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

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes bill to give flexibility for small business coronavirus aid program On The Money: GOP turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks | Millions of Americans frustrated by delayed unemployment checks | Senate votes to give coronavirus relief program more flexibility Rand Paul holding up quick passage of anti-lynching bill MORE (R-Ky.) is publicly signaling to President TrumpDonald John TrumpFormer employees critique EPA under Trump in new report Fired State Department watchdog says Pompeo aide attempted to 'bully' him over investigations Virginia senator calls for Barr to resign over order to clear protests 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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Cuccinelli, the president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, has been floated as a successor to DHS Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenHillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Sen. Kennedy slams acting DHS secretary for lack of coronavirus answers The 'accidental director' on the front line of the fight for election security 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.