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Trump to nominate Chad Wolf as Homeland Security secretary

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf speaks with the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security regarding the FY21 budget. (DHS photo by Tara A. Molle/Released)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he would formally nominate acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to serve permanently in the role.

Wolf has served in the position since November. DHS oversees three immigration agencies, along with the Transportation Security Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Secret Service. It has been without a Senate-confirmed secretary since Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in April 2019.

Wolf would be the fifth person to lead Homeland Security since Trump took office. He stepped into the role following the resignation of Kevin McAleenan, who succeeded Nielsen but only served as acting secretary. Neither Wolf nor McAleenan was ever confirmed by the Senate.

Trump announced his plans for Wolf in a tweet Tuesday.

“Chad has done an outstanding job and we greatly appreciate his service!” the president said.

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Wolf responded by saying he was honored by the nomination.

“As the Homeland faces evolving threats from natural disasters, violent opportunists, malign cyber actors, and transnational criminal organizations, the mission of DHS is as critical as ever,” he said in a statement.

His nomination comes just days after the Government Accountability Office found that Wolf had been unlawfully elevated to his position as part of a series of appointments that violated proper succession rules. In the Aug. 14 decision, the congressional watchdog said both Wolf and McAleenan, his predecessor, were invalidly promoted to their roles following Nielsen’s resignation last spring.

DHS has dismissed the findings as “baseless” and politically motivated.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the  House Homeland Security Committee, said “there are many legal questions” about Wolf’s nomination. He noted it comes just days after the GAO ruling and yet, Trump let more than 500 days pass before nominating someone to permanently run DHS.

“This nomination is a clear admission that the Administration (has) installed Mr. Wolf as Acting Secretary unlawfully,” Thompson said in a statement. “Since every policy decision Mr. Wolf made since November may be challenged because he lacked proper authority, this is also an attempt to limit the Administration’s exposure to legal challenges.”

Thompson was among Democratic lawmakers who have called on Wolf to step down from his job after the GAO released its findings.

Wolf’s nomination quickly raised opposition from Democrats who have criticized DHS for Trump’s immigration policies that target migrants at the southern U.S. border. More recently, Wolf oversaw the deployment of federal troops into Portland, Oregon, and other cities to handle protests against police and racial violence.

“I think given his past actions, he’s an awful choice,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said during a call Tuesday with reporters.

The Senate is currently in recess, and it was not certain whether there will be enough time to confirm him before the November election — or if Wolf even has enough support to win confirmation. A call seeking details about hearing plans from Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., wasn’t immediately returned Tuesday.

Before Wolf’s name rose to the top for his position, immigration hard-liners had favored the much more aggressive Ken Cuccinelli, who was serving as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. But Cuccinelli’s chances of receiving Senate confirmation were slim because of his past job as the head of a conservative political action committee that supported primary challenges against incumbent Senate Republicans.

Cuccinelli currently serves as the No. 2 role at DHS, although his formal title is “senior official performing the duties of the deputy secretary.” He was also singled out in the GAO decision as someone whose appointment was invalid.

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© 2020 CQ-Roll Call, Inc.

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