The Julie Myers Nomination, And Its Critics:
In the last week, Michelle Malkin, Red State, the National Review, and many other conservative blogs and bloggers have harshly criticized the nomination of Julie L. Myers to be Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (aka ICE). The basic theme of the criticism is that Myers is a political crony: she's only 36, she's the niece of the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and her husband is Michael Chertoff's chief of staff. Someone who has used her connections to get such a important job shouldn't be confirmed, the thinking goes.

  Given the reluctance on the Right to criticize the Administration, my first reaction was to assume that these criticisms must be justified. But the more I think about it, the less sure I am as to why the Myers nomination is objectionable. (Full disclosure: I have met Myers once or twice, although I don't think I have ever had a conversation with her.) Although young, Myers has significant experience in law enforcement. She is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, served as the Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement at Treasury, and was the Chief of Staff to the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at DOJ. She is also very smart, as her credentials suggest: she's a Cornell Law grad and former Eighth Circuit clerk. Finally, Myers has the trust of the head of Homeland Security: the Assistant AG at DOJ for whom she served as Chief of Staff was Michael Chertoff himself.

  Critics of the Myers nomination have focused mostly on her husband and her uncle. Her husband is Michael Chertoff's current Chief of Staff, they point out, suggesting that he helped her get the nomination. I don't understand how that is supposed to work: Julie Myers served as Chertoff's Chief of Staff before her husband did. To the extent Myers has inside connections with Chertoff, it's because she worked with Chertoff everyday as his Chief of Staff, not because she recently married someone who has her old job. Critics also point out that Myers is related to Richard Myers, outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But as best I can tell, no one has suggested that General Myers has improperly used his influence to help his niece get the job at Homeland Security.

  What explains the opposition to the Myers nomination? Much of the problem is Michael Brown. Brown resigned as head of FEMA just three days before a Senate hearing on the Myers nomination. Brown's disastrous performance as FEMA head has drawn attention to the question of whether the President is nominating qualified people to staff important agencies, and the timing of the Myers nomination is letting that attention fall on Myers. The Myers nomination provides a particularly convenient focal point on the Right; criticizing Myers lets conservatives blow off steam about the Administration's missteps on Katrina without doing so directly. Finally, my sense is that some on the right object to Myers because they feel she is too close to Chertoff, who has not made enforcement of immigration laws a particular priority. The thinking seems to be that one way to get the Administration to devote more attention to enforcing the immigration laws is to defeat Myers and make sure she is replaced with a more independent leader.

  In the end, I don't know enough about ICE or Julie Myers to say whether she would be an effective leader of the agency. If ICE needs a real shake-up, then we should be debating that in the open, and it may be that Myers isn't the best person to change the agency. There are also legitimate questions about whether she has satisifed the statutory requirements of the position, and those questions need to be addressed. Nonetheless, my sense is that critics are being unfair to Myers by portraying her as an unqualified political crony; I don't see any reason to doubt that she is a smart and competent public servant.