This morning Trump has confirmed his intention to nominate retired Marine General John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security, a pick that had been rumored for days. In a statement, Trump highlighted Kelly's experience in defending the homeland from threats of terrorism and said that he was the right person to "spearhead the urgent mission of stopping illegal immigration and securing our borders."
“Gen. John Kelly’s decades of military service and deep commitment to fighting the threat of terrorism inside our borders makes him the ideal choice to serve as our Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security."
“He is the right person to spearhead the urgent mission of stopping illegal immigration and securing our borders, streamlining TSA and improving coordination between our intelligence and law enforcement agencies. With Gen. Kelly at the helm of DHS, the American people will have a leader committed to our safety as well as one who will work hand-in-hand with America's rank-and-file TSA, ICE and Border Patrol officers."
Per The Hill, Kelly vowed to "take back sovereignty at our borders and put a stop to political correctness."
“The American people voted in this election to stop terrorism, take back sovereignty at our borders, and put a stop to political correctness that for too long has dictated our approach to national security," Kelly said in a statement. "I will tackle those issues with a seriousness of purpose and a deep respect for our laws and Constitution."
Before retiring last winter, Kelly served as the head of U.S. Southern Command, where, among other things, he oversaw Guantánamo Bay. According to The Hill, Kelly built a reputation as a blunt critic of the Obama administration and was often accused to taking actions intended to obstruct the administration's efforts to close Guantánamo. John Kelly's son, Robert, was killed in combat in Afghanistan.
Immigration hard-liners had been routing for Trump to appoint Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as head of the Department of Homeland Security. Kobach was generally viewed as the candidate most likely to draw the hardest line on illegal immigration after helping to draft one of the toughest pieces of immigration law in the country, Arizona's SB 1070, which requires law enforcement officers to demand to see the immigration papers of anyone they suspected of being in the country illegally.
By choosing Marine General John Kelly, immigration experts fear that the Trump administration will focus more on border security, as it relates to terrorist threats, but will not emphasize the deportation of the millions of illegal citizens already in the country.
Still others, including the ever skeptical New York Magazine, view Kelly simply as a "Trojan Horse" who has a better chance at Senate Confirmation for the top DHS position but will then use that role to appoint an immigration hard-liner, like Kobach, to the Deputy Secretary position.
Perhaps most important, Kelly is not Kris Kobach, the fiery crusader against immigration “amnesty,” alleged voter fraud, and nefarious Muslim plots to rob Americans of their priceless heritage of freedom. The name of the Kansas secretary of State, who is a big-time national celebrity among hard-core conservatives, had often been mentioned in connection with the DHS gig.
But before anyone starts celebrating over Kobach’s continued confinement in Topeka, it might be wise to pay attention to some intel the Washington Examiner provided earlier this week:
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and retired Marine Gen. John Kelly are likely to be tapped for secretary and deputy secretary of homeland security, according to a top transition official familiar with the president-elect’s current thinking, but the source would not reveal which of the two men is favored for the top post and which is likely to be deputy secretary.
If that is correct, it is entirely possible Team Trump decided to make the less controversial Kelly — who faces a much easier Senate confirmation — the figurehead at the top of DHS, while installing Kobach as his deputy with special responsibilities for immigration and anti-terrorism policy. And there is also the option of placing Kobach at the Justice Department with authority over enforcement of immigration and voting laws. Crediting the upcoming administration with a “moderate” cabinet appointment might be accurate but also misleading.
With one more pick officially on the record, all eyes turn to the Secretary of State position.