Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano Resigning

July 12, 2013

Janet Napolitano is the latest cabinet member to leave the Obama Administration. Napolitano announced Friday she is stepping down as homeland security director to take a new job as president of the University of California.

Napolitano Janet Napolitano stepped down Friday as homeland security director after four years.(Photo courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security)

Napolitano had a bumpy ride during her four years at the Department of Homeland Security, but the former Arizona governor held on tight despite critics who knocked her management style and border security policies.

President Clinton appointed Napolitano as U.S. attorney for Arizona in 1993. Five years later the New York native was elected state attorney general, and in 2002, she was elected governor. She was in her second term when President Obama tapped her to become homeland security director in 2009. 

That is when Napolitano quickly warned Americans that despite the recoil after the 9/11 attack, the country was still threatened by terrorist forces.

 “The consequences of living in a state of fear rather than a state of preparedness are enormous. We may be better prepared as a nation than we were on 9/11, but we are nowhere near as prepared as we should be,” said Napolitano at the time.

Only a few months after her swearing in ceremony, Napolitano defended her department after a Nigerian man tried to set off a bomb on a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. 

“The system worked, everybody played an important role here,” she said.

Napolitano often scuffled with Republican members of Congress. This spring she had a heated exchange with Arizona Senator John McCain.  McCain used a congressional hearing to berate Napolitano because she did not have a complete report prepared on illegal border crossings.

McCain: “We don’t have a measurement as to how we are doing on one of the fundamental requirements of any nation and that is border security. That’s frankly beyond me."

Napolitano: “Well, if I might Senator, if you have a magic definition I’d be happy to look at it.”

McCain: “The Government Accountability Office has a number of metrics that could be used, why don’t you consult them because they know even if you don’t..."

Napolitano: “The GAO, as you know Senator, one of their metrics is one that we have a lot of problems with and we have explained that."

McCain: “Well, it sure is better than nothing, which is what you have come up with."

Napolitano: “Well, we don’t have nothing.”

McCain: “We do not have a measure of border security, madame secretary, period!”

But, today McCain issued a written statement on Napolitano’s departure.

“Janet Napolitano has served our nation with honor over the last four years as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, one of the toughest and most thankless jobs in Washington," he said in the statement. “We have had our share of disagreements but I have never doubted her work integrity and commitment to our nation’s security."

Napolitano dealt with many critical issues including deferred action, the new pathway for young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally and may now be eligible for temporary work permits. She also nixed an expensive virtual border fence and she phased-out a federal program that allowed local police to enforce certain federal immigration laws. During her tenure deportations increased significantly compared to previous administrations.

Former Arizona Democratic Senator Dennis Deconcini mentored Napolitano when she first began her career as a lawyer. He said she has performed well as homeland security director. 

“You know Washington is a tough tough place and you know she had a few bumps when she started but that’s not unexpected from somebody coming in after being a governor," Deconcini said. "It’s a different kind of job, but she demonstrated a cool head, and she demonstrated leadership with appointments and she has dealt exceptionally well with complicated law enforcement issues."

In September, Napolitano will become the first female to serve as president of the University of California’s 10-campus system.