Called a “hypocrite” who “is a disgrace to the uniform he used to wear,” White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly pushed back against a Democratic congressman's criticism of his character by laying blame on Congress for the impending demise of a program offering young undocumented immigrants reprieve from deportation.
In an email to Fox News published Monday, Kelly said that as the head of the Department of Homeland Security and in his current post he has met with “hundreds of members of Congress” to find a legislative solution to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era executive action that protects more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
“As far as the congressman and other irresponsible members of Congress are concerned, they have the luxury of saying what they want as they do nothing and have almost no responsibility,” Kelly said.
“I begged and pleaded with them. They did exactly nothing.”
Kelly's statement came days after Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said in a news release that Kelly “lied straight to the faces of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus about preventing the mass deportation of DREAMers,” referring to DACA recipients.
“This is a man that says to me to my face, ‘I feel so bad for those dreamers. I’m the only one between them and their deportation,’ ” Gutiérrez told The Washington Post last Tuesday. “Well, if you think it’s wrong, then act on your principle.”
The congressman is arguing for the Dream Act to be attached to must-pass bills, and has refused to back down from his comments about Kelly.
Kelly defended Trump's decision to put DACA's fate in Congress's hands by raising questions about the program's legality, a common argument of DACA's critics.
“Every DOJ and DHS lawyer says DACA is unconstitutional. Every other legal scholar — right and left — says the same thing. Trump didn't end DACA, the law did. That said, I worked and succeeded to give the Congress another six months to do something,” Kelly said.
Immigrants enrolled in the program will be permitted to continue until their two-year work permits expire, The Post's David Nakamura reported. Those whose permits expire through March 5, 2018, are allowed to seek renewals, provided they do so by Oct. 5, officials said.
A group of attorneys general from 15 states and the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit to stop the administration from winding down the DACA program, The Post's Matt Zapotosky reported.
Neither the White House or the congressman's spokesman immediately responded to a request for comment. Kelly was confirmed as secretary of homeland security in January and named White House chief of staff in July.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) suggested the congressman “sit down with a Republican in the House and try to find a solution instead of slandering Gen. Kelly.”
Leon Panetta, who became defense secretary when Kelly served as senior military assistant at the Pentagon in 2011, said that Kelly is “somebody who respects the orders of the commander in chief. That’s built into his fabric as a person.”
“I don’t know you can lay everything you object to in this administration on the lap of John Kelly,” he said.
Guiterrez previously criticized Kelly after a closed-door meeting in July between members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and then-Homeland Security Secretary Kelly regarding DACA.
Kelly told the group that DACA may not survive a looming legal challenge.
Guiterrez's office put out a news release, saying Kelly “stood by his past remarks that Congress should change the law if we don’t like it” and was “playing along with Trump’s agenda to deport millions and pretending to not understand his powers to do something about it.”
Doug Rivlin, a spokesman for Gutiérrez, told The Post last week that when Kelly accepted a role in the administration, “he became a politician just like his boss who has done nothing but attack Latinos since he first descended the golden staircase at Trump Tower to call Mexicans murderers and rapists in 2015.”
“General Kelly would not have abandoned his troops, but Chief of Staff Kelly apparently will,” Rivlin said.
Kelly responded to attacks on his character by saying “the congressman has a right to his opinion,” but declined to respond in kind.
“As my blessed mother used to say, ‘Empty barrels make the most noise,’ ” he said.
Alex Horton, Dave Weigel and Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report.