Senate Panel to Vote on Homeland Nominee
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Julie Myers is not related to Harriet Miers. In fact, the two women spell their last names differently. Julie Myers is the president's pick to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency at the Homeland Security Department. And today she was approved for that job by a Senate committee. She still needs confirmation by the full Senate. As NPR's Pam Fessler reports, there are questions about Myers' qualifications, questions spurred by Michael Brown's performance at FEMA.
PAM FESSLER reporting:
Julie Myers had the misfortune last month of having her confirmation hearing held three days after the resignation of Michael Brown. Brown was widely criticized for being ill-prepared to handle the Hurricane Katrina response, and there were charges of political cronyism. So members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee were understandably concerned about whether the 36-year-old Myers, a former federal prosecutor, would be able to oversee an agency with 20,000 employees and a $4 billion budget. Ohio Republican George Voinovich said straight out that he didn't think she was qualified. But that was then. Today Voinovich explained that at the time he had not yet met with the nominee.
Senator GEORGE VOINOVICH (Republican, Ohio): I wish I had done so because had I done so, my comments about the fact that I felt she didn't meet the management requirements of the statute would not have been made.
FESSLER: Voinovich said he came away very impressed from an hourlong meeting with Myers after the hearing. He said her experience, including stints at the departments of Commerce, Justice and Treasury should serve her well. Other Republicans said they too are convinced that Myers is a good choice. She served as chief of staff for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff when he was at the Justice Department. Norm Coleman of Minnesota said perhaps her strongest credential is that she appears to have Chertoff's complete confidence.
Senator NORM COLEMAN (Republican, Minnesota): I'll tell you that I spoke to Secretary Chertoff and I raised very bluntly some of the political issues in this post-Katrina environment, and we're going to look very carefully and we're going to be held to account for making the right decisions about leadership. He was unwavering in his belief that she is the right person for the job--unwavering.
FESSLER: At issue is not Myers' law enforcement qualifications, but whether she can manage such an unwieldy agency which deals with everything from illegal immigrants to money laundering. Connecticut Democrat Joseph Lieberman said immigration and customs enforcement has been in turmoil ever since its creation two years ago, and that he would vote against the nominee.
Senator JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (Democrat, Connecticut): At this moment, with this particular agency, I want to be absolutely certain that we entrust its leadership to someone with a clear and proven record of strong management experience.
FESSLER: He questioned whether Myers even met a minimum five-year requirement. Several of her management jobs were held for a year or less. The committee's 7-to-2 vote is not the final word, though. The Judiciary Committee also wants to review the nomination and plans a hearing the week after next. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.