With John Kelly’s move to the White House to become President Trump’s new Chief of Staff, the “name game” of prospective candidates is underway. As public leaders and pundits debate who might be the best choice for the next Homeland Security Secretary, here are a couple of things to keep in mind.
- Elaine Duke is serving as (Acting) Secretary and will do a spectacular job in the position. She’s been a part of the Department from the beginning and knows its operations, functions, budgets, mechanisms, people and more. There is probably no greater authority on DHS than her, and we will be well served by her.
- Having Gen. Kelly at the White House is a good thing for DHS. While his tenure at the Department was short, he immersed himself in DHS’ people and missions. He can bring that perspective into the White House and give it voice and understanding to daily policy debates and decisions like no one else.
- As much as the name game of potential Cabinet contenders is a ritualistic DC parlor game, the Trump White House has made a name for itself in surprise nominees and contenders. There is and always will be a “Wild Card” to be played by this President.
- With the congressional August recess (even a truncated one) about to come upon us, and an already full legislative calendar, the odds of having a newly confirmed DHS Secretary in place prior to September 11th are not strong.
- While only in office for 6 months, President Trump is still learning about all of the authorities that come with his position. That includes making recess appointments. Such an appointment for a DHS Secretary would only allow that individual to serve until the beginning of January when the next session of Congress begins. In many ways, any recess appointment (unless that person is re-nominated for the post) would be a “lame duck” on day one.
- In the past, the confirmation for a DHS Secretary has been a fairly civil and bipartisan exercise. I would anticipate the same holding true for whomever President Trump nominates to succeed Gen. Kelly. That individual, however, will not be enduring a confirmation procedure in a so-called post-election “honeymoon period.” If anything, the political atmosphere in Washington is even more toxic today than it was 6 months ago. As such, I expect whoever is nominated to be a bit more roughed up in tough, public questioning by both Senate Republicans and Democrats, especially when it comes to the nominee’s thoughts on some of the more controversial issues for which the Department is responsible.
- Trust between the Republican-controlled Congress and the Trump White House is low. Additionally, the President’s critical treatment of Attorney General Sessions has bothered Senators of both sides of the Senate aisles, especially when it has been one of their own (a fellow U.S. Senator) being roughed up. While the age-old decorum rules of the Senate have started to go by the wayside, the Senate is still one of “the World’s Most Exclusive Clubs,” and current members don’t like to see fellow (even former) members attacked. If the President does nominate a current or former member of the Senate for the position, I would expect them to be seeking assurances that the person can handle the potential of “friendly fire” discharges coming from the President, as well as a measure of independence in carrying out the duties of leading one of the country’s largest cabinet departments.
- Whomever the President nominates, they will have a windy day tightrope walk in trying to respond to all of the controversial things President Trump has said or tweeted. President Trump’s recent remarks on Long Island, NY, before hundreds of police officers seemingly encouraging them to rough up those they arrest drew sharp rebukes from law enforcement leaders and organizations nationwide. Any hearing preparations by the nominee should probably include a page from how Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has chosen to respond to reporters whenever he is asked to comment on the President’s posted thoughts: “I don’t really respond to a daily basis to tweets that are coming out.“
- And let’s not forget that the DHS Secretary position is one of the nation’s (and world’s) toughest jobs, where you are essentially responsible for “bad day management” for anything and everything thrown at you by Mother Nature, terrorists, industrial accidents, critical infrastructure failures and forces to be defined later. And let’s also not forget you have to respond to more than 120 different congressional committees who will second, third and fourth guess every decision you and the more than 200,000 DHS employees make very day.
Other than that, it’s a great job! So without further ado, here are some names to keep in mind for the next DHS Secretary.
Most Obvious and Confirmable
- Elaine Duke, Acting Secretary of DHS
- Rep. Mike McCaul, (R-TX) Chair, House Homeland Security Committee
- Rep. Peter King, (R-NY), former Chair House Homeland Security Committee
- Rep. William Hurd (R-TX)
- Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)
- Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
- Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
- Fran Townsend, former White House Homeland Security Advisor
- David Aguilar, former Chief, US Border Patrol
- Tom Homan, Acting Director, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
- Michael Leiter, former Director, National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC)
- Tom Bossert, White House Homeland Security Advisor
- Any number of retired, multi-starred military officers – We know the President likes to have “his Generals” around and his new WH Chief of Staff could easily recommend some of the best and brightest he has worked with throughout his career.
Guaranteed Confirmation Hearing Fireworks and Fights