Politics

White House Deems Ken Cuccinelli, Mark Morgan Ineligible To Lead DHS

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
  • President Donald Trump was advised that USCIS acting Director Ken Cuccinelli and CBP acting Commissioner Mark Morgan are not eligible to become the next leader of the Department of Homeland Security. 
  • Instead, Trump may now be more inclined to pick Transportation Security Administration chief David Pekoske and DHS assistant secretary Chad Wolf. 
  • Wolf’s previous work as a lobbyist for U.S. and Indian companies, advocating for more work H-1B visas for foreign workers, has angered immigration hawks. But the White House pushed back on this criticism, calling Wolf “a proven leader” within DHS. 

The White House told the Daily Caller News Foundation that both USCIS acting Director Ken Cuccinelli and CBP acting Commissioner Mark Morgan are ineligible to become the next acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

The head of the White House Presidential Personnel Office informed President Donald Trump that, due to a federal law that governs agency successions, the acting heads of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USCIS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) cannot be considered to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Politico first reported on the White House’s determination.

Since acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan announced his resignation earlier this month, speculation began as to who the president would tap to replace him. Two names have been heavily floated among immigration hawks and those close to Trump’s orbit: Cuccinelli and Morgan.

Trump brought Cuccinelli on in June to lead USCIS, an agency within DHS that manages the country’s legal immigration system. Since that time, the former Virginia attorney general has become the face of the White House’s immigration policies, frequenting cable news channels and keeping active on social media. The same is true with Morgan, who has vigorously defended the administration’s immigration agenda since the president tapped him to CBP in June.

US-POLITICS-PRESS BRIEFING

US Customs and Border Protection acting Commissioner Mark A. Morgan speaks during a briefing at the White House on October 8, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

However, the White House Presidential Personnel Office has deemed that these two agency chiefs, both of which have not received Senate confirmation, are ineligible to be considered. The president must pick someone who is either next in line for the position or hold a Senate-conformed position, according to the federal statute that governs vacancies.

Trump was recently given a list of other potential candidates to lead the Department of Homeland Security — including Transportation Security Administration Chief David Pekoske and DHS assistant Secretary Chad Wolf.

Wolf previously served as a chief of staff under then-DHS Chief Kirstjen Niesen, and has worked in a number of positions with the department. However, Wolf was also a registered lobbyist for the National Association of Software and Services Companies, which has advocated for more H-1B visas for foreign workers.

Wolf’s work as a lobbyist for Indian and U.S. companies has garnered pushback from immigration hawks.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Chad Wolf arrive for the State Dinner in honor of French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House in Washington

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Chad Wolf arrive for the State Dinner in honor of French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“President Trump’s DHS Secretary pick must have a track-record of prioritizing American workers — the base that propelled him into the White House. Choosing someone who once lobbied on behalf of companies that wanted greater access to cheap foreign labor is not in line with the administration’s immigration priorities,” Matthew Tragesser spokesperson at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said in a statement Monday to the Daily Caller News Foundation. (RELATED: Trump Administration Rolling Out A Plan To Collect DNA From Migrants)

“With the 2020 election on the horizon, the president would be wise to select someone who will not only fight for a secure border, but for the American worker,” Tragesser continued.

However, the White House pushed back on that narrative, touting Wolf’s credentials within the department.

“As the president’s nominee to serve as DHS’s first Undersecretary of Policy, Chad is a proven leader consistently recognized for a savvy, solutions-oriented approach in navigating some of the most complex security challenges that department has faced,” a senior administration official said in a statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation on Monday. “There’s been no one more committed to the DHS mission and the president’s agenda than Chad, who’s helped oversee the policies and international agreements leading to the dramatic decrease in illegal immigration at the border we see today.”

The president is expected to pick a new DHS chief in the next few days. Unless a replacement is announced sooner, McAleenan is due to remain in his position until the end of October.

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