Jeh Johnson: ‘Zero Chance’ Of Accepting Spot as ‘Border Czar’

Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson Monday flatly rejected the thought of being appointed as a “border czar,” after Rep. Henry Cuellar and Sen. Lindsey Graham last week called on President Joe Biden to name him or someone with similar credentials to coordinate efforts to combat the influx of migrants coming across the U.S.-Mexico border. 

“There’s less than a zero chance that I would take that role on,” Johnson told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“Effectively, I had that role for three years.”

Johnson said when he saw the reports about the lawmakers’ request, he called Cueller and told him “hey, I thought you guys liked me.”

Last week, Cuellar, D-Texas, and Graham, R-S.C., asked Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a letter to create a “special executive position” to handle the border and praised Johnson for having an “exceptional bipartisan reputation” that would suit him well in the role. 

Johnson on Monday, however, said that Mayorkas, as DHS secretary, is already the “border czar.”

“He controls the federal government’s assets, land, sea, and air, on our southern border. He understands the positives, he’s sensitive to the problem and he’s addressing the issue,” said Johnson. “From owning this problem for three years, I know this.”

Still, certain things can be done on the southern border to enhance enforcement, even though former President Donald Trump’s administration “obviously went way too far” and was “cruel and inhumane.”

Further, some things can be done to deter illegal border crossings, but they will only have a short-term effect as long as underlying conditions in Central America persist, said Johnson. 

“We saw that during the Obama administration and President Trump saw that as well,” said Johnson. “The answer to this problem has to be addressing the poverty, the violence in Central America. Otherwise, we’re going to continue to see these kinds of spikes for the foreseeable future.”

Johnson said that he knows from his own experience during a similar spike in 2014, there is emergency authority for Mayorkas and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate a more broad response that would include the departments of Defense and Health and Human Sevices. 

However, he warned that the border situation is not an “easy fix.”

“People in Washington want quick answers,” he said. “They want easy fixes like shutting down the border, things of that nature. This is not an easy fix. It requires a dedicated, sustained effort over multiple administrations to address the push factors.”

Johnson added that no matter what kinds of deterrents are thrown at the border, the real issue is in Central America, where people “making the very basic decision to flee a burning building, send their kids up here, even if it means they only stay for three years during the pendency of the underlying situation. It may take years but that is the answer.”

The former secretary, turning to politics, said in his opinion the biggest danger facing the country isn’t necessarily the COVID-19 pandemic, but the problems with democracy and with divisions. 

“Social media, the internet, enables us to hold the world in our entire hand,” said Johnson. “On the other hand, the internet enables us to believe what we want to believe. We go to sources for information that do no more than validate our own prejudices and biases and that’s how you end up in surveys and such that show a large number of Americans believe the election was stolen.”

That division is also affecting the country’s response to COVID, which worsens that situation as well 

“There are a lot of Americans out there who think that the vaccine that saves lives is dangerous, which is how we end up in situations like the one we’re in now, where we’re seeing a spike,” said Johnson. “It is worse now than it was a year ago when we were still in lockdown. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

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