Rather than go with his reported favorites for the job, the President has chosen Kirstjen Nielsen’s former chief of staff to fill in as the acting secretary of the Department Homeland Security.
Trump reportedly wanted to put a hardliner in the job — specifically, acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli — but several Republican senators warned him against the move.
Instead, Trump told reporters Friday that Chad Wolf would lead the department in an “acting” capacity. A former lobbyist, Wolf helped Nielsen implement the administration’s family separation policy and was one of the first officials to sketch out plans for the systematic separations, as documents obtained by NBC News show.
The Trump administration is full of so-called “acting” leaders, or those who aren’t confirmed by the Senate and are supposed to be temporary substitutes. Trump has said he prefers acting officials to Senate-confirmed ones because “it gives me more flexibility.”
Prior to Trump’s announcement Friday, Wolf was the acting undersecretary for policy at DHS. He’s taking over for another acting DHS secretary, Kevin McAleenan. Nielsen, the last Senate-confirmed DHS secretary, left the administration in April.
In a statement Saturday, McAleenan said of Wolf: “Chad understands what it takes to run a vast enterprise such as the Department.”
Trump’s other reported favorite for the DHS job, Mark Morgan, is currently the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. Unnamed White House officials told Politico that Morgan could be nominated for to lead DHS as the permanent, Senate-confirmed secretary.
Trump announced McAleenan’s departure three weeks ago and said he would name a successor within a week, but that deadline came and went.
….Congratulations Kevin, on a job well done! I will be announcing the new Acting Secretary next week. Many wonderful candidates!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2019
The rules covering “acting” leaders essentially excluded Cuccinelli or Morgan from leading DHS as an acting director, a Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel analysis reportedly found. Trump reportedly considered using a legal loophole to install one of the two as acting DHS secretary, but several Republican senators went on-the-record warning him against the move.
Politico spoke to several senators who checked the President. Cuccinelli, the former attorney general of Virginia, has earned his share of Republican enemies because he used to lead the Senate Conservatives Fund, which helped Republican outsiders challenge incumbent Republican senators.
“The White House would be well advised to consult with the Senate and senators before they take any decisive action that might be embarrassing to Mr. Cuccinelli or to the White House itself,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said.
Putting Cuccinelli in the acting role would be “a problem,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) told Politico.
The administration created a whole new position at USCIS so that Cuccinelli could take the acting leadership role there on his first day.
In April, when Cuccinelli was reportedly a candidate to lead DHS, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said, “I have expressed my, shall I say, lack of enthusiasm, for one of them who was mentioned in some story and that Ken Cuccinelli.”
McConnell told Politico this week: “I don’t think I have anything to add to what I said about that earlier.”
Wolf, as Mother Jones noted, isn’t exactly Trumpian: A former TSA official in the George W. Bush administration, he spent years as a lobbyist before joining Nielsen’s team at DHS. One of his lobbying clients was the National Association of Software and Service Companies, which advocates for H-1B visas for foreign tech workers.