On Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano shocked Washington with news that she was immediately resigning her cabinet position. Her departure leaves vacant an office at the heart of the current immigration reform debate. If Congress proceeds with immigration reform legislation, it will be forced to act not knowing who will be tasked to enforce any new laws. Until her successor is known and confirmed, Congress ought to step back from the issue.
The announcement is stunning for two reasons. Her departure leaves leaderless the agency responsible for protecting the nation from domestic threats of terrorism. We are just a few months past the worst terrorist attack on domestic soil since 9/11. Tensions in the Middle East are rising to a level not seen for decades. As Obama gets the US further involved, the threat of reprisals or blowback increases.
Her departure, though, also throws an unknown variable into the domestic debate over immigration reform. The recently passed Senate bill gave the DHS Secretary wide discretion in implementing the new law. The bill contained hundreds of waivers to rules and requirements that the Secretary could use at her discretion. Congress will now be tasked with considering these, without knowing the person that will be entrusted with this discretion.
Not to be glib, but would anyone sign a contract to renovate their home without knowing who the contractor is? How can Congress pass a law when it doesn’t know who will enforce it?
Ostensibly, Napolitano is quitting to take charge of the University of California system. This is, no doubt, a good job with great pay and benefits. Does it really warrant her immediate attention, with so many other serious issues under consideration? Couldn’t she have remained in her current job until her successor is confirmed, providing seamless leadership for an agency critical to the security of the country?
Just two months before the Democrat rout in 2010, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel resigned to prepare his run for Mayor of Chicago. Emanuel is a skilled, and ruthless, political strategist and could have probably helped mitigate some of the Democrat losses. He jumped ship, instead, so as not to be tainted by the sweeping defeat.
Perhaps Napolitano is taking a page from Emanuel’s playbook. She is jumping ship at a time when her position is most critical to Obama’s agenda. What taint is she trying to avoid?