Who Will Replace John Kelly as Head of Homeland Security?
Border hawks don’t agree on whom the general's replacement should be but are sure they know whom it shouldn't be
Border hawks have different ideas about who should fill the seat former Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly left open by becoming White House chief of staff, but they agree on whom it should not be — Rep. Michael McCaul.
The Texas Republican, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, also drew opposition when his name surfaced as a potential candidate for Trump’s first homeland security secretary. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, tweeted a link over the weekend to a story reporting McCaul said the president’s criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House counsel Robert Mueller made him look “paranoid.”
Tweeted Krikorian: “Hey, @RealDonaldTrump, Mike McCaul thinks you’re “paranoid”; don’t hire him for DHS chief. #NeverMcCaul.”
In other tweets, Krikorian used the hashtag “#NoWallMcCaul.”
Krikorian put his view succinctly in an interview Monday: “It shouldn’t be him … Mike McCaul is the guy that Jeb Bush might have picked for the job.”
Here is a look at four possible replacements for Kelly:
1.) McCaul, Representative from Texas
The seven-term representative has chaired the Homeland Security Committee since 2013 and has intimate knowledge of the duties and responsibilities of the post. Last week, he introduced a bill to fund a mix of wall, fencing, and aerial surveillance to help Trump fulfill his campaign promise.
But immigration hawks fault McCaul for failing to take a hard line against former President Barack Obama’s liberal immigration policies and for signing on to then-House Speaker John Boehner’s “Principles on Immigration Reform” agenda — as one of 19 House Republicans to do so.
“Congressman McCaul’s record in the House suggests that he doesn’t have the inclination or experience to continue and improve on the great start that General Kelly has had in leading DHS to be a pro-worker institution,” NumbersUSA President Roy Beck said in a statement.
Krikorian said McCaul has specialized in “fake immigration enforcement” in the past and added that he does not trust his tough talk now.
“You now what Sessions thinks because he’s been talking about it and taking actions on it since before Trump got in office,” he said.
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said McCaul sides with big business interests that want access to cheap labor.
“People don’t change their stripes,” he said. “People’s principles are determined by the interests they serve.”
2.) Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State
The Kansas secretary of state has been an immigration hard-liner for years and helped Arizona and Alabama lawmakers write laws cracking down on illegal immigration in their states.
“We’d love to see Kris Kobach get the job,” said Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism for NumbersUSA. “That’s who we were promoting originally, and we think he would do a great job.”
Krikorian agreed but added that Kobach likely would face a nasty confirmation fight.
“Kris would be great in that job,” he said. “But I just don’t think he could be confirmed.”
Indeed, Kobach is a lightning rod for the Left, both because of his immigration views and his aggressive efforts to root out voter fraud. He serves as vice chairman of Trump’s commission on voter fraud.
Even some Republicans have expressed reservations, and the GOP margin in the Senate is narrow.
Stein pointed to another complication — Kobach has expressed interest in running for governor of Kansas.
3.) Tom Homan, Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement
As acting ICE director since shortly after Trump took office, Homan is a career law enforcement officer who has overseen an uptick in arrests of illegal immigrants — both those with criminal records and those who merely entered and stayed illegally.
Homan accompanied Trump to Long Island, New York, on Friday, where the president praised him during a speech vowing to step up efforts to dismantle the MS-13 gang. Homan has backed Trump’s policies and spoken in favor of Kate’s Law, which would increase penalties for illegal immigrants who commit crimes after returning to America following deportation.
Immigration enforcement advocates generally give Homan high marks for his short-term stewardship of ICE, but some question how deep his ties are to Trumpism. Obama gave him a Presidential Rank Award as a Distinguished Executive.
“He’s making a lot of the right noises now, but he’s basically an Obama holdover,” Stein said.
4.) Jeff Sessions, Attorney General
It is no secret that Trump is upset with Sessions, a onetime important campaign supporter who roiled the president by recusing himself from the investigation of possible coordination between Russian agents and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.
Immigration hard-liners like Sessions but have no interest in seeing him give up his higher-profile post. Krikorian said Sessions would be a terrific homeland security secretary, but he added that he does not think the former Alabama senator is interested.
“It doesn’t seem likely to me … If Sessions wanted the DHS job, he would have taken it after the election,” he said.
Others were blunter.
“He needs to keep his hands off Jeff Sessions,” said William Gheen, founder of the Americans for Legal Immigration political action committee.
The idea also didn’t go over well with the attorney general’s former colleagues.
“DHS Secretary Jeff Sessions doesn’t sound right, doesn’t feel right. Bad idea,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
On “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) warned that moving Sessions would be an error.
“It’s up to Jeff Sessions and the president, but if he’s being moved because of his correct decision to recuse himself, I think that’s a mistake,” she said.
Incoming White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also downplayed the idea at Monday’s daily briefing.
5.) A Wild Card?
Immigration enforcement advocates offered a number of other suggestions, although most appear to be long shots if they are on the radar at all.
Krikorian suggested the chairman of his think tank’s board of directors, Peter Nunez. He said the incoming Trump administration spoke to Nunez early on as they were vetting candidates for Cabinet posts. He said Nunez, a former federal prosecutor and assistant secretary for enforcement at the Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush administration, would be “a natural.”
Gheen long has advocated former Maricopa (Ariz.) County Joe Arpaio. But he is old, at 85, and a federal judge on Monday convicted him of contempt for defying a court order prohibiting him from detaining suspected illegal immigrants when he was sheriff.
Stein said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) would be great but probably hard to lure away from the Senate. Ditto for Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), another longtime border hawk. Stein also mentioned Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), but the Associated Press on Monday quoted an anonymous source indicating he plans to run for the U.S. Senate next year.
Another option for Trump, Krikorian said, is to find a replacement in the mold of Kelly — a retired general or Coast Guard officer with national security experience.