Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file
Former Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during his confirmation hearing Hill on Nov. 13, in Washington. The Senate confirmed Johnson as U.S. Director of Homeland Security on Monday.
The U.S. Senate on Monday confirmed President Barack Obama’s nomination, former top Pentagon lawyer Jeh Johnson, as director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Johnson, a security expert who served as the Defense Department's general counsel during President Obama's first term, was confirmed by a 78-16 vote.
Minutes earlier, Democrats squashed a GOP blockade against the nominee by a vote of 57-37. Democrats in November voted to change the rule that required 60 votes to defeat filibusters. Now, a simple majority will overturn barriers for executive branch and non-Supreme Court judicial nominees.
In a statement, President Obama said he was pleased with the Senate’s confirmation of Johnson.
“Jeh will play a leading role in our efforts to protect the homeland against terrorist attacks, adapt to changing threats, stay prepared for natural disasters, strengthen our border security, and make our immigration system fairer,” President Obama said.
Johnson is replacing Janet Napolitano, who resigned in September to become the president of the University of California system. Forty percent of the senior leadership positions in the Dept. of Homeland Security are still vacant though, and Johnson said filling them is one of his top priorities.
Anne W. Patterson, the current U.S. ambassador to Egypt, was also confirmed on a 78-16 vote on Monday to become assistant secretary of state in charge of Near Eastern affairs.
The Senate is expected to confirm Janet Yellen for Federal Reserve chairman and John Koskinen as head the Internal Revenue Service later this week, before they break for the holidays.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
First published December 16 2013, 7:57 PM