Former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has completed his first week as White House Chief of Staff, and presumably the White House now has a short list of candidates for his successor at DHS.
I’ve heard that the White House wants to fill the position quickly. That might weigh in the favor of Tom Homan, acting director of ICE – he’s already in place and vetted, and seems to enjoy the president’s favor. Homan accompanied Trump on Air Force One to New York last week and warmed up the gathered police officers for the president’s speech on gang violence. That came a day after Homan’s strong performance at a White House briefing. The downside would be that Senate Democrats would make his confirmation hearing a circus, trotting out every enforcement sob story they can find, though that wouldn’t matter in the end if the Republicans stick together.
Others thought to be in the running include Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke (though she’s mainly an administrator rather than a policy person), Rick Perry (though he’s just gotten his feet wet as Secretary of Energy), House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (though the “No-Wall McCaul” nickname that’s stuck to him makes that unlikely), and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (a favorite of restrictionists, but the Democrats would go to the mattresses to stop him). The idea that Attorney General Jeff Sessions would move over to DHS, nullifying his recusal in the Russia business, was never a real possibility.
Some names floated after the election, before Kelly was selected, are not likely even to be considered this time: Chris Christie (obviously), Joe Arpaio (just convicted on a misdemeanor contempt charge), or David Clarke (recently backed out of an assistant secretary job).
Given that no one expected Gen. Kelly to be selected for DHS, it’s worth looking at names that haven’t been mentioned in the press yet. Steve McCraw would be a logical choice; he’s head of the Texas Department of Public Safety – basically the state’s own DHS – and has worked extensively with ICE, Border Patrol, and other parts of federal department.
If the White House wants to pick another flag officer, Thad Allen, former Coast Guard Commandant might be possibility; he was in the running for VA secretary during the transition. Kelly got his experience with border issues as head of U.S. Southern Command – essentially viceroy of Latin America – and so might suggest that be where his successor come from.
Or perhaps a member of Congress not named “No-Wall McCaul”. Goodlatte, Sensenbrenner, and Gowdy all have worked closely with DHS. Jason Chaffetz recently left Congress and, while chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had raked Obama’s Homeland Security officials over the coals. Tom Cotton is closely associated with the immigration issue, and is a former Army officer, but it seems unlikely he’d leave the Senate.
My own choice would be Peter Nunez, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement in Bush I, meaning he oversaw the Customs Service, now part of DHS. Before that, he was U.S. Attorney in San Diego, dealing extensively with border issues. (Full disclosure: He’s also the chairman of my board.)
Whoever the administration settles on, it should be done soon. DHS is a sprawling department with vital responsibilities, and shouldn’t be left to continue leaderless for any longer than is necessary.