WASHINGTON -- President Obama on Friday nominated Jeh C. Johnson, a longtime adviser on counterterrorism policy and a former official at the Pentagon, to be the next secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
In a Rose Garden ceremony, Mr. Obama highlighted his personal bond with Mr. Johnson, calling him an "outstanding public servant who I have known and trusted for years." The president urged the Senate to confirm Mr. Johnson "as soon as possible."
In choosing Mr. Johnson, 56, to replace Janet Napolitano, Mr. Obama is turning to an insider in his administration who does not have the border-security credentials that Ms. Napolitano brought as a former governor of Arizona.
Instead, Mr. Johnson -- whose first name is pronounced "Jay" -- would arrive at the department as a central player in Mr. Obama's efforts to redefine the war on terrorism during the first five years of the president's tenure. Mr. Obama cited that experience, saying that Mr. Johnson had a "deep understanding of the threats and challenges facing the United States."
The president noted the broad range of issues that Mr. Johnson would have to deal with as the leader of a department that includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, among them "hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and wildfires." He noted that Ms. Napolitano confronted the need to secure the border, while also responding to the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
But Mr. Obama also praised Mr. Johnson for the work he did at the Pentagon in pushing for an end to the policy of "don't ask, don't tell," which prohibited gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military. The president said that "America and our military are stronger" as a result of the policy change, "in part because of Jeh's determined leadership."
Mr. Johnson will most likely face some critical questioning at his confirmation hearing from senators who oppose Mr. Obama's efforts to overhaul the nation's immigration laws. Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and a critic of the Department of Homeland Security, promised to use the confirmation hearings to discuss border security.
"This nomination should focus the attention of the Congress and the country on the open refusal of D.H.S. political appointees to impartially execute their law enforcement mission," Mr. Sessions said in a statement.
Senator Thomas R. Carper, Democrat of Delaware and the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, called Mr. Johnson's nomination "welcome news."
"The department has been operating without a Senate-confirmed secretary or deputy secretary, and also has numerous other high-level vacancies," Mr. Carper said. "Mr. Johnson brings a wealth of experience from the Department of Defense, and I am eager to meet with him and discuss his vision for the Department of Homeland Security."
Standing next to the president in the Rose Garden, Mr. Johnson recalled being in New York on Sept. 11, 2001 -- which was Mr. Johnson's birthday -- when the terrorists attacked. He said he recalled wandering the city asking himself what he could do.
"I have tried to devote myself to answering that question," he said. If confirmed by the Senate, he promised to devote himself "toward the task of safeguarding our nation's national and homeland security."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 18, 2013 2:00 PM