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Wolf nomination for Homeland Security secretary advances

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, on February 25, 2020 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on the Trump administration's proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2021 for the Homeland Security Department. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/TNS)
October 02, 2020

Chad Wolf’s nomination to head the Homeland Security Department, a position he has been serving in an interim capacity for nearly a year, advanced Wednesday after a party-line vote by a Senate panel. His nomination now heads to the Senate floor.

“We want to keep this pretty short and sweet. I obviously support the nomination,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in his opening remarks. “I think acting Secretary Wolf has done a pretty good job based on all the things he has to deal with as secretary.”

Wolf’s nomination was approved, 6-3, with Democrats voting against.

Wolf has served as the acting secretary of the department since November. He was sworn in on an interim basis shortly after being confirmed by the Senate for a different role — as the undersecretary of the department’s Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans. He is the fifth person to head DHS, which has been without a Senate-confirmed secretary since Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in April 2019.

Wolf’s department oversees the three main immigration agencies — Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, and Citizenship and Immigration Services — as well as the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard and the Secret Service.

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At his confirmation hearing a week earlier, Wolf defended himself against allegations in two whistleblower complaints and legal questions regarding the process by which he was appointed to his current role.

He also faced pushback from committee Democrats for his role in implementing controversial immigration policies and over clashes between federal law enforcement agents and people protesting police brutality.

Wolf responded to a number of issues, among them a whistleblower complaint that he and his second-in-command interfered in intelligence matters to protect the image of President Donald Trump, downplay the threat of violence by white supremacists and promote a restrictive immigration agenda.

Wolf called those allegations, filed by his former intelligence officer, Brian Murphy, “patently false.”

Another report filed against the department included detailed allegations of “jarring” medical neglect of detainees at a Georgia detention center that were backed by a nurse employed at the facility. Wolf said staff from the department’s Office of Inspector General were conducting an inquiry. He assured the panel that the appropriate action would be taken if there is a “kernel of truth” to the allegations, including claims of hysterectomies being carried out without informed consent.

Wolf also told the committee he disagreed with recent decisions by the Government Accountability Office and a federal judge in Maryland, which found that Wolf was unlawfully appointed to his current role because his department did not follow the proper rules of succession.

While no Democrats offered remarks during Wednesday’s brief markup hearing, a few pushed Wolf during last week’s meeting.

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., pressed him about his role in a memo that recommended separating families at the southern U.S. border. The memo, written for Nielsen, the former Homeland Security Secretary, became public after Wolf told the committee last year that he was not involved. Wolf maintained he was not one of the architects of the memo.

Wolf started his career at the DHS in 2002, after 9/11, serving as an assistant administrator of the Transport Security Administration. For many years in between, he also worked as a lobbyist on immigration legislation for companies that favored increases in visas for tech workers, or that wanted to sell their technologies to government agencies.

Wolf replaced Kevin McAleenan, who resigned as acting DHS secretary on Oct. 11, 2019. As the head of DHS, Wolf often vehemently defended his administration’s hard-line immigration policies at the border, and took an adversarial stance against state, local and federal elected officials who criticized his deployment of armed agents in response to protests against police brutality.

Trump did not formally nominate Wolf to the DHS secretary’s position until Sept. 10.

Although it was unclear when the Senate may take up his nomination, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer has made his opposition to Wolf clear, saying “given his past actions, he’d be an awful choice.”

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© 2020 CQ-Roll Call, Inc.

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