House Dem: ‘Extremist’ John Kelly Will ‘Militarize’ the White House

Rep. Barbara Lee lashes out at President's Trump's new chief of staff, a retired four-star Marine Corps general

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 30 Jul 2017 at 4:13 PM

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) denounced President Donald Trump’s selection of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly to replace Reince Priebus as his new White House chief of staff Friday and accused Trump of “militarizing the White House” through the appointment of such an “extremist.”

Despite Kelly’s years of military service to his country and the bipartisan support he gleaned from Democratic senators as Trump’s DHS secretary appointment, Lee, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, did not look kindly upon Trump’s selection to replace the embattled Priebus. Even though Kelly won the support of 88 out of 100 senators during his DHS confirmation vote on Trump’s first day in office — a rare feat for Trump’s appointees on all counts — Lee blasted Kelly as an inappropriate choice to serve as the White House chief of staff.

"By putting Gen John Kelly in charge, Pres Trump is militarizing the White House & putting our executive branch in the hands of an extremist," Lee tweeted shortly after Trump announced his selection Friday.

It's no secret that Kelly is a retired four-star Marine Corps general and former commander of the U.S. Southern Command who has served his country for more than 40 years. And Kelly's son, 29-year-old First Lieutenant Robert Kelly, was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan after stepping on a land mine while leading other Marines, thus making Kelly a Gold Star father and the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to lose a child in Afghanistan or Iraq.

But Lee offered no further explanation about what "militarizing" the White House would look like and why such a "militarization" would be a bad thing, if it occurred. Lee also chose not to elaborate further on why she views the bipartisan Kelly as an "extremist" who would endanger the country by serving as Trump's chief of staff.

Outgoing White House press secretary Sean Spicer blasted Lee Saturday as he responded to her claims, tweeting, "Not only is this wrong, it's offensive on multiple levels."

"I'm waiting on Dem leaders to denounce (I won't hold my breath tho) cc @politico @nytimes @washingtonpost," Spicer added.

Lee's hostile reaction to Kelly's new appointment appeared to be an anomaly among her Democratic peers. In fact, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) even praised Kelly for the very type of "militarized" qualities Lee shunned.

"The kind of discipline that he is going to bring is important," Blumenthal said of Kelly on CNN on Friday. "I hope that we're at a turning point now."

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) tweeted Friday, "Often disagree with Sec. #Kelly, but at least he's a serious adult. Genuinely hope he brings some order & discipline to this reality TV WH."

Lee's animosity toward Kelly's appointment did not appear to be shared by her fellow Democratic lawmakers, although congressional Democrats have experienced a relative cooling in their warm regard for Kelly after his DHS confirmation vote. Although Kelly has earned gratitude for his decades in service and respect for his own personal bipartisanship over the years, Democrats have been less than thrilled with his support for Trump's hardline stance on illegal immigration in particular.

Kelly's support of Trump's promised border wall construction, the crackdown on sanctuary cities, and the president's travel-ban executive order haven't earned him praise from the Left. And although Kelly reassured Democrats that he did not plan on targeting illegal immigrants enrolled in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, reports of the detainment and deportation of some so-called DREAMers have garnered further criticism from Democrats and pro-illegal immigration activists.

Despite the criticism of Kelly, Lee's complaints of an inappropriately "militarized" White House headed by an "extremist" didn't catch on with the rest of her Democratic colleagues.

For his own part, Trump said he has complete confidence in the current DHS secretary to revamp and discipline a White House barraged by leaks and infighting.

"I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American ... and a Great Leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration," Trump tweeted Friday when he announced Kelly's new appointment.

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