New York's top cop Ray Kelly emerged Friday as a leading candidate to replace outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano as a scramble to fill the post began just hours after her departure was announced.
New York Sen. Charles Schumer was the first to pitch a nominee, phoning White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough early Friday to float Kelly's name, the Democratic senator's office said in a statement widely released
to the press.
"The Department of Homeland Security is one of the most important agencies in the federal government. Its leader needs to be someone who knows law enforcement, understands anti-terrorism efforts, and is a top-notch administrator, and at the NYPD, Ray Kelly has proven that he excels in all three," Democrat Schumer said in the statement.
"There is no doubt Ray Kelly would be a great DHS secretary, and I have urged the White House to very seriously consider his candidacy," Schumer said.
Kelly, 70, has been police commissioner of New York City since 2002, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office, and from 1992-1994. He recently declined Republican overtures to run for mayor of New York in this year's election.
During his tenure, Kelly has emerged as a national leader in the fight against terrorism, overseeing the NYPD's massive effort to prevent another terror strike in New York after 9/11.
Adding to Kelly's bona fides is that he served under both Republicans and Democrats. He was commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service from 1998 to 2001 during the Clinton administration, before it became Customs and Border Protection under the Department of Homeland Security.
Kelly didn't comment Friday on Schumer's recommendation for Napolitano's job, but he did praise her performance.
Napolitano served more than four years as secretary of Homeland Security. She told her senior staff
Friday she will be leaving Obama's cabinet to be president of the University of California statewide system, which includes UCLA; the University of California, Berkeley; and a host of other campuses.
Her decision to leave — and the need to replace her — comes as the national debate over immigration reform moves to center stage at the House of Representatives, putting additional scrutiny on the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for immigration and border control.
As for a successor to Napolitano, freshman Rep. Steve Stockman, a Texas Republican, said, "I would hope, at the very least, we get a secretary with a little more deference to Congress, which Secretary Napolitano definitely did not."
He said he "resented the partisan tone [Napolitano] displayed when she suggested that passage of a 'path to citizenship' immigration bill would make her home state of Arizona more Democratic."
Kelly was far from the only name circulated Friday to head the $60 billion department with 240,000 employees.
Senate Homeland Security Chairman Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, offered up former Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute as his pick for the post.
"My hope is that the president takes a long, hard look at her," Carper told Politico
Napolitano's replacement will require Senate confirmation.
The names of other department insiders also being floated as possible replacements included Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Craig Fugate and Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole, also a former deputy FBI director, Politico reported.
Before he was named to head FEMA in 2009, Fugate served as Florida’s director of emergency management under two Republican governors, Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist, suggesting that he might have bipartisan support during Senate confirmation hearings.
Other names making the rounds Friday included House Homeland Security ranking member Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, and Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican.
Thompson's name was pitched by Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat and a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. She told Politico that Thompson, who is black, "would bring diversity" to that position.
Collins' name was suggested by Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia.
"I really think she is a thoughtful voice and would be a real quality addition," Connolly told Politico. "You want to make sure that your Cabinet has some voices from the other party."
Republicans, fearful of losing a Senate seat from Maine, might be reluctant to back Collins, who has served on the Senate's Homeland Security Committee.
Under current Senate rules, a nominee to replace Napolitano will need 60 votes and bipartisan support to become the next Homeland Security Secretary.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, said the next nominee will be heavily scrutinized as any discussion of a replacement of Napolitano comes during the debate over immigration reform.
"Secretary Napolitano's tenure at the Department of Homeland Security was defined by a consistent disrespect for the rule of law," Sessions said in a statement reported by ABC News.
"Any selection — interim or permanent — to replace Secretary Napolitano must disavow these aggressive nonenforcement directives or there is very little hope for successful immigration reform."
Napolitano's departure comes as the Senate is set to confirm Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as the deputy secretary of Homeland Security on July 30.
If approved, Mayorkas would become acting secretary once Napolitano departs. Leaving him in the post is another option for the Obama administration.
For some on Capitol Hill, Napolitano's departure can't come soon enough.
"Secretary Napolitano's departure comes not a minute too soon," said Florida Republican Rep. John Mica, Politico reported
. "Now is a good time for Congress to consider dismantling the monstrous Department of Homeland Security and replacing it with a smaller security-focused entity that is realistically capable of connecting the dots of threats posed to our national security."
"I refer to her as Janet On-Another-Planet-o when it comes to TSA," Mica said.
John Gizzi contributed to this report.
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