Republicans Just Love to Hate Janet Napolitano

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 12 2013 2:42 PM

Republicans Just Love to Hate Janet Napolitano

Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano (R) is stepping down from her position to head the University of California.

Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Janet Napolitano's decision to leave the Department of Homeland Security for the presidency of the University of California system has engendered some real-sounding responses from Republicans—more than the usual gritted-teeth "thank you for your service" nonsense. From Rep. John Carter, a Texan who's part of a bipartisan working group on immigration:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

From Rep. John Fleming, a reliable Louisiana conservative:


And from Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, a dentist-turned-politician whose tenure only overlapped with Napolitano's for two years.

One down and one to go. While Secretary Napolitano may be gone she will not forgotten. Her inaction and incompetence on border security will continue to plague our nation for years to come. "See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil" is no way to govern and yet it is exactly how she and this administration operates.  The American public deserve better. What the American people need now is for Attorney General Eric Holder to follow her lead, and resign.

Greg Sargent finds pro-immigration reform groups spinning that a Napolitano-less DHS will make reform more likely. "If they pick an outsider with unimpeachable enforcement credentials," says America's Voice President Frank Sharry, "it could make a real difference. It would be harder for Repubilcans to say, 'We don’t trust the Obama administration to enforce the law.' " Sargent treats this with the right amount of cynicism—after all, the Obama administration had stepped up deportations, and the Senate bill that so terrifies the House devolves the power to approve border security from DHS to a panel of border-state representatives.

But, sure, Napolitano was incredibly despised and distrusted by Republicans. The Drudge Report had one nickname for her—"Big Sis"—which appeared over countless photos of her looking butch and angry. That's what happens when anyone gets picked to run DHS. Tom Ridge evolved from a widely respected could-be president to the "buy duct tape" guy. Michael Chertoff gave up a safe judgeship to ... well, things turned out well for him, but he wasn't exactly embraced by Democrats.

Looking back to 2009, the decision to give DHS to Napolitano might have deprived the White House of some political manuevering room, while accidentally creating a great issue for 2012. Had the president put Maine Sen. Susan Collins in the DHS, her replacement would have been picked by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci. Democrats would have held 59 Senate seats even before Arlen Specter switched parties and Al Franken was confirmed; after he was seated, they would have retained 60 votes even as Ted Kennedy ailed, then died. But taking Napolitano out of Arizona enabled the passage of SB1070, which she would have vetoed. (Jan Brewer, Arizona's secretary of state, was next in line for the office.) The backlash against that law, which didn't hit in Arizona in 2010, still brought the Obama administration closer to Hispanic voters.

Correction, July 12, 2013: This post originally misspelled John Fleming's first name, incorrectly cited America's Voice as American Voices, and misstated that President Obama could have placed Sen. Susan Collins in the Senate instead of the Department of Homeland Security.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


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