The DHS secretary’s move to the White House will leave a void in the department charged with carrying out Trump’s policies on immigration, the travel ban and terrorism.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly’s move to White House chief of staff is ushering in a cloud of uncertainty at the department that has led some of President Donald Trump’s most controversial undertakings — from its roundup of undocumented immigrants to his travel ban and proposed border wall.
It may also set the stage for a brutal confirmation fight if President Donald Trump tries to replace the retired Marine general with an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration instead of a seasoned bureaucrat or lawmaker.
A person close to Kelly said it’s unclear who will replace him.
But several White House and former DHS officials proffered a slate of names of possible replacements for Kelly, with Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, emerging as a leading candidate.
Other potential picks include Thomas Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who accompanied Trump on Air Force One on Friday, and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration who is helping to lead the president’s controversial commission on alleged voter fraud.
Separately, department staffers have been talking about the possibility that the role might go to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to two sources with contacts at DHS, but a person close to the Trump administration said he’s unlikely to get the job.
Which direction Trump takes could have a dramatic effect on soothing or stoking the uncertainty gripping his White House.
“So much of Trump’s agenda is tied to DHS,” said one Republican lobbyist close to the White House. The consultant added: “Kelly was one of the best decisions he has made thus far. Considering how central DHS is to his agenda, he’s got to make another great decision.”