earlier this month, Chad Wolf stepped down from his post as acting secretary following intense scrutiny over the validity of his appointment.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor assumed the role of acting DHS secretary, becoming the sixth secretary under the Trump administration. The department hasn't had a Senate-confirmed secretary since April 2019.
Gaynor initially told his workforce he would fill the job until "January 20 when President-elect Biden is inaugurated." It's unclear whether he will remain in the job in the interim.