The Trump administration will hire conservative firebrand and former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II to coordinate immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security, three administration officials said Tuesday.
Cuccinelli will work at DHS in a senior role and will report to acting DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan, while also providing regular briefings to President Trump at the White House, according two officials briefed on the appointment.
.. Cuccinelli, who has been hawkish on immigration policy during television appearances that also praise Trump, appears to fulfill the president’s desire to have a forceful personality and a loyalist at the highest levels of DHS. But his arrival risks new instability at the agency, coming six weeks after Trump ousted Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and replaced her with McAleenan, a long-serving official who was confirmed by the Senate last year as commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and who is one of the few administration figures who retains a favorable reputation with lawmakers from both parties.
Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank whose immigration-reduction agenda has had significant influence in the White House, called Cuccinelli “an unusual choice.”
“He doesn’t have any immigration experience, but he does have law enforcement experience,” said Krikorian, who said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the appointment would make a difference. The crucial factor, he predicted, would be access to the White House.
“If he does not answer directly to the president, he’s not likely to be able to get much done,” he said.
.. The White House offered the job to Cuccinelli after it was turned down by Tom Homan, the former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to two officials. Trump also soured weeks ago on Kris Kobach, the Kansas Republican favored by immigration restrictionist groups, according to one senior administration official.
.. “It is bad news for [McAleenan],” said one senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to provide candid views. “You have someone at the agency that the White House might have in mind to be the next DHS secretary.”
Another former department official predicted Cuccinelli’s lack of authority at the agency and distance from the White House would leave him in a weak position from the outset.
“Putting an immigration czar at DHS is a total waste,” the person said.
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to inquiries about Cuccinelli’s role. Cuccinelli, who was at the White House on Monday, could not be reached for comment. His expected hiring was first reported by the New York Times.
If the White House is grooming him as a possible replacement for McAleenan, he would face a difficult path to confirmation.
Cuccinelli is deeply disliked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has vowed to block Cuccinelli from any Senate-confirmed post for leading efforts in 2014 backing insurgent candidates that hurt the Senate GOP majority, McConnell advisers said.
Two years ago, Cuccinelli signed a letter drafted by GOP activists calling on McConnell to step down.
When Cuccinelli’s name surfaced last month as a potential Nielsen replacement, McConnell told reporters he’d conveyed his unease to the White House. “I have expressed my, shall I say, lack of enthusiasm for one of them . . . Ken Cuccinelli,” McConnell said.
The Virginia conservative, who has a long record of combative television appearances, is even less popular with Democrats. “This is absurd and outrageous,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) wrote on Twitter. “He doesn’t deserve a taxpayer-funded salary.”
Others more supportive of the move noted that the DHS secretary’s role is challenging enough when there isn’t a migration crisis — and with hurricane season approaching, McAleenan could benefit from a strong personality fully devoted to the border.
In April, more than 100,000 migrants were taken into custody along the U.S.-Mexico border for the second consecutive month, and the numbers in May are on pace to go even higher. McAleenan warned in late March that U.S. agents and infrastructure at the border had hit a “breaking point,” and since then the situation has worsened, leaving holding cells so overcrowded that DHS officials have been transferring migrants out of South Texas by aircraft simply to make room for ever-growing numbers of new arrivals.
Cuccinelli has been a vocal advocate for Trump’s proposed border wall and other measures popular with hard-liners. He has backed constitutional changes to restrict birthright citizenship, urged lawsuits against employers who hire undocumented immigrants and at one point supported denying immigrant workers — including those in the country lawfully — from collecting unemployment benefits if they are fired for not speaking English on the job.
His appointment to DHS has others in the administration worried there will be too many players fighting to establish control over an immigration agenda, with White House adviser Stephen Miller already chafing officials at DHS.
.. One White House adviser said Cuccinelli would advocate for the White House’s aggressive position at the agency. Miller has argued to Trump that others within DHS are trying to stall him.
McAleenan last week pushed back at an attempt by Miller to have Trump’s pick to lead ICE installed at CBP instead. In a tense White House meeting Thursday, McAleenan said he needed control over DHS to remain in his job, administration officials said.
The animus between Cuccinelli and Senate Republicans stems from his leadership of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which organized anti-incumbent efforts, and from his role at the 2016 Republican convention, when he derided “petty, tyrannical rules” and threw his ID badge on the floor in protest of Trump’s nomination. He was a strong supporter of the presidential bid by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who has since become one of Trump’s most ardent defenders.
Another senior administration official who welcomed the appointment said there was an acute need for someone to be an immigration policy field marshal.
.. “The president’s frustration is not directed at DHS alone,” the official said. “It’s DOJ, DOD, State. So this job will ensure closer coordination at a senior level, and it’s an effort to acknowledge you need someone who can have conversations with department heads about policies and drive them to the same place.”
But the official also acknowledged that Cuccinelli’s appointment risked undercutting McAleenan at a time when the acting secretary has been making inroads with lawmakers, including Democrats who see him as a neutral law enforcement official rather than a White House political operative.
“I don’t see how this appointment makes things better on the Hill,” the official said.
WASHINGTON — The House Democratic campaign arm is nearing open warfare with the party’s rising liberal wing as political operatives close to Speaker Nancy Pelosi try to shut down primary challenges before what is likely to be a hard-fought campaign next year to preserve the party’s shaky majority.
Progressive Democrats were infuriated last month when Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois, the chairwoman of the campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, moved to protect centrist incumbents by formally breaking committee business ties with political consultants and pollsters who go to work for primary challengers.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, who owes her seat to a successful primary challenge, went so far as to encourage her 3.8 million Twitter followers to “pause” their donations to the campaign committee in protest. She also started a fund-raising push on her official Twitter account for Representatives Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, Katie Hill of California and Mike Levin of California. That initiative, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter, raised $30,000 in roughly two hours. She also helped raise money for Representatives Katie Porter of California and Lauren Underwood of Illinois.
The open hostilities are just the latest in the rising tensions between an experienced party establishment focusing on what is possible in the short run and a group of young liberals chafing at such restraint. House Democrats have divided over single-payer “Medicare for all” versus incremental legislation to bolster the Affordable Care Act and over Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal versus less ambitious climate change policies. Liberal Democrats and more moderate newcomers from Republican-leaning districts have fought over Republican procedural motions.
And divisions on health care, climate change, military spending and tax policy convinced the House Budget Committee chairman, John Yarmuth of Kentucky, last week to give up on drafting a budget that would have laid down a broad legislative agenda for the new Democrat-controlled House.
Now that tension has migrated to the mechanics of the 2020 campaign.
Ms. Bustos’s rule prohibits Democratic consultants and vendors working for a primary challenger to an incumbent from receiving work from the committee. It comes as ardent liberal organizations like Justice Democrats, emboldened by a pair of high-profile wins in 2018 — Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez — are aggressively gearing up to challenge centrist or old-line Democrats with liberal candidates.
In the latest swipe in a fight that has erupted into open hostilities, a coalition of progressive groups on Friday introduced an online database of go-to vendors for insurgent candidates emblazoned with the heading, “Despite the D.C.C.C.’s bullying, we’re still going to work on primaries.”
One group, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said Friday that it was exploring a challenge against Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, because he has not committed to holding hearings on the single-payer health care system known as “Medicare for all.” At the helm of that panel, Mr. Neal has been on the front lines of conducting oversight on President Trump’s finances, and last week requested six years of his personal tax returns.
“We reject the D.C.C.C.’s attempt to hoard power, which will only serve to keep that talent pool — and Congress itself — disproportionately white and male,” María Urbina, the national political director for Indivisible, a progressive grass-roots group, said of the campaign committee. “Incumbents who engage fully with their constituents shouldn’t fear primaries and shouldn’t rely on the national institutions like the D.C.C.C. to suppress challenges before voters ever have a say.”
Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) defends Trump’s attacks by claiming his voters see McCain as the “embodiment” of the sort of “lifetime career politician” who left them feeling “powerless and voiceless for many years,” until Trump arrived.
GOP consultant Mike Shields claims Trump’s attacks on McCain tap his voters’ frustration with “politicians that lie to them” and “aren’t real,” whereas these attacks show Trump is “real.” Trump’s outsider authenticity turns out to be a willingness to slime a dead man who can’t defend himself.
.. And in a new interview with Fox News, Trump himself makes similar claims. He rips into McCain as “horrible” for voting against Obamacare repeal, adding: “We would have had great health care.” And he slams McCain for turning over to the FBI the “Steele dossier,” which he claims was “paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.”
Thus, the narrative Trumpworld is spinning is that, in attacking McCain, Trump is standing up for his voters, by going after a symbol of the GOP elites he campaigned against and of the deep-state forces working against the will of those voters, and those who blocked him from delivering on his health-care promises.
.. My intention here is not to defend or exalt McCain, but rather to look at what all this says about what a con this whole presidency really is.
Trump did not merely promise to repeal Obamacare. He also vowed to replace it with “insurance for everybody.” He explicitly campaigned on the idea that his desire to give people health care made him different from GOP elites. But he sold out on this promise, by embracing the actual goal of GOP elites: rolling back Obamacare’s coverage and protections for millions without meaningfully replacing them.
Because this was so unpopular, Republicans employed extraordinary partisan tactics and secrecy to try to push it through. This procedural abuse is what McCain voted against. He blocked Trump’s efforts to conspire with GOP elites to sell out on his promise to his voters.
That’s of a piece with Trump’s broader selling-out of his economic populism. After getting elected by promising to drain the swamp of elite corruption and take on the plutocrats who rig our political economy to enrich themselves, he gave those elites a deregulation spree that further rigged the economy in their favor, and a corporate tax cut that lavished enormous benefits on top earners. (As it happens, this is an area where Trump and McCain broadly agree.)
Critiques Washington Post anti-Bernie Sanders articles.