McConnell to Trump: Don't pick Cuccinelli to lead DHS

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale McConnell defends Trump amid backlash: 'He gets picked at every day' MORE (R-Ky.) is publicly signaling to President TrumpDonald John TrumpDC board rejects Trump Hotel effort to dismiss complaint seeking removal of liquor license on basis of Trump's 'character' DC board rejects Trump Hotel effort to dismiss complaint seeking removal of liquor license on basis of Trump's 'character' Mexico's immigration chief resigns amid US pressure over migrants MORE not to pick former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

"I've not spoken to him about any of them. I have expressed my, shall I say, lack of enthusiasm for one of them … Ken Cuccinelli," McConnell told reporters during a pen-and-pad briefing in the Capitol on Thursday. 

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Cuccinelli, the president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, has been floated as a successor to DHS Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump admin program sends asylum-seekers to await claims in Mexico, despite fears of violence: report Trump admin program sends asylum-seekers to await claims in Mexico, despite fears of violence: report Juan Williams: Cloud of illegitimacy hangs over Trump MORE, whose exit Trump announced on Sunday. The conservative group has battled with McConnell and his allies in GOP Senate primaries, including backing Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin in McConnell's 2014 reelection race.

In addition to Cuccinelli, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan are also reportedly in the mix to succeed Nielsen on a permanent basis. 

Nineteen conservative groups sent Trump a letter urging him to pick the former Virginia gubernatorial nominee, saying they "have every confidence in his abilities; his tough on crime stance, his solution-oriented approach, his dedication to the rule of law, his love for America, and most importantly, his loyalty to the cause of making America great again," according to a letter obtained by The Washington Examiner.

Some Republican senators have publicly expressed opposition to Kobach, whose hard-line immigration stances could provide headaches to the administration if it were to nominate him. 

Asked if Kobach could get confirmed, McConnell demurred. 

"Look I'm not going to handicap all the people that could come up. There are a number of members … who have had some reservations about some of the names that have been mentioned," he said. 

Republicans hold a 53-47 majority, meaning they could lose three senators and still confirm Trump's nominees, either with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Pence or if they flipped a Democratic senator.