A day before he was set to step down as acting Homeland Security secretary, Kevin McAleenan said Wednesday that he would stay on the job “if necessary” since the White House has yet to tap his successor.
“I said in my resignation letter to the president that I would ensure a smooth transition and that remains my position. I want to make sure that it happens for the department,” he told lawmakers during a House Homeland Security Committee meeting.
McAleenan’s last day was scheduled to be Thursday. When the White House announced his resignation Oct. 11, President Donald Trump promised to announce his replacement the following week, declaring “many wonderful candidates!”
Yet, White House officials have been trying to figure out how to bypass a certain law to appoint one of Trump’s two top candidates: Ken Cuccinelli, the acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, and Mark Morgan, acting Customs and Border Protection commissioner.
Both picks are ineligible to serve as acting Homeland Security Secretary because of the federal Vacancies Act, which, among other things, requires acting officials who take over cabinet-level positions be next in line of succession.
The New York Times first reported that Cuccinelli, who has been a staunch advocate for Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, was Trump’s top pick to lead DHS. Cuccinelli has often taken to Twitter and TV news shows to opine on actions of DHS agencies not under his purview.
However, leading GOP lawmakers oppose the idea of nominating Cuccinelli because of his former job leading the Senate Conservatives Fund, a PAC that took aim at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell among other key Republicans.
Top Democrats like House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., also assailed reports that Cuccinelli is Trump’s top DHS pick.
“Reports that President Trump is desperately combing through federal law to find a loophole to make an end-run around the Constitution are disappointing but not surprising,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “If the White House cannot find anyone qualified and suitable to run the Department of Homeland Security — or even run it in an acting capacity — something is very wrong with this Administration.”
Morgan, Trump’s other leading candidate, has overseen immigration policies at the southern border to crack down on illegal immigration.
McAleenan is the fourth person to lead DHS since Trump took office nearly three years ago. He was responsible for overseeing several of Trump’s policies, including the “Remain in Mexico” program that has sent more than 50,000 migrants to Mexico to wait for their immigration cases to be processed in U.S. courts.
It is still unclear how long McAleenan plans to stay on. He has not announced what he will do after he officially resigns from the position.
Tanvi Misra contributed to this report.