WASHINGTON — Two prominent Republican Senators attacked the political donation history of President Obama's choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security Friday, with one saying the close ties to Obama's campaigns were "deeply concerning."
But the two Senators, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and John Cornyn of Texas, did not express similar reservations about men nominated to lead DHS by President George W. Bush who had a history of donating big money to Republicans.
Former Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson, Obama's nominee to replace Janet Napolitano at DHS, "contributed more than $100,000 to Democratic candidates and groups" over the past 10 years, according to a Fox News report published Friday. That total includes $33,000 to Obama's 2008 campaign as a member of then-candidate Obama's finance committee.
Sessions said figures are concerning.
"It would appear that the president plans to nominate a loyalist and fundraiser to this post," Sessions told Fox. "This is deeply concerning."
Cornyn suggested Obama was handing out political favors instead of finding the best person to lead the sprawling Homeland Security department.
"Rather than selecting someone who knows the unique dynamics of our Southern border, President Obama has tapped one of his former New York fundraisers," he told Fox. "We need someone who knows how to secure the border, not dial for dollars."
Neither Senator expressed concerns about the donation history of nominees put forward by Bush.
Tom Ridge, the first Secretary of Homeland Security, "raised at least $251,550" as a fundraising bundler for Bush's 2000 campaign, according to a 2003 New York Times investigation and was known to be adviser to Bush's campaign as well as on the shortlist for running mate in 2000 when he was plucked for the DHS job from his job as the Republican governor of Pennsylvania.
Both Cornyn and Sessions voted for Ridge.
Michael Chertoff, the second DHS secretary nominated by Bush, also got confirmation votes from Cornyn and Sessions. A former federal judge, Chertoff gave thousands of dollars in direct donations to Republicans, including Bush, in the years before his nomination.
Neither Republican Senator expressed any concerns about Chertoff's donor history at the time.
A Cornyn aide did not respond to a request for comment on his past votes. A Sessions aide told BuzzFeed said Ridge had unassailable qualifications for the job when he was nominated.
"Nobody in the Senate has previously or is now taking the position that having contributed in the past to the person who appoints you to a post, be it the president or anyone else in government, is a fact that's disqualifying. The question is, how does that fit into the larger narrative of a nominee," he said. "In the case of Ridge, the reality is that he was the governor of one of the largest sates in the country."
Johnson's close ties to Obama suggested he might not be an "independent voice" in the cabinet, willing to tell the president no, the Sessions aide said. The aide worried that Johnson would continue and expand immigration enforcement policies under Napolitano that include deferring the deportation of so-called DREAMers.
The donations are relevant, the aide said, because they raise questions about close ties between Obama and Johnson. Obama's DHS nominee can lay Sessions' and other critics' concerns by "expressing concern and criticism" with the way the department was run under Napolitano.
"Our concern is that he was appointed specifically because he's a loyalist," the aide said. "And I think that's something that is going to be an area of scrutiny in the coming days."