John Kelly the "grownup"? Forget it — Homeland Security chief turns out to be another Trump zealot

Democrats are finally noticing Kelly is an immigration hard-liner and anti-drug fanatic with a dubious worldview

By Heather Digby Parton


Published June 12, 2017 8:05AM (EDT)

 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

It's unclear as I write this whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday in an open or closed session. He canceled his previously scheduled appearance at an open hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, so the speculation is that he just doesn't want to appear in public right now.

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The ranking member of that committee, Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., had some words for him on that:

With all the suspicion swirling around Sessions it's actually possible that he could eventually be forced to step down. Since he's probably the most pernicious of all the domestic appointees of President Donald Trump that would be a relief. But he's just one member of the carnage crew and there are others making worrisome progress in making America worse than ever.

Over the weekend, Politico reported that Democrats are becoming alarmed that the director of the Department of  Homeland Security, retired Gen. John Kelly, isn't the calming influence on Trump that they had hoped. For some reason they believed Kelly would rein in Trump's draconian policies on immigration and security. They were wrong, according to Politico:

Instead, Kelly has moved to impose those policies with military rigor. He has pursued an aggressive deportation campaign; defended Trump’s effort to ban visitors from several Muslim-majority countries; and hinted that he might separate migrant parents from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border. Kelly has joked with Trump about using violence against reporters and defended Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, amid allegations that he tried to set up a secret back channel to the Russian government.

Today, it’s tough to find anyone on the left willing to defend Kelly. He has alienated potential allies on Capitol Hill, including Democrats who voted to confirm him, and is endangering his reputation as a nonpartisan figure in a presidential administration that has relatively few.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey said, "I think Secretary Kelly has drank the Kool-Aid. He’s not the person who I thought I was voting for.”

Kelly was confirmed easily, in an 88 to 11 Senate vote, because Democrats were soothed by his promise that he wouldn't target Dreamer kids for deportation. Apparently that was the only thing they bothered to ask because if they had looked a little bit more closely at this former Marine Corps general they would have seen that he was Trump's guy all the way.

For instance, in 2014 when he was still in the Marines and the head of U.S. Central Command, Kelly claimed that the influx of child refugees from Central America presented an existential threat to American national security.

He warned that neglect of the border had created vulnerabilities that could be exploited by terrorist groups, describing a “crime-terror convergence” already seen in Lebanese Hezbollah’s alleged involvement in the region (a onetime assertion made in a congressional report a decade ago.) He said there exists an "incredibly efficient network" by which terrorists and weapons of mass destruction could travel into the United States.

The Southern Command under Kelly was intensely focused on "narcoterrorism" and he was a zealot on the subject. He told that he believed the nation was seriously threatened by a nexus between what "known terrorist organizations and illicit smuggling and money-laundering networks." Kelly added, "There are those in the intelligence community who take the view that it is not a major threat and argue that those groups will never find common cause. I think those who take that view are simply trying to rationalize away the problem because no one wants to raise another major threat at a time when we face so many around the world.”

In short, he has been a border-security fanatic for some time, a fact that Sen. Menendez should have known, since he was a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and heavily involved in immigration reform efforts.

Kelly's stance on drugs is equally rabid. His view on marijuana legalization is that the U.S. won't be able to ask other countries to cut back on their export of drugs to our country if we are making a substance legal. That's an odd point of view to say the least, particularly since he says he has said doesn't care if Americans smuggle pot into other countries. Marijuana legalization should lead to less smuggling, which would seem to be a good thing.  Kelly also says he has "no doubt" that marijuana is a gateway to harder drugs but notes that he's not a doctor so he doesn't know if medical marijuana might be useful. He proves that he's out of touch, however, by saying "every medicine is probably illegal unless you take it medicinally," which is is somewhere between obviously not true and totally meaningless.

Since taking over the Department of Homeland Security, Kelly has reversed the Obama administration's policy of targeting serious criminals and giving second chances to lower-level offenders. According to Politico:

In the first three months of the Trump administration, arrests of non-criminal immigrants rose by 157 percent over the same period a year earlier, according to data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Kelly's explanation for the deportation of women and children applying for refugee status is just heartless. When he headed the Southern Command, Kelly spoke at great length about collapsing societies in Central America. (This is often affected by murderous gang violence cultivated in American prisons — something Kelly never acknowledges.) But he sees this problem only as a threat and shows no sympathy for the innocent people caught in the crossfire. As the homeland security director, he defended the deportation of a Honduran woman without a criminal record along with her child to return to certain violence in her home country; he said asylum seekers "parrot well-worn phrases to get a shot at staying in the United States."

Kelly is a genuine Trump guy like Sessions, not one of those so-called patriots who took the job for the good of the country to try to temper Trump's worst instincts. He is efficiently and enthusiastically carrying out the president's extremist agenda. These "disappointed" Democrats should have looked more closely at the general's record before they gave him a bipartisan mandate.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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