Who will Trump pick to succeed Nielsen at DHS?

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP congressman slams Trump over report that U.S. bombed former anti-ISIS coalition headquarters US to restore 'targeted assistance' to Central American countries after migration deal Trump says lawmakers should censure Schiff MORE may face a difficult task in replacing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump says acting Homeland Security chief McAleenan will step down Activists to demonstrate at ICE headquarters after Cameroonian immigrant dies in custody Ex-Citizenship and Immigration Services chief returns to DHS in different role MORE, who was ousted on Sunday.

A nominee will face a contentious confirmation hearing in the Senate, where Republicans are wary about returning to the forced family separations of last summer.

Yet all signs suggest Trump wants to return to that hard-edged policy, including Neilsen’s forced resignation.

Here are a few possible candidates for the job.

Kris Kobach

Trump is reportedly eyeing Kobach, Kansas’s former secretary of State, for the job. Kobach is a longtime immigration hawk who's written several restrictive state and local immigration laws.


A Kobach pick would almost certainly send the left into a fury, as he's viewed as a racially-driven influencer of the national immigration debate who's made it his mission to attack immigrants.

Kobach, in an appearance Monday night on Fox News, criticized Nielsen for being “unwilling to execute many of the president’s plans.”

Kobach also raised eyebrows with a Breitbart op-ed last week in which he proposed indefinite detention for immigrant minors and housing immigrant families in trailer camps until their asylum cases are completed, a process that can take weeks, months or years.

Republicans could also be loath to vote for Kobach, who led Trump's voter fraud commission and essentially found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

But his nomination could help ease pressure in his home state of Kansas. After losing the governorship to Democrat Laura Kelly in 2018, Kobach expressed interest in running for the state's Senate seat, which is up in 2020.

Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsJeffress dismisses evangelical opposition to Trump's Syria decision: Not one will 'switch their vote' Overnight Defense: Trump defends Turkey amid fierce criticism | Senators demand briefing on Syria decision | Turkey confirms strikes on Syrian border | White House says it won't cooperate on impeachment inquiry Pat Robertson 'absolutely appalled' by Trump's Syria announcement MORE (R-Kan.) is retiring at the end of this term, and the Republican primary to succeed him could become crowded, something leadership wants to avoid.

Kobach is a favorite among immigration hawks. NumbersUSA, an organization that advocates for reduced legal and illegal immigration, put out a statement Tuesday in support of Kobach.

“Kris Kobach is, without question, the best choice to lead DHS, and we hope he will be President Trump’s nominee,” wrote a spokesman for NumbersUSA.

Ken Cuccinelli

Former Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli has previously advocated for full militarization of the border and revocation of birthright citizenship. He’s called the surge in apprehensions at the border “an invasion.”

Cuccinelli is not as well known as Kobach and could be an easier candidate to confirm. But both are likely to implement an unfiltered version of Trump's immigration policy.

That runs the risk of backfiring, as Trump's tougher approach on the border has so far coincided with an increase in migration from Central America.

“What they don't seem to understand is that even with everything we've seen to date, people don't stop coming because they're fleeing desperate situations,” said David Lapan, vice president of communications at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under then-Secretary John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE.

Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryOvernight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate Rick Perry doesn't know if he'll comply with congressional subpoena Mulvaney helped organize controversial Ukraine meeting MORE

Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who was on the shortlist for Trump's first DHS secretary, took his name out of consideration Monday speaking to Bloomberg News at the Capitol.

“I’m happy where I am and the president is happy where I am,” said Perry.

Kevin McAleenan

McAleenan, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) commissioner, will take over Wednesday as acting DHS secretary.

McAleenan is a career professional at CBP who's seen as a nonpartisan technocrat, and likely the most moderate choice in Trump's arsenal. 

Democrats have argued he should not be designated as acting secretary, however, arguing that under statute, Deputy Secretary Claire Grady is next in line for the job.