Republicans writing off hard-line DHS candidate
Senate Republicans are waving President Trump off from nominating Kris Kobach, a favorite among conservatives who want tougher enforcement of immigration laws, to serve as the next secretary of Homeland Security.
GOP lawmakers are already scrambling to contain the controversy surrounding two potential nominees to the Federal Reserve Board — Stephen Moore and Herman Cain — and they don’t want to find themselves in another political fight with the White House over the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of Senate leadership on the Judiciary Committee, warned Wednesday that he could not stand behind Kobach if the former Kansas secretary of state is nominated to replace Kirstjen Nielsen as DHS chief.
“I wouldn’t be able to support him,” Cornyn said. “I think his rhetoric on immigration is very damaging to Republicans and would not help us solve what is a very complex problem, which is going to require some negotiation and compromise.”
A Senate Republican aide predicted that Kobach would be stuck in the role of acting Homeland Security secretary, as he would be unable to win a simple majority for Senate confirmation.
Asked about the prospect of the White House nominating Kobach, the source said, “It depends if they want to have another acting secretary, because there’s no way Kris Kobach will be confirmed.”
Trump said Wednesday that he hasn’t given much thought to nominating Kobach.
“I have respect for him, but I haven’t really thought about that,” the president told reporters in Texas.
GOP lawmakers are frustrated that Trump floated Moore and Cain, two controversial Fed picks, with little prior consultation. The move put them in the awkward position of having to respond to reporters’ questions with little preparation.
“The president now figures he doesn’t need a lot of advisers because he wants to do it himself, but there are a lot of informal mechanisms and avenues for sharing information that are not really working very well now,” Cornyn said. “The best thing about the president in that regard is that you can call him on the phone and he will talk to you.”
A Republican senator who requested anonymity said there’s already concern over Cain and Moore.
“There are a lot of Republicans who think politicizing the Fed is a bad idea,” the source said.
Republican lawmakers are also worried about the ascendance of senior White House adviser Stephen Miller, a determined proponent of the administration taking an even tougher immigration stance.
Miller was reportedly behind the DHS shake-up that resulted in the ouster of Nielsen and acting Deputy Secretary Claire Grady.
Kobach is seen as someone who would be more in step with Trump’s views on immigration, something the president may want after venting his frustration with Nielsen at multiple Cabinet meetings.
Kobach is known for helping draft Arizona’s controversial 2010 immigration law, considered at the time one of the nation’s toughest, which required police to demand proof of legal residency from suspected immigrants.
He supported a 2011 Kansas law that required voters to show proof of citizenship and later served as vice chairman of Trump’s voter fraud panel that was assembled to investigate the president’s claims of widespread illegal voting in the 2016 election, when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.
Kobach has also come under criticism for his tenure as a White House fellow during the George W. Bush administration, when he worked on a database to track immigrants from majority-Muslim countries and other nations considered high risk.
When he served on Trump’s transition team he was seen as influential in shaping the president’s views on the need for a crackdown on voter fraud.
And his jockeying for the Homeland Security job has the support of conservative activists.
He told The Washington Examiner on Tuesday that he wants the post.
“He’s got an important decision to make,” Kobach said, referring to Trump’s eventual pick to lead DHS. “If he wants to have me serve in this capacity, and thinks it would be the best thing for the country, I would certainly do so.”
But Senate Republicans are trying to hit the brakes on his candidacy before he gathers any momentum.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Kobach would face a tough road to confirmation even though Republicans control 53 seats, implying a number of his GOP colleagues would vote against him.
“He would be a hard guy to confirm,” Graham said, pointing to “some of the things he said.”
“That would be a tough one,” he added.
Graham said, however, he would keep an “open mind.”
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Kobach’s home-state senator, said nominating Kobach to lead DHS would be a non-starter.
“Don’t go there. We can’t confirm him,” Roberts told The Kansas City Star on Tuesday.
Douglas Rivlin, communications director for America’s Voice, a group that favors giving immigrants a path to citizenship, said Kobach has extreme views on immigration.
“From Trump’s point of view, this is all about trying to look tough for his voters in 2020,” he said. “It’s almost like he’s casting a surrogate role for whoever he’s going to put in place at DHS.
“Even having a proven hard-liner like Kobach, who is squarely in the mass-deportation and opposition-to-legal-immigration camp, isn’t going to change a lot of the constraints on the president’s policies,” he added.
But Kobach has the backing of conservative activists who want a crackdown on illegal immigration, which they say has been fueled by lackadaisical enforcement of federal laws.
“Kobach has championed taking away the ability to hire illegal aliens, for example. He’s championed the state E-verify laws. He knows the system inside and out,” said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a grass-roots group that advocates for reduced immigration levels.
“He’s the benchmark,” he said.
Beck said Kobach has only pushed for enforcing laws that are already on the books.
“Some of the things that Kobach is saying on TV is the law says this, this and this and we ought to enforce the law. It’s really a question of saying we think the law is too extreme,” Beck said.
Beck said in an interview Monday that his organization has endorsed Kobach as a candidate to replace Nielsen, and that they communicated that to the White House and members of Congress.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that supports tougher immigration laws, said Kobach “definitely knows the subject matter.”
“He’s deeply experienced and knowledgeable about immigration law,” Krikorian said.
He noted that while key sections of the 2010 Arizona immigration law Kobach helped draft were struck down by the Supreme Court, “most of it was upheld.”
He said Kobach’s track record of working on a tough immigration law that passed legal muster may be appealing to the White House at a time when the president’s agenda has suffered several setbacks in the courts.
“Fighting stuff in the courts is something he has experienced as well,” he said.