Breaking: Janet Napolitano Resigns Homeland Security Post
Napolitano to Step Down as Homeland Security Chief
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, one of the president's original cabinet appointees, announced her resignation Friday morning, having been nominated to serve as president of the University of California system.
Ms. Napolitano plans to leave her position in early September, an Obama administration official said. Her resignation comes as the House is considering a sweeping immigration overhaul. Some Republican lawmakers have said they can't support an immigration bill in part because they doubt Ms. Napolitano's department is up to the task of adequately securing the border with Mexico.
The issue of border security is certain to arise when President Barack Obama nominates a successor to Ms. Napolitano, which is set to fall smack in the middle of the contentious fight over changing immigration laws.
Another consideration: Senate Democrats have provoked a fight over the rules governing confirmation votes and are on the verge of invoking what is called the "nuclear option," so dubbed because it could bring all Senate business to a standstill. Under the proposed change, Democrats would need just 51 votes to approve executive branch nominees, rather than the 60 votes effectively required today. Republicans vow retaliation.
Administration officials offered no details about who might succeed Ms. Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona.
People that have been considered for similar senior positions in the government are John Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, as well as New York's Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and Bill Bratton, who has run the police departments in New York and Los Angeles.
Ms. Napolitano said in a statement: "After four plus years of focusing on these challenges, I will be nominated as the next President of the University of California to play a role in educating our nation's next generation of leaders." She added: "I thank President Obama for the chance to serve our nation during this important chapter in our history, and I know the Department of Homeland Security will continue to perform its important duties with the honor and focus that the American public expects."
Mr. Obama, in his own statement, said: "I want to thank Secretary Napolitano for her outstanding work on behalf of the American people over the last four years."
The president said she has "worked around the clock" on various disasters, including the Joplin, Mo., tornado and Hurricane Sandy. On immigration policy, he said: "Since day one, Janet has led my administration's effort to secure our borders, deploying a historic number of resources, while also taking steps to make our immigration system fairer and more consistent with our values."
Ms. Napolitano, in her tenure, has faced criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. Conservatives have questioned her commitment to border security, while advocates for an immigration overhaul have faulted her department for deporting so many illegal immigrants.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas) chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said "the border is not secure, and the threat of terrorism is not diminishing," in a statement responding to news of Ms. Napolitano's resignation.
Mr. McCaul, who sparred frequently with Ms. Napolitano, called her departure "a substantial addition to the growing list of unfilled key leadership positions within the department, and the administration should move swiftly to fill the gaping holes in its management."
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said in an interview Friday that "I thought that Napolitano had the toughest job in the administration. She was in a tough position where she had to enforce even what she recognized was a bad set of laws. But she has always been an unflinching advocate and supporter of comprehensive immigration reform."
University of California Regent Sherry Lansing, head of a 10-member special search committee, said Ms. Napolitano was recommended on a unanimous vote after a search that involved a "large field" of candidates.
As UC president, Ms. Napolitano would enter an institution considered one of the most prestigious public university systems in the U.S., but which has been ravaged by budgets cuts in recent years.
The outgoing president, Mark Yudof, had to deal with $860 million in funding cuts from the state legislature while overseeing roughly a doubling in student tuition to help make up the difference since taking over in 2008. In a recent interview, he said $150 million of the cuts have recently been restored, but that state revenue probably wouldn't return to pre-2008 levels for another five to six years.