Donald Trump and his Homeland Security secretary may not always see eye to eye
Despite the acrimony around many of President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet selections, the confirmation hearing for one of them, Homeland Security Secretary candidate Gen. John Kelly, appears to be going smoothly.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates introduced Kelly, saying the former general was "a man of great moral authority" who Gates would trust with his life.
During the "lovefest," as Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp called to it, Kelly was asked almost nothing other than what Slate columnist Fred Kaplan called "softballs" and answered them with what Sen. Claire McCaskill, the top Democrat on the homeland security committee, referred to as "good answers."
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Kelly is the US military's longest-serving general, having retired from a 45-year Marine Corps career in 2016 as a four-star general, with US Southern Command as his last post. As the head of Homeland Security, Kelly would oversee several security and law-enforcement agencies, including Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and the Transportation Security Administration.
Kelly's previous comments as leader of US Southern Command and statements he made during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday indicate that his approach to the Homeland Security department's duties may not always align with the Trump administration's stated policies.
During the hearing, Kelly said that he had no issue with"speaking truth to power," and many of his responses indicated that not only would he break from many of Trump's plans for US security policy, but that he also has an understanding of Latin America and the specific dynamics driving events there.
"He does see everything from a really, strictly military perspective. He looks at threats and not so much at political trends or opportunities. So he's always looking at the worst-case scenario things, and you saw that a lot in his words and testimonies over the years," Adam Isacson, the senior associate for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, told Business Insider.
"But that does mean that he at least is aware that violence is a problem, corruption is a problem, even sometimes that inequality and poverty are problems," Isacson said.
An often-repeated element of Trump's foreign policy has been his intention to build a wall along the US border with Mexico — a barrier Trump has said will staunch the flow of unauthorized immigrants as well as the crime and drugs the president-elect claims they bring with them.
Asked about detaining illegal immigrants who hadn't faced trial previously, Kelly said, "I'm pretty committed to the Constitution."
Isacson, who has said he doesn't know Kelly to have "antipathy" migrants, said deportations on the scale Trump says he wants to carry out would be a unique challenge.
"Will he willingly and happily be somebody who splits up thousands, tens of thousands of families? I don't know," Isacson told Business Insider. "It's hard to picture."
According to many, Kelly seems especially prepared for some of the bureaucratic and organizational challenges he would face at the head of the Homeland Security department.
"I found him to be extremely effective in coordinating multi-agency and multi-national efforts to combat both narcotrafficking and counterterrorism matters," Vincent told Business Insider.
However, the complexity and cumbersome nature of the department may be exacerbated by the somewhat helter-skelter nature — so far, at least — of the Trump team's approach to government policy. Whatever the eventual edicts handed down from the White House may be, those who've commanded him seem confident about how Kelly will handle them.
"He's a Marine; he tells it like it is," former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, to whom Kelly served as senior military assistant, told The New York Times. "The new administration will benefit from someone like John Kelly."
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