Washington — The Republican-led Senate is planning on holding a vote as early as Tuesday on the nomination of Chad Wolf to be undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security, a move which would pave the way for President Trump to install him as acting head of the sprawling department.
Plans are underway to end the debate on Wolf's nomination through a cloture vote on Thursday and to hold a full floor vote next week, as early as Tuesday, two congressional officials familiar with the matter told CBS News.
Wolf's confirmation as Homeland Security undersecretary — a role he was nominated for earlier this year but never confirmed for — would allow Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, who announced his imminentlast month, to step down.
The White House would then be expected to install Wolf as acting secretary through his position in the line of succession for the department's leadership. The president told reporters last week he intended to tap Wolf for the interim role, though it is unclear whether he will tap him for the permanent, Senate-confirmed position.
The plans to vote on Wolf's nomination next week were first reported by The Washington Post.
If confirmed and installed as Homeland Security chief, Wolf will be under pressure to continue pushing the administration's hardline immigration agenda. Although its immigration enforcement and border security responsibilities have been the most visible under Mr. Trump's tenure, the third largest department in the federal government has other important tasks, including command of the U.S. Coast Guard, cyber and airport security, disaster response and election infrastructure.
Wolf was nominated for the undersecretary position in February of this year, but Senator Jacky Rosen, a Democrat from Nevada, placed a hold on his nomination over the summer, citing squalid conditions at migrant detention centers near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Before his nomination, Wolf served as a top aide to former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the last Senate-confirmed head of the department. In this role, he helped draft controversial policies to deter migrants heading to the southern border, including the detention of asylum-seekers and the widely condemned practice of separating families.
Asked about his role overseeing these policies during a Senate hearing on his confirmation in June, Wolf said his job was to ensure Nielsen had the necessary information to lead the department — not to determine whether policies were "right or wrong."
Before Mr. Trump announced Wolf's appointment, immigration hardliners were urging him to install Ken Cuccinelli or Mark Morgan, the acting heads of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Customs and Border Protection, to the post. But questions soon arose about the legality of the appointment of either of the two immigration hardliners, who have been vocal in their support for the president's immigration agenda and rhetoric.
In a joint letter late Wednesday afternoon, the top Republican and top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee urged the president to make permanent appointments at the Department of Homeland Security, noting that seven of the 18 Senate-confirmed positions at the department, including the secretary post, are currently vacant.
"This widespread use of temporary leadership — individuals who, though perhaps qualified, do not serve with the imprimatur of having been confirmed by the Senate — makes it more difficult for the Department to achieve its long-term strategic objectives," Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, and Senator Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan, wrote in the letter.