John Kelly Isn’t The Savior You’re Looking For
The newest addition to the White House has a troubling tenure at DHS that indicates he’ll be an enabler-in-chief
When John Kelly became White House chief of staff, a ripple of approval flowed through Washington. It was thought that Kelly, a highly decorated commander and retired US Marine Corps General, would temper a hot-headed administration. However, a deeper dive into the man’s record at the Department of Homeland Security paints a clearer picture of why Trump chose him for the job.
While on the surface, Kelly initially exhibited independence from the strongman mentality of Trump, his record at the Department of Homeland Security indicates he’ll continue to be a staunch ally for this administration's extremism.
Supporters of John Kelly claim he has distanced himself from Trump’s rhetoric in the past, stating that a border wall “will not do the job.” Kelly also fought against immigration hard-liner Kris Kobach as his deputy in his early days at DHS. But a closer inspection of John Kelly’s actual record makes these assertions of independence ring hollow.
Troubling Trends At The Department Of Homeland Security
When it comes to John Kelly’s tenure as the head of DHS, his legacy can best be described as dark. Kelly oversaw one of the major transformations in the department, quickly unraveling President Obama’s immigration policies. Once Kelly was appointed, he wasted no time getting on the Trump immigration-bashing bandwagon.
The Department of Homeland Security began to throw out the deportation guidelines which specifically targeted immigrants who had committed crimes and aggressively broadened the scope of ICE raids. This resulted in a drastic increase in the number of people being arrested. In fact, immigration arrests have increased forty percent during Kelly’s months at the helm of DHS.
It appears that once Kelly got a taste of Trump’s tough on crime mentality, he was hungry for more. Under Kelly’s leadership, DHS agents systematically rounded up people regardless of their crimes, ignoring previous protocols that utilized “smart targeting.” Smart targeting means going after those who have committed serious crimes, not just those who crossed the border legally or illegally. The last immigration raid which occurred on Kelly’s watch resulted in 120 children being detained. In fact, the majority of those rounded up in the nationwide effort simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Out of the 650 immigrants arrested over the course of the four-day operation, only 130 had criminal convictions.
Kelly has also threatened to abandon the Obama era program which allowed for children brought by their parents illegally to remain in the United States. Under his guidance, the Department of Homeland Security considered an inhumane policy that would split up families at the border to deter immigrants from attempting to cross.
Prisons which hold immigrants under the Trump presidency already have more leeway than those operated under past administrations. For example, the Office of Detention Policy and Planning created during Obama’s presidency will now be closed. The office was tasked with ensuring that the prisons which housed immigrants were properly maintained. Currently, human rights activists and other watchdog organizations have sounded the alarm about the conditions in ICE detention facilities. It appears to be a situation that’s only going to worsen under a Trump presidency.
Not only has John Kelly enthusiastically carried out Trump’s extreme immigration policies, he’s been a staunch defender of the president and his family. Kelly was outspoken when the travel ban was being fought in courts, citing a spike in “terrorist travel” and lobbying for the unpopular policy.
Kelly also defended Jared Kushner when it came out that Kushner had attempted to create a back-channel for the administration to communicate with Russian officials. Kelly stated the following: “there’s a lot of different ways to communicate, back-channel publicly with other countries. I don’t see any issue here relative to Jared.”
In a moment that indicates anti-press rhetoric will be enabled with this new Chief of Staff, Kelly was caught on mic at a Coast Guard award ceremony, joking to President Trump that he should use a sword on the press.
This behavior gives us another glimpse into how Kelly will operate as chief of staff. Something that is integral to this job, however, is to look your boss in the eye and tell him no. Kelly has given us every indication that he will close rank and may enable this president’s worse impulses.
Can Kelly Get The Job Done?
Former White House chiefs of staff had varied roles. Because the position involves being a liaison for the executive office, the choice of chief of staff can signal shifting priorities for an administration.
For example, during Obama’s first term, Rahm Emmanuel was chosen because of his deep ties with Congress and his ability to advance an ambitious legislative agenda. But during Obama’s second term, as the focus shifted towards problems abroad with the Iran deal and Cuba, Denis McDonough came on board to lend his expertise in foreign policy matters.
While John Kelly was previously the Commandant’s Liaison Officer to the US House of Representatives in 1995, he doesn’t have the deep Congressional ties to accomplish legislative advancement in a gridlocked Washington. His recent comments in April regarding enforcing immigration law are problematic for a chief of staff who needs to focus on relationship building on Capitol Hill.
“If lawmakers do not like the laws they’ve passed and we are charged to enforce — then they should the courage and skill to change the laws, Otherwise they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.”
Additionally, the choice of John Kelly may signal something important about this administration. Rather than moving towards accomplishing their legislative agenda, the Trump administration appears to simply be trying to get the White House functioning properly amid plummeting approval rates.
While Kelly may have taken the job of White House chief of staff out of love and service to this nation, his track record with this administration is troubling. Can he work for a man whose family wants to profit off the highest office in the nation? How will Kelly handle a volatile President who wants to dictate policy via Twitter and appears to disdain the rule of law?
These are questions that many Americans will get answers to in the coming months. But if his track record at the Department of Homeland Security is any indication, Kelly will not be the solution that this administration needs. His handling of immigration policy and support of the Trump family means that instead of a more rational White House, we can expect authoritarianism to win the day.