New Acting Immigration Chief Cuccinelli Has Few Friends in Congress

‘He has trash-talked, campaigned against, and demanded resignations from every single Republican who is currently in power…’

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Ken Cuccinelli/Photo by Gage Skidmore (CC)

(Niels Lesniewski, CQ-Roll Call) President Donald Trump’s decision to appoint Ken Cuccinelli to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in only an acting capacity should be no surprise considering that he would appear to have no shot of Senate confirmation.

That is owed to his tenure as president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee with a long track record of working against incumbent Republican senators, challenging them from the party’s right flank.

Among those who have come under the gun was current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who happens to set the legislative agenda.

“Mitch McConnell has filled the Senate with people like Lisa Murkowski, John McCain, Shelley Moore Capito, Lamar Alexander and Dean Heller who all promised the voters they would repeal Obamacare, but when the time came to do it they refused,” Cuccinelli wrote in an August 2017 fundraising message for the Senate Conservatives Fund.

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“Instead of admitting his mistake, McConnell is blaming the President for having ‘excessive expectations’ even though he was the one who set those expectations with years of empty promises!”

In addition to McConnell, three other senators referenced in that fundraising message are still serving in the current narrow GOP majority—although Alexander has said he will not seek re-election next year.

Both the SCF and Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general, have worked against a number of other Republicans now serving in the Senate.

Under Cuccinelli’s leadership, the Senate Conservatives Fund also endorsed Roy Moore for Senate in Alabama in a 2017 primary run-off, over then-incumbent Republican Sen. Luther Strange. Establishment Republicans backed Strange, who was appointed to the seat vacated when Jeff Sessions became attorney general.

Moore, who was beyond a flawed candidate, lost the general election to Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala.

When Cuccinelli’s name surfaced as a possible nominee for secretary of Homeland Security earlier in 2019, McConnell went out of his way to tell reporters that he had made clear to the White House his “lack of enthusiasm” for the Virginian.

Back in April, Josh Holmes, a Republican strategist and longtime McConnell political adviser, called Cuccinelli the only potential Trump nominee being floated at the time who had positively no chance of surviving a confirmation process.

“He has trash-talked, campaigned against, and demanded resignations from every single Republican who is currently in power,” Holmes said in a tweet, adding that the list included Trump and McConnell.

While Cuccinelli is almost uniquely unpopular among Senate Republicans because of his political forays, he also won’t be very welcome in the House Homeland Security Committee, which oversees his agency.

Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., greeted the appointment this way: “Mr. Cuccinelli is an anti-immigrant fringe figure that has no business leading a component that is supposed to administer our nation’s legal immigration system. Besides being a right-wing commentator, Cuccinelli is completely unqualified to the lead USCIS and likely wants to decimate the agency Congress charged with handling our immigration and refugee programs.”

Cuccinelli will be responsible for leading an agency of 19,000 employees and contractors. USCIS is responsible for processing and adjudicating legal immigration benefits and visas. In fiscal year 2018, the agency adjudicated more than 8.7 million requests for immigration benefits.

Cuccinelli’s appointment to lead USCIS  is the latest DHS leadership shake-up by the Trump administration, as the president seeks to crack down on the influx of Central American migrants arriving at the southern border.

In May, border agents apprehended 144,000 migrants at the southwest border, according to Customs and Border Protection.

That number is up 32% from April, and includes individuals who turned themselves in at or between ports of entry to seek asylum. May is the third consecutive month in which this total has surpassed 100,000.

Former USCIS Director Lee Cissna, who led the agency from October 2017, faced backlash during his time in office from pro-immigration groups and Democrats for the massive immigration case backlog that exceeded more than 800,000.

Cissna also was criticized for changing the agency’s mission statement, dropping the reference to a “nation of immigrants” and stressing “protecting Americans, securing the homeland.” He was also criticized for the proposed “public charge” rule that would affect individuals’ eligibility to become naturalized if they have used public benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid.

“I am honored to be given the opportunity to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at this critical time and serve alongside this agency’s dedicated workforce,” Cuccinelli said in a statement. “USCIS has the extraordinary responsibility to administer and protect the integrity of our nation’s lawful immigration system.”

Cuccinelli stated that the United States “has the most generous legal immigration system in the world and we must zealously safeguard its promise for those who lawfully come here.”

During his time as attorney general, according to a USCIS news release, he led the commonwealth in fighting human trafficking, enforcing laws against gangs, health care fraud and child predators.

Cuccinelli—who lost the 2013 gubernatorial race in Virginia to Terry McAuliffe—served in the state Senate from 2002 to 2010 and has practiced law for nearly 25 years.

(c)2019 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Liberty Headlines’ Ben Sellers contributed.