Trump And New Homeland Security Nominee Butt Heads On Wall, Torture
Trump may have a challenge with this nominee
President-elect Donald Trump and his nominee for the head of the Department of Homeland Security may well lock horns over some key issues.
The President-elect and his nominee to head the department, retired U.S. Marine Corps general John Kelly, have some pretty big differences of opinion when it comes to Russia’s apparent election hack, the border wall separating the U.S. and Latin America, and the use of torture, The Daily Beast reports.
Promising to “speak truth to power” on his nomination questionnaire, Kelly, who served in the Marines for 42 years until his retirement in 2016, was praised copiously for his integrity and service in the military by senators from both parties during his hearing. The senators also thanked him for completing his ethics disclosures before his hearing; something that other nominees didn’t do.
At turns the question and answer period took on a defiant tone to Trump’s emerging administration, especially with Arizona Republican Sen John McCain helming the homeland security committee. McCain has been in verbal dust-ups with Trump over torture, the wall and Russia. But Missouri Sen Claire McCaskill, the ranking Democrat on the committee, was first to touch on Kelly’s opposition to some of Trump’s particularly authoritarian positions. McCaskill began her opening remarks by quoting Kelly’s questionnaire; especially the part where Kelly pledges to speak truth to power as a member of Trump’s Cabinet.
“That was music to my ears,” she said
At one point McCain asked the general if he will follow the law that prohibits American government agents from conducting torture—a law that was violated by the CIA and military under President George Bush. Trump has said he intends to broaden anti-torture laws to allow waterboarding and other torture techniques used by agents during the Bush administration. But Kelly says he opposes that plan.
“I don’t think we should ever come close to crossing a line we Americans expect to follow in terms of interrogation techniques,” he said.
“So basically the Geneva Conventions,” McCain asked.
“Absolutely sir,” Kelly responded.
Next on the agenda was Trump’s plan to build the much-discussed 2,000-mile wall across the southern U.S. to prevent migrants from crossing. Trump has singled out Mexicans especially, saying that many of them are “criminals, drug dealers, rapists.”
But if it is built, this wall will come at a huge cost—a staggering $40 billion, external estimates say. Trump originally maintained that Mexico would pay for the wall, but now, The Daily Beast reports, he’s collaborating with Republicans in Congress to begin building the wall with U.S. funds.
McCain noted that barriers are important, “but building a wall is not the way to prevent the flow of drugs or people illegally across the border.”
Kelly told McCain that he agreed.
“A physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job,” he said. “It has to be layered defense. If you build a wall from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, you still have to back that up with human beings, sensors.”
“I believe the best defense of the Southwest border starts 1500 miles to the south, with Peru, which is very active in going after drug traffic.”
Further, Kelly said, working with partners overseas is one of the best ways to improve border security, and added that the best way to put a stop to drug traffic is to halt the demand, Slate reports.
Related: Sen. Blumenthal: Halt Confirmation Hearings For Trump Appointments Until They Pass Background Checks
When McCaskill asked Kelly to what degree he believed the conclusions by the Intelligence committee’s report that Russia hacked the 2016 election, especially when it comes to finding that Russian president Vladimir Putin sought to damage Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning in order to promote Trump.
“With high confidence.”
Then he was asked why people from Latin America attempt to cross the border into the U.S. and Kelly, who, as former head of the Southern Command, has spoken of the need to support economic development in these countries, responded :
“They, most of the time, don’t come her for any purpose except to have economic opportunity and to escape violence.”
He didn’t touch on Trump’s remarks during the campaign, that they come to rape and murder U.S. citizens.
Another Democrat, Sen. Gary Peters, of Michigan, noted that Muslim-Americans in his state are fearful, and he asked Kelly what his opinion was about Trump’s proposal to place Mosques under heavy surveillance and establish a Muslim database.
“I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to do those things,” Kelly said. Peters pressed him a bit more, referring to the infamous Internment camps that Japanese people were placed in during World War II. Specifically, Peters wanted to know if this is a valid precedent for Muslim roundups, something that Trump has proposed while on the campaign trail. Kelly said it doesn’t, but added that he isn’t a lawyer. Instead, he said he hopes to gain the trust of Muslim-Americans, and also hopes they can help him root out extremists.
Kelly was more cautious when he was questioned by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who asked him if he plans to deport children whose parents are illegal immigrants, who have spent their entire lives in the U.S. Kelly replied guardedly that he has to enforce the law. Harris noted his law enforcement resources would be limited, and wondered how high this would be on his priorities list. Hesitantly, he replied that “law-abiding individuals” like these people wouldn’t be high on the list.
What’s odd at this point is that Kelly wasn’t questioned about some of his more extreme positions. He is opposed, for instance, to transferring inmates at Guantanamo Bay to high-security prisons in the U.S. And these prisons already hold more than 300 violent terrorists, Slate notes. He was also asked about his claims (which have no evidence) that violent terrorists are crossing the border into the U.S. Lastly, he also wasn’t questioned about his claim that more than 100,000 in the Western Hemisphere have died due to terrorism since 9/11. Official estimates actually put the number at around 1,000.
Seems pretty much like this four-star general will be butting heads with Trump, especially since they deeply disagree on torture, and it sounds like Kelly at least has a degree of empathy for immigrants. And that’s something Trump appears to lack.