Secretary of Homeland Security

Retired general sails through hearing, doesn't echo Trump's views


WASHINGTON • Retired general John Kelly, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to lead the US Department of Homeland Security, has easily manoeuvred through his confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, drawing bipartisan support for what is likely be a smooth approval process by the full Senate.

Still, despite the welcoming nature of Tuesday's hearing, senators pressed the retired Marine Corps four-star general for his views on many of Mr Trump's statements about immigration and border security, and Gen Kelly offered opinions differing from those expressed by the President-elect.

Senator John McCain of Arizona asked about Mr Trump's much-debated calls to build a wall along the border with Mexico, questioning whether a barrier alone would be sufficient to stop the flow of immigrants and drugs.

"A physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job," said Gen Kelly.

The nominee made it clear the United States would have to deal with factors in South and Central America that fuel northward migration - especially drugs and related violence - and the nation should look to bolster law enforcement in those countries. He also expressed a notable degree of empathy for those who seek refuge in the US.

"They, for the most part, don't want to come up and leave their homes, their families," he said. "But there isn't an awful lot of economic opportunity for them there."


A physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job.

GENERAL JOHN KELLY, when questioned about Mr Trump's calls to build a wall along the Mexican border to prevent illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

He was also questioned about Mr Trump's suggestion that he might revive a dormant registry programme for visitors from countries with active terrorist groups - a programme that critics say unfairly targets Muslims. Senator Gary Peters asked Gen Kelly if he supported the programme, to which he replied: "I don't agree with registering people based on ethnicity or religion."

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a longtime critic of government surveillance programmes, asked if he supported the bulk collection of data on Americans. "I'm not for the mass collection of data," Gen Kelly said. "I go the other way."

Lawmakers did not broach the subject of Mr Trump's proposal to deport millions of unauthorised immigrants, though Senator Kamala Harris of California asked about the fate of unauthorised immigrants brought to the US as children. Gen Kelly said he would enforce the law.

If confirmed, he will become the fifth person and the first former military officer to lead the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for protecting the country from terrorist attacks and managing disaster response.

Mr Robert Gates, a secretary of defence under President Barack Obama and former president George W. Bush, called Gen Kelly a "straight-talking, candid, courageous leader who will say exactly what he thinks", adding: "I would trust him with my life."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2017, with the headline 'Retired general sails through hearing, doesn't echo Trump's views '. Subscribe