By Katie Bo Williams and Rafael Bernal - 02-07-17 10:54 AM EST
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly is expected to be grilled on Tuesday over President Trump's order freezing the U.S. refugee program and blocking people from seven nations with predominantly Muslim populations from entering the United States.
Kelly is also the first Trump Cabinet member to be questioned by lawmakers at a post-confirmation hearing.
He is appearing before the House Homeland Security Committee.
Stay tuned for live coverage.
Kelly: the southwest border is an "immediate and gaping wound," 12:08 p.m.
Kelly pressed Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) on his vision of border security, saying a physical barrier is necessary to stop drugs, people and counterfeit goods.
"Right now we have a completely exposed flank called the southwest border," said Kelly.
Vela asked Kelly whether a 2,000-mile border wall, as proposed by President Trump, would be an effective measure.
"The idea that we build a wall makes no sense to me," said Vela.
Trump DHS will keep 'critical infrastructure' designation for election infrastructure, 12:06 p.m.
Kelly told lawmakers that he would not remove a mildly controversial designation from the Obama administration dictating that election infrastructure be treated as critical infrastructure.
"I believe we should help all of the states to make sure their systems are protected, so I would argue we should keep that in place," Kelly said in response to questioning from Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.).
The designation - levied in early January - covers storage facilities, polling places, and centralized vote tabulations locations used to support the election process, as well as information and communications technology like voter registration databases, voting machines and other systems used to manage the election process and report results.
The announcement coincided with the previous administration's report from the Intelligence Community detailing its assessment that Russia undertook a widespread influence and cyber campaign targeted at helping Trump win the White House.
Some state and local election officials have expressed strong opposition to applying the designation in the past, arguing that it is a federal overreach.
Kelly denies "chaotic" rollout, 11:38 a.m.
Kelly again denied "chaos" in the roll-out of the ban - a position he has publicly taken throughout the fallout from the implementation.
"If you ask the [Customs and Border Patrol] people who were working the counter, they don't know what they're talking about when you talk about chaos," Kelly said.
"If you look out to where the demonstrators were - and some public officials - there was chaos," he suggested.Only a "relatively small number" of travelers were held up for additional screening he said, and praised the cooperation the agency received from the airlines required to halt the travel of impacted individuals.
Kelly also pushed back on reports that travelers were treated inhumanely by CBP officials - including reports that they were insulted or forced to stand for hours on end.
"I've read the reports about people standing up hours and hours on end - didn't happen," Kelly said."I guess insult is in the eyes of the beholder. But the men and women I serve with do not insult people," he said.
Kelly: DHS will build wall, payment to be negotiated by White House, 11:15 a.m.
Kelly told committee members payment of the wall would be arranged through the White House and State Department.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) asked Kelly to provide details on the wall and how to demand payment from Mexico.
"We want South Americans, in particular Mexico, to help pay," said Rogers.
"Clearly the White House is working this," Kelly deferred.
Rogers added he would introduce legislation to tax remittances "to South America." Remittances are the cash transfers people in the United States send to their friends and family members in other countries.
Questioned on technical specifications for the wall, Kelly doubled down on saying law enforcement officers on the ground know best where physical barriers are necessary.
"In those places we can't get to build a wall quickly we can certainly look to controlling that part of the border at least with aerostats and responsive patrolling," said Kelly.
"It's very predictable how drug traffickers and people traffickers do their business," he added.
Kelly added that some of the technology deployed on the border is obsolete, and would have to be renewed.
He added that physical barriers were already under construction on some parts of the border, adding to the 650 miles of existing fencing.
"It would appear to me that the former administration had that sense that physical barriers are necessary as well," said Kelly.
Lawmakers strike cautious tone, 11:06 a.m.
Democrats on Tuesday were carefully polite in their early treatment of Kelly, who many appeared prepared to treat as separate from President Trump.
"Frankly, it is somewhat unfair that Secretary Kelly is being called on to defend an Executive Order that, by most accounts, he was required to implement with almost no notice," ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in his opening statement.
"The White House officials who directed the roll out of the Executive Order should be here to answer for this debacle."
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) began by praising Kelly's service at U.S. Southern Command and made it a point to assure Kelly that her criticism of both the travel ban and recent U.S. military action in Yemen was not an ad hominem attack on the secretary himself.
"Please accept my assessment as separate and apart from the great efforts you have taken to try to steer this ship in the way it should be steered, which is to stand guard for the American people."
Kelly says wall won't be built "all at once," 10:50 a.m.
Kelly told lawmakers the border wall is unlikely to be a wall or to cover the entire border.
"We're not going to be able to build a wall everywhere all at once," said Kelly.
Asked by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) what a prospective wall would look like, Kelly stated his preference for physical barriers that border agents could see through.
Kelly explained to the committee, meeting to discuss border safety and immigration, that agents on the ground told him there were different security needs in different parts of the border.
"They had parts where they wanted a physical barrier constructed yesterday," Kelly said. "They pointed out there are parts of the border that are not as much of an issue."
In his opening remarks, Kelly included "narcoterrorists" among the terrorist threats facing the American homeland.
The proposed border wall was one of President Trump's signature campaign issues, and has been a source of friction with the Mexican government since Trump's inauguration.
Kelly takes responsibility for rushed rollout, 10:40 a.m.
Kelly told lawmakers that "in retrospect" he would have delayed the implementation of President Trump's suspension of travel from seven Muslim-majority countries until senior lawmakers were briefed - and took responsibility himself for the speed with which the order was announced and implemented.
"The thinking was to get it out quick so that potentially people who might be coming here to harm us would not be taking advantage of some period of time where they might jump on an airplane," Kelly told lawmakers - but said he "should have delayed it just a bit so I could have talked to members of Congress to prepare them for what was coming."
"This is all on me, by the way," he said.
Sword, meet DHS Sec Kelly, who says in retrospect he would delay travel ban rollout 'a bit' but 'This is all on me.' https://t.co/xNB5DiKi2m- Katie Bo Williams (@KatieBoWill) February 7, 2017
Reports had indicated not only a chaotic rollout at the airports responsible for turning back travelers impacted by the ban - but that high-ranking officials like Kelly had been largely in the dark about the exact content of the executive order until Trump put pen to paper last Friday.
Critics have suggested that DHS officials needed more time to prepare for the rollout of the ban, while the White House has argued that any lead-time would have given potential terrorists time to race into the country.
Pressed on whether dangerous individuals were entering the country prior to the implementation of the order, Kelly argued that it was "entirely possible."
He described vetting under the last few years - under the Obama administration - as "at best loose."
"I believe the vetting right now is not adequate to protect the nation," he said.