Washington — President Trump said on Friday he intends to install Chad Wolf as head of the Department of Homeland Security, tapping the senior department official to replaceand lead, at least temporarily, a sprawling department at the center of the president's signature campaign issue — a crackdown on illegal and legal immigration.
As acting Homeland Security secretary, Wolf, who recently served as the department's acting undersecretary for policy, would be at the helm of a bureaucratic juggernaut responsible for border security, immigration enforcement and benefits for non-citizens.
While immigration has become the department's top issue under Mr. Trump, it is also in charge of the U.S. Coast Guard, airport security, disaster response, cyber security and election infrastructure.
It is unclear if the president intends to nominate Wolf for the permanent role, which would require confirmation by the Republican-led Senate.
Wolf has played a role in crafting some of the most stringent and controversial immigration policies rolled out by the Trump administration. As acting chief of staff for former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Wolf floated a series of hardline proposals in 2017 — including family separations and detention of asylum seekers — to deter migrants from heading toward the U.S.-Mexico border.
Wolf was Nielsen's chief of staff at the height of the "zero tolerance" policy, which led to the prosecution of thousands of migrant parents who were separated from their children. In a hearing in June, he was asked about his role overseeing the controversial policy.
"My job was not to determine whether it was the right or wrong policy. My job at the time was to ensure that the Secretary had all the information," he told lawmakers.
Wolf first joined the Department of Homeland Security shortly after its creation in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, serving in the Transportation Security Agency for three years. He later lobbied on behalf of a firm that represented companies hiring foreign workers for more than a decade before returning to government.
Wolf's imminent appointment comes as the White House struggled to find a replacement for McAleenan, who announced his resignation in early October. There was speculation that Mr. Trump would tap immigration hardliner Ken Cuccinelli or Mark Morgan, the acting heads of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Customs and Border Protection, respectively — butabout the legality of their appointments quickly arose.
Federal law requires acting department heads to be the next in the line of succession, to have been confirmed by the Senate, or to have served under a secretary confirmed by the Senate for at least 90 days. Both Cuccinelli and Morgan joined the administration after Nielsen, the last Senate-confirmed Homeland Security Secretary, was ousted in April.
Cuccinelli, who has become the department's de facto spokesperson and a vocal supporter of the president's immigration agenda, would also face an uphill battle getting confirmed by the Senate, as prominent Republican senators have expressed disapproval with his potential appointment. After serving as Virginia attorney general, Cuccinelli led a group of hardline conservatives that in 2014 challenged now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Reacting to Wolf's appointment, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus delivered a scathing rebuke of McAleenan, accusing the outgoing acting secretary of defending the "most egregious anti-immigrant policies."
"Instead of fulfilling the mission of DHS to uphold our national security, Acting Secretary McAleenan worked to enforce some of the Department's most destructive policies: gutting asylum laws, restricting legal immigration, and allowing rampant inhumane conditions to occur in migrant detention," the caucus said in a statement.