The Base or the Swamp: Who Will Head DHS?

Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan is stepping down from that post, and yesterday, October 31, was supposed to have been his last day. He’s still on the job today, however, because of glitches in naming a successor.

President Trump reportedly has long had in mind for the position Ken Cuccinelli, the current acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and considered an immigration hardliner. We’ve discussed Cuccinelli’s work at USCIS in this space before. (See, for example, “Cuccinelli Becoming the Leading Immigration Voice for Trump,” September 20, 2019.) He is not only an unabashed immigration hawk but also a committed conservative, unafraid to challenge the GOP establishment.

Therein lies part of the problem with Cuccinelli: he is not favored by many of the party leaders, including Mitch McConnell. The Senate Majority Leader is said to bear resentment to Cuccinelli for the latter’s role in the “Senate Conservatives Fund,” a group that finances  primary challenges to sitting senators not viewed as sufficiently conservative.

Other senators, such as Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), speak highly of Cuccinelli, however, and have announced their support. He is also popular among immigration restrictionists outside the government. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told Fox News, “Of the people who are being considered for the job, Cuccinelli would probably be the best one.”

A Cuccinelli hire also faces more structural obstacles in the form of the Vacancies Act, which limits candidates to those who have Senate approval, have worked under the previous secretary, or are the next in line of succession. Cuccinelli shares this difficulty with another popular strict immigrationist, Acting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan. (For more on Morgan, see yesterday’s post “Border Crisis Over? It Depends on Who You Ask.”) The White House is said to be investigating a work-around that might open the door to one or the other of these possible candidates.

Chad Wolf escorting his then-boss Nielsen at WH State Dinner, April 2018

Meanwhile, as usual, the insiders and “moderates” are making the case for a “more acceptable” establishment type. In this case, that appears to be Chad Wolf, former chief-of-staff to former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Wolf, praised by the establishment for his “wide experience,” alarms immigration restrictionists, who point out that part of that experience was at the since-dissolved Wexler|Walker law firm, where he lobbied for the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM).

NASSCOM is an Indian trade association that, in the words of Breitbart’s Neil Munro, seeks to place “cheap Indian graduates into hundreds of thousands of outsourced jobs based in the United States.” (Breitbart News, February 8, 2018).

R.J. Hauman, of FAIR, told Politico last week, “Going with . . . someone who once lobbied to replace American workers with cheap foreign labor sends the wrong signal right before an election year. President Trump can choose to be on the side of his base and American workers, or throw in his lot with the swamp.”

The Wall Street Journal speculated yesterday that the White House might try to appease both sides by first naming Wolf as acting secretary but tapping Morgan for the permanent post. Considering the number of “acting” chiefs in the Trump administration, that strategy might never be more than half successful. In which case, the swamp wins.

For more, see Fox News.

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