FederalImmigration & BorderTrump Told by White House Cuccinelli and Morgan Are Ineligible for Homeland Security Secretary Role

Following Kevin McAleenan's resignation as Secretary of Homeland Security, the director of White House personnel informed President Trump that his top picks can't be nominated.
October 23, 2019
Despite rumors of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Ken Cuccinelli or acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Mark Morgan being chosen as President’s Trump’s next pick for Secretary of Homeland Security, White House Personnel Director Sean Doocey informed the president that both are legally ineligible for appointment to the position last Friday.

Earlier this month, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan became the fourth Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary to resign in less than three years, a turnover rate attributed in part to the president’s desire for an individual dedicated to overseeing the president’s strict immigration policies. 

Following Kevin McAleenan’s resignation, both Cuccinelli and Morgan were top picks based on their hawkish stances on immigration and border security following a fiscal year that saw apprehension levels at a 12-year high.

Despite their commitment to the president’s policy agenda, however, both men have been deemed ineligible for the position of Homeland Security Secretary according to federal law, which states that in order to hold a cabinet-level position, individuals must meet the following conditions.

They must:

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  • Be next-in line, or “first assistant,” to the secretary,
  • Currently hold a Senate-confirmed position, or
  • Have served at least 90 days as a senior official under the previous Secretary of the department.

By this standard, the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice (DOJ) reportedly told the president that both Cuccinelli and Morgan are ineligible because neither one served under former, Senate-confirmed Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen for at least 90 days in addition to not meeting the other specified requirements. 

During his time as Director of USCIS, Cuccinelli has enforced and overseen some of President Trump’s new immigration policies, including a public charge rule allowing the government to deny green cards and permanent residency to certain individuals if they are considered likely to depend on government welfare programs as well as the replacement of the Flores Settlement Agreement

Similarly, as Chief of Border Patrol under the Obama administration, Commissioner Morgan has been an immigration hard-liner with frontline experience, serving as acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under President Trump prior to becoming acting Commissioner of CBP. 

President Trump said he intends to announce the new acting Secretary of Homeland Security sometime this week. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, who first reported the story, eligible replacements currently being considered for the secretary position include: 

  • Secretary Nielsen’s former chief of staff Chad Wolf, 
  • head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) David Pekoske, and 
  • head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Chris Krebs. 

Both Cuccinelli and Morgan are expected to remain as the heads of their respective agencies.


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Sarah McConnell, Reporter for The Texan

Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.