Senators urge Trump to fill vacancies at DHS

Senators urge Trump to fill vacancies at DHS
© Greg Nash

The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday urged President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE to fill multiple top leadership vacancies at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), citing concerns around the ability of the agency to function.

Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Sunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates Rand Paul says Trump has 'every right' to withhold Ukraine aid over corruption MORE (R-Wis.) and Ranking Member Gary PetersGary Charles PetersAdvocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths Warren doubles down — to Democrats' chagrin, and Trump's delight Senators urge Trump to fill vacancies at DHS MORE (D-Mich.) sent a letter to Trump highlighting the need for Senate-confirmed leaders for the agency, in particular citing the need for a permanent secretary, which DHS has lacked since the departure of former Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenDivided Supreme Court leans toward allowing Trump to end DACA Five things to watch at Supreme Court's DACA hearings This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry MORE in April.

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“The Department of Homeland Security needs qualified, principled leaders to successfully carry out its many vital national security functions – which include securing our nation’s borders, preparing for and responding to disasters, protecting critical infrastructure, defending against cyber threats, and addressing the evolving threat of domestic terrorism,” the senators wrote.

Currently, seven of the 18 DHS offices that require a Senate-confirmed leader are vacant with no nominee put forward, with many positions being filled by individuals in an “acting” capacity. These include DHS secretary, DHS deputy secretary, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Johnson and Peters warned that “this widespread use of temporary leadership—individuals who, though perhaps qualified, do not serve with the imprimatur of having been confirmed by the Senate—makes it more difficult for the Department to achieve its long-term strategic objectives.”

Concern over department leadership has been an ongoing issue, as many leaders of DHS agencies have stepped down over the course of the Trump administration. 

Trump announced last week that DHS undersecretary Chad WolfChad WolfThe Hill's Morning Report - Diplomats kick off public evidence about Trump, Ukraine The Hill's Morning Report - Witness transcripts plow ground for public impeachment testimony The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment drama will dominate this week MORE will take over as acting secretary this week when current Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan steps down.

Wolf is set to be the fifth person to serve as DHS secretary, in an acting or permanent capacity, since Trump took office.

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonSenators urge Trump to fill vacancies at DHS Hillicon Valley: TikTok faces lawmaker anger over China ties | FCC formally approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Silicon Valley lawmakers introduce tough privacy bill | AT&T in M settlement with FTC Cyber officials tout reforms with one year to Election Day MORE (D-Miss.) last week voiced concerns about Wolf's qualifications for the post, arguing it "points to the dysfunction that has plagued DHS since the first days of the Trump Administration."

During a Senate Homeland Security Committee business meeting earlier on Wednesday, there was also some discussion of a potential second letter being sent to Trump signed by every committee member in order to further pressure Trump to nominate individuals for DHS positions.