White House Has Yet To Name A New DHS Secretary

Nearly two months after John Kelly, who was serving as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security before becoming White House Chief of Staff, departed as head of DHS to take his new position, the White House still hasn’t named a nominee to replace him:

The Trump administration is hitting reset on its search for a permanent Department of Homeland Security secretary due to White House aides’ dissatisfaction with the slate of candidates, according to two people familiar with the process.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul had been considered the front-runner for the job, but he no longer is in contention, these people said. White House chief of staff John Kelly, who led DHS before being tapped for his new West Wing role, privately raised red flags about McCaul’s stance on immigration, which has at times diverged from that of President Donald Trump.

One person close to the process said the Trump administration is now “back to square one” on the search, and it could be weeks before a final decision is made.

The department is being helmed by Acting Secretary Elaine Duke, a DHS veteran who was Kelly’s deputy, as it copes with the fallout from Trump’s new travel restrictions, his decision to end DACA and a series of powerful hurricanes that have ravaged Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

McCaul is in lockstep with Trump on many issues. He is pushing legislation that would provide $10 billion for Trump’s border wall with Mexico.

But he also has publicly broken with the president over his travel ban, distancing himself from the restrictions and criticizing its haphazard rollout as “problematic.” McCaul also bashed Trump’s response to the Russia investigations, saying in a July interview, “It sort of looks paranoid to me.”

The White House has taken a deliberate approach to finding a new DHS secretary. Kelly and his deputy, Kirstjen Nielsen, are playing key roles in identifying candidates. White House aides are committed to choosing somebody with experience in homeland security and politics.

A White House spokeswoman declined to comment, saying, “We will let you know once we have any personnel announcements.”

Given the role that DHS has played in responding to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as its ongoing roles with regard to homeland security generally, it doesn’t appear that the lack of a permanent head has had a negative impact on responsiveness. At the same time, though, one would have thought that the White House would have acted sooner to fill Kelly’s position given its importance. Instead, they’ve acted with the same somewhat lackadaisical approach to filling this position that they have with other positions in the Administration ranging from a host of sub-Cabinet positions to several key Ambassadorial positions. If nothing else, this is the reason why it’s taken so long for the Senate to effectively consider and vote on these nominees as required by the Constitution. President Trump has often complained that the delays are due to Democratic stonewalling, but the truth is that much of the delay is attributable to the fact that the Administration has been slow to name nominees.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Mark Ivey says:

    Scott Baio.

    He’s prefect for the DHS in the Trump administration, it feels so RIGHT..

  2. wr says:

    Can’t Jared do it?

  3. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Of course he disagrees on immigration. He married into the family that runs Clear Channel, so he understands that businesses that are actually successful benefit from immigration.

  4. al-Ameda says:

    Why not Steve Bannon or Ann Coulter?

  5. DrDaveT says:

    it doesn’t appear that the lack of a permanent head has had a negative impact on responsiveness.

    Bureaucracy is really good at smoothing over transitions from one political regime to another, and keeping the gears turning in the background. That’s what it’s for.

    On the other hand, it’s really really bad at innovation, or responding to new challenges, or modernization. And when the bureaucrats have been running things for long enough, it’s really really hard to undo that without crippling the organization.

    On the other hand, the GOP goal for decades now has been to make it true that government can’t do anything right. Why should DHS be an exception in that programme?

  6. Franklin says:

    I hear Tom Price is available.