WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama’s picks got an approving reaction from Nevada’s three Democrats who will serve in the new Congress.
At the same time, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said he found things to like about the selection of Janet Napolitano to become Homeland Security secretary.
He also said Sen. Hillary Clinton appeared to be a smart choice for secretary of state, although he said it remained to be seen how Obama will handle a Cabinet with a strong personality like hers.
Rep. Dean Heller, a Republican, said he wanted to learn more how the nominees would handle key issues, including U.S. border security that will fall under the purview of Napolitano, the governor of Arizona.
"It is unclear how the new administration will address our country’s immigration problems," Heller said. "They should embrace an immigration policy that makes securing our borders a priority and rejects amnesty for those who are in our country illegally."
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Obama’s unveiling of his national security team "demonstrates the new administration’s commitment to countering adversaries and confronting threats with every tool at our disposal — our military might, diplomatic strength and moral authority."
Rep.-elect Dina Titus, a Democrat, said she could vouch for Clinton and Napolitano through personal and political relationships.
"Both are excellent choices," Titus said. On immigration, Napolitano "has faced it in her own state, and sent troops to the border. She has a real first-hand knowledge of the issue."
Ensign said Napolitano "really understands how serious a problem the border is, and that is a positive thing."
In 2006, Napolitano was the first governor to agree to deploy National Guard troops to the Mexican border to support the federal Border Patrol. They remained until this summer, but Napolitano has said she believes troops should be redeployed.
Less clear is what immigration policy might emerge from the Obama administration and a Democrat-controlled Congress, Ensign said. He said Democrats "have the numbers" to form legislation that would set out a citizenship path for illegal immigrants — a policy critics decry as "amnesty."
On Clinton, Ensign said Obama made "a pretty good choice" for political reasons.
"Her rhetoric is much more hawkish than he is, and she seems to have been a stronger supporter of Israel that he was, at least on the surface," Ensign said. "It was a pretty good pick for him."
Clinton’s selection "is another example of how Barack Obama has reached out to the very best our nation has to offer to fill his Cabinet," said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.
Clinton "brings vast experience and proven leadership to this critical post," Berkley said. "Hillary Clinton is as well respected — and as warmly regarded — in nations around the globe, as she is here at home in the United States."
Obama is filling his Cabinet with top-level officials who also have reputations for expressing strong opinions. Ensign said it remains to be seen whether that will work.
"That was one of the big question marks about Obama, that he was untested," Ensign said.
But Titus said Obama’s selections so far reflect his confidence.
"He is bringing into his Cabinet some very smart people and people who aren’t afraid to state their positions," Titus said. "That bodes very well. You will have a lot of smart people at the table."
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.