Jeh Johnson (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
David Jackson, USA TODAY
President Obama nominated attorney Jeh Johnson to lead the Department of Homeland Security on Friday, saying the former Pentagon general counsel has been a "critical member of my national security team."
Johnson "understands that this country is worth protecting not because of what we build or what we own, but because of who we are," Obama said during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.
Obama noted that the Department of Homeland Security -- created after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- has responsibilities that range from hurricane response to border security to protecting nation against terrorism.
Johnson, 56, a native of New York state who returned to private law practice last year, said he has special reasons for remember the victims of 9/11: He was in New York City that day, and Sept. 11 is his birthday.
During his time as general counsel for the Defense Department, Johnson provided legal advice on the use of unnamed drones, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and repeal of the anti-gay "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
Johnson also worked on the 2011 raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.
If confirmed by the Senate, Johnson would replace Janet Napolitano, who left last month to lead the University of California education system.
Johnson would be the fourth secretary of homeland security.
Some Republican senators pointed out that Johnson has raised campaign money for Obama, and questioned whether he has the right experience to manage such a sprawling department.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., saying DHS has failed to secure the border between the United States and Mexico, said Obama "has tapped one of his former New York fundraisers. We need someone who knows how to secure the border, not dial for dollars."
In reciting Johnson's biography, Obama said that the veteran attorney also knows that "keeping America safe also means upholding the values and civil liberties that make America great."