The Trump regime has finally found a loophole in the law governing who is eligible to fill federal cabinet appointments big enough to drive a Ken Cuccinelli nomination through for Secretary of Homeland Security, but the problem is the same one from six months ago: Republican senators hate the guy, and he doesn't even have 50 votes for confirmation.
Cuccinelli, acting head of the relatively obscure U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, is one of the president’s top lieutenants because of his aggressive immigration agenda. But he is loathed by McConnell and other Republicans to the point that he probably could not be confirmed for a permanent job.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said he has heard "doubts" about Senate Republicans' appetite to see Cuccinelli elevated and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said "he’d have difficulty being confirmed” to a permanent slot and that putting him in an acting role would be "a problem."
“We need somebody who knows the department really well. Somebody who understands the complexities and the realities of the challenges of balancing all that has," she said.
Trump has been pushed to give the job to Cuccinelli, a newcomer to the administration who has quickly developed direct access to the president, according to people familiar with the situation.
“If Ken was as liked by the White House as he thinks he is, he would’ve been nominated months ago," said a senior administration official. "The problem for Ken is that he is a nonstarter with Mitch McConnell and has a less than zero chance of being confirmed by the Senate.”
But Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the most senior Republican in the Senate, said under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act there's no legal way to put Cuccinelli in the position after acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan leaves his post.
“There’s some opposition to Senate confirmation. I have not heard anything about some go-around. But it’s my understanding that the existing law would not permit him to” lead the organization, Grassley said in an interview. “I don’t know how you get around that. I don’t think it’s possible because of what the law says, not because of anything else.”
The administration is considering bypassing a federal law governing agency succession that makes Cuccinelli ineligible for acting secretary by naming someone to be assistant secretary of the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, which was recently vacated, and then elevating that person to be the acting secretary of Homeland Security, according to two people familiar with the situation. The loophole comes from language from a bipartisan bill that was inserted into the National Defense Authorization Act in fiscal year 2017, according to a person familiar with the situation. The New York Times first reported the effort to appoint Cuccinelli.
These guys really, really want Cuccinelli atop DNS, so he can start the mass deportations during an election year, something to get Trump's base all fired up surely. We're going to see very soon who's in charge of the Senate GOP, Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump.
Trump loses this fight unless he's willing to slag McConnell's re-election chances. He may just do it. We'll see.