US & Canada

US Senate confirms Jeh Johnson as Homeland Security head

Jeh Johnson testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be the Homeland Security Secretary on Capitol Hill in 13 November 2013
Image caption President Obama said he looked "forward to Jeh's counsel and sound judgment for years to come"

A former top Pentagon lawyer has been confirmed as the fourth director of the US department of homeland security.

Senators confirmed Jeh Johnson, the former general counsel for the defence department, in a 78-16 vote.

He will replace former chief Janet Napolitano, who left in September. Mr Johnson has said filling vacancies at the department is a top priority.

His is one in a series of high-level confirmations to come after Democrats changed the Senate rules last month.

They stripped the minority Republicans of the power to use procedural manoeuvres to block confirmation of presidential nominees.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, has promised a slew of year-end confirmations, including Federal Reserve chair appointee Janet Yellen. About 70 nominees, mostly lower-level appointees, remain.

But the process has been slowed by the Republicans, who have used other procedural moves to prolong the Senate debate and delay each confirmation.

Mr Johnson will be the first African American to lead the massive department, which covers 22 separate agencies and was created in response to the 9/11 terror attacks.

"In Jeh, our dedicated homeland security professionals will have a strong leader with a deep understanding of the threats we face," President Barack Obama said in a statement.

Mr Obama said Mr Johnson had been "a critical member of my national security team" during his time as the Pentagon's general counsel 2009-12.

As the Pentagon's top lawyer, he was responsible for the legal review of military operations ordered by the US president or the defence secretary.

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