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Trump expected to tap Kelly to head DHS

Marine Gen. John Kelly is expected to match Trump’s zeal for locking down the U.S.-Mexico border. | AP Photo

The retired Marine Corps general, who lost a son in Afghanistan, had said he would be willing to serve under either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

Updated

President-elect Donald Trump is expected to nominate retired Marine Gen. John Kelly as his secretary of Homeland Security, two sources close to the transition said Wednesday.

Kelly, a Gold Star father who retired in 2016 after more than 40 years in the military, led the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees military operations in much of Central and South America.

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The Department of Homeland Security, a massive bureaucracy created in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, would be key to Trump’s pledges to secure the border and take a hard line on illegal immigration. The GOP real estate mogul campaigned on plans to swiftly deport millions of undocumented immigrants and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Kelly told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year that human smuggling routes “are a potential vulnerability to our homeland,” and he told Defense One in 2014 that a lack of military engagement in Central America had created a vacuum that benefited criminal networks. His command included counter-narcotics operations as well as oversight of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which he opposed closing despite President Barack Obama’s promises to shutter the detention facility.

He has no direct experience, however, with many of the disparate agencies that make up DHS, whose bailiwicks include animal disease research, disaster relief and immigration services, in addition to the more obvious security-related missions like cybersecurity, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol and the Secret Service.

The expected pick by Trump, who has expressed an affinity for generals since his election, would add yet another one to his inner circle, in addition to his choices of retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser and retired Marine Gen. James Mattis for secretary of Defense.

Trump and Kelly, along with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, met late last month at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J. Their discussion, according to a readout from Trump’s transition team, included “a frank discussion” about the world security situation, conflicts in the Middle East and Kelly’s “diplomatic experience during his time as the commander of United States Southern Command in Latin America.”

Had Trump tapped Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who had advised the president-elect, for the top job at DHS, he would have chosen both a more vocal immigration hard-liner and a supporter of his presidential bid.

United We Dream activists participate in a rally in front of the White House July 28, 2014 in Washington, DC.

During the campaign between Trump and Hillary Clinton, Kelly said he’d be willing to serve in either administration. But unlike other notable high-ranking former military officials like Flynn and Gen. John Allen, the retired four-star general never endorsed a candidate. Whoever won, Kelly said, shouldn’t doubt they’re “getting anything but the absolute best military advice, completely devoid of politics.”

“It adds to this mistrust issue … if suddenly a guy retires and says, ‘I think this administration is doing all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons,’” Kelly told Foreign Policy about endorsing a candidate.

While in uniform, Kelly reportedly clashed with the Obama administration over key issues like women in combat and closing the Guantanamo prison.

Earlier this year, Kelly said opening up all combat jobs to women could lead to “great pressure” to lower qualifications for infantry and combat units. And he staunchly defended the treatment detainees receive at Guantanamo.

Kelly enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1970 and was discharged two years later. He was then commissioned as an officer in 1976. He served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and was a military aide to then-Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.

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One of Kelly’s sons, 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed by a bomb blast in 2010 while serving in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. During the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Kelly derided “an enemy that is as savage as any that ever walked the earth.”

After the news broke Wednesday, Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told reporters Kelly “would be an outstanding pick,” adding that the prospect of having multiple retired generals closely advising Trump “doesn’t concern me in the slightest.”

Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee, meanwhile, seem more lukewarm.

“I think you can’t say that he’s a terrible pick,” Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) said Wednesday at an event at the Heritage Foundation. “I do hope that he understands the profound issues that beset this agency. He’s got a colossal problem on his hands. And he’s going to have to learn fast, and he’s got to act. And I hope he wants to work in a collaborative fashion with us.”

Conservative immigration groups looking for the next DHS secretary to drive stringent enforcement and expand the entry-exit visa tracking system, among other targets, are also hesitant. They say Kelly’s stance on this issue is unclear.

“He has given a lot of great statements about the need for border security and he’s very well versed on terrorism and cartels. But we don’t have any idea what he thinks about immigration,” said Rosemary Jenks, who heads government relations at NumbersUSA. “That’s a concern.”

“We have the view that we really need an immigration expert with working knowledge of immigration law and policy,” Jenks said, adding that Kobach better fit that mold.

Jennifer Scholtes, Elana Schor and Mel Leonor contributed to this report.

Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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