It’s been a difficult spring at the Department of Homeland Security. For reasons that the White House hasn’t fully explained, Donald Trump, in rapid succession, fired the Homeland Security secretary, the acting ICE chief, the head of the U.S. Secret Service, and the Homeland Security deputy secretary.
L. Francis Cissna, the head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, was rumored to be on the chopping block, too, though Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was trying to protect Cissna’s job.
That didn’t work; Cissna has resigned and his last day is this week. Just as striking as the ongoing personnel turmoil, however, is who the president intends to replace Cissna with: former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R).
There have been reports for weeks that Trump was searching for an “immigration czar” to oversee the White House’s agenda – a new post that Cuccinelli seemed likely to fill – but the president has reportedly switched gears and now wants Cuccinelli to lead CIS.
There’s no shortage of problems with a such a move, starting with the fact that this is a Senate-confirmed position – and if the president is counting on the Republican-led chamber to once again play the role of rubber-stamp, he’s probably going to be disappointed. As the Washington Post reported:
Cuccinelli [is] a conservative firebrand disliked by senior GOP figures, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
McConnell has vowed to block Cuccinelli from getting confirmed for any position, blaming him for leading a 2014 effort defying McConnell that promoted insurgent candidates running against sitting Republican incumbents. And Cuccinelli signed a letter drafted by conservative activists two years ago calling on McConnell to step aside.
The New York Times, quoting sources close to McConnell, said Cuccinelli’s chances of being confirmed are “close to zero.”
It’s possible Trump might take the chance anyway, confident in his ability to bend GOP senators to his will. It’s also possible the president will see the writing on the wall – the writing Mitch McConnell personally spray-painted there – and steer clear of another avoidable political defeat.
Either way, it’s no small detail that Cuccinelli would be a very poor choice to oversee the nation’s legal immigration system. The far-right Virginian – an intra-party critic of Trump’s before he changed his mind – has earned a reputation for radicalism on a wide range of issues, including immigration.
He’s also crusaded against LGBTQ civil rights, abortion rights, and access to affordable health care. When Cuccinelli lost a gubernatorial race six years ago, Dahlia Lithwick described the outcome this way: “An official who consistently used his elected office to promote policies that shamed, marginalized, and patronized women and other minorities was met with a ‘no.’”
Don’t be surprised if Mitch McConnell uses the same word if Trump sends a Cuccinelli nomination to Capitol Hill.