‘He’s spent a fair amount of his career attacking Republicans in the Senate, so it strikes me as an odd position for him to put himself in…’
Cuccinelli is currently serving as the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, but his attack-dog reputation—along with some impolitic decisions while previously overseeing the Senate Conservatives Fund—has split congressional Republicans.
The former Virginia attorney general, who ran for governor but was defeated by Clinton lackey Terry McAuliffe, went on to work in several polarizing positions as a lobbyist and campaign advisor before Trump appointed him in June to head USCIS.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in particular, loathes Cuccinelli and would likely urge Senate Republicans to kill his confirmation to any non-“acting” Cabinet post.
In 2014, Cuccinelli assumed control of the SCF, a conservative PAC founded by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint that aligned itself with many Tea Party candidates who pledged as top priority to repeal the controversial Affordable Care Act.
However, McConnell and other mainstream GOP consensus-builders blamed the group for supporting un-electable candidates and those who, once in the Senate, were not shy about breaking rank and ignoring party leadership.
“He’s spent a fair amount of his career attacking Republicans in the Senate, so it strikes me as an odd position for him to put himself in to seek Senate confirmation,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Politico. “It’s unlikely he’s going to be confirmed if he is nominated.”
Other Republicans have warned the White House that appointing Cuccinelli wouldn’t even be legal. The federal statute governing vacancies prevents Trump from appointing Cuccinelli, but the administration is currently looking for ways around the law.
To make Cuccinelli’s appointment work, the administration would need to appoint an official to the fourth highest position in the department, and then appoint this person as acting secretary of DHS, according to the New York Times. This process would also help the White House avoid a confirmation battle.
Democrats were quick to condemn the idea.
“If the White House cannot find anyone qualified and suitable to run the Department of Homeland Security—or even run it in an acting capacity—something is very wrong with this Administration,” said House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.
But Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said it’s unlikely the Trump administration would even be able to get around the Vacancies Act.
“I don’t know how you get around that. I don’t think it’s possible because of what the law says, not because of anything else,” he said.