President Obama nominated attorney Jeh Johnson to lead the Department of Homeland Security on Friday, saying the former Pentagon general counsel has been an "absolutely critical member" of his national security team.
"As the Pentagon's top lawyer, he helped design and implement many of the policies that have kept our country safe," Obama said during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.
Obama noted that the Department of Homeland Security -- created after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- has responsibilities that range from hurricane response to border security to protecting the nation against terrorism.
Johnson, 56, a native of New York state who returned to private law practice last year, said he has special reasons for remembering the victims of 9/11: He was in Manhattan that day, and Sept. 11 is his birthday.
"I wandered the streets of New York that day and wondered and asked, what can I do?" Johnson said. "Since then, I have tried to devote myself to answering that question."
He also said: "I was not looking for this opportunity -- I had left government at the end of last year and was settling back into private life and private law practice. But when I received the call, I could not refuse it."
During his time as general counsel for the Defense Department, Johnson provided legal advice on the use of unnamed drones, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and repeal of the anti-gay "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
Johnson also worked on the 2011 raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.
"He's been there in the Situation Room at the table in moments of decision, working with leaders from a host of agencies to make sure everyone is rowing in the same direction," Obama said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Johnson would replace Janet Napolitano, who left last month to lead the University of California education system.
Johnson would be the fourth secretary of Homeland Security.
Some Republican senators pointed out that Johnson has raised campaign money for Obama, and questioned whether he has the right experience to manage such a sprawling department.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., saying DHS has failed to secure the border between the United States and Mexico, said Obama "has tapped one of his former New York fundraisers. We need someone who knows how to secure the border, not dial for dollars."
In reciting Johnson's biography, Obama said that the veteran attorney also knows that "keeping America safe also means upholding the values and civil liberties that make America great."
In accepting the nomination, Johnson joked about the fact that his wife and two children could not attend the ceremony.
"It's parents' weekend at Occidental (College), and thanks to the cost of a non-refundable airline ticket they could not be in two places at once," Johnson said. "They wish they could be here."