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

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms Impeachment battle looms over must-pass defense bill 'Saturday Night Live' presents Trump impeachment hearings with 'pizzazz' of soap opera MORE (R-Ky.) is publicly signaling to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report 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 NielsenWhite House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations Top House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary 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.