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Trump Set To Pick His 5th Department Of Homeland Security Head


President Trump has been president for less than three years, but he has already had four different people running the Department of Homeland Security. Now he's about to name a fifth. Sources tell NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez that Chad Wolf will be named acting DHS secretary.

Hey there, Franco.


KELLY: Hey. So who is Chad Wolf?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Wolf is a top DHS official currently acting as the undersecretary for the outgoing acting DHS secretary, Kevin McAleenan. Before that, Wolf was the chief of staff to McAleenan's predecessor, Kirstjen Nielsen, who you may remember was ousted by Trump because he wanted someone to go in, quote, "a tougher direction" on illegal immigration. So he's been with the administration for a while. But Wolf also worked as a lobbyist before who helped foreign workers.

KELLY: And I'm curious about something you just said, which is that the new guy - Wolf - was chief of staff to Kirstjen Nielsen, who, as you said, was ousted acrimoniously. Why would the president want somebody aligned with Kirstjen Nielsen to get the job?

ORDOÑEZ: Right. I mean, that's why he's such a controversial pick. The fact that he also worked as a lobbyist on H-1B visas and other temporary worker visa programs for foreign workers has also raised concerns among hard-liners on this - on the issue. And because those are the kind of programs that the president has opposed, there's a lot of questions being asked.

Now, President Trump has pledged to cut down on these programs as part of his campaign to put American workers first. Hard-liners are asking why he didn't pick Ken Cuccinelli, who is the acting head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Cuccinelli is seen as a loyal lieutenant on Trump's immigration agenda.

Cuccinelli has also championed some of Trump's toughest immigration policies. One of those include new protocols for making it harder for immigrants to obtain legal permanent residency by denying green cards to those who use or are likely to use government benefits - take food stamps, for example. But White House officials told President Trump that Cuccinelli is ineligible because of some technicalities having to do with the Federal Vacancies Act.

Cuccinelli also had another strike against him - a big one. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell strongly opposed him. Cuccinelli's got some enemies in the Republican Party because of past work that he did for a group that raised money against incumbent Republican senators.

KELLY: Now, I mentioned that Wolf would be the fifth person to run Homeland Security. Is there any sign that he might last longer than his predecessors?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, we really don't know. President - as you know, President Trump has already gone through four different leaders of the department. And that's in less than three years. And McAleenan, he accomplished a lot.

KELLY: McAleenan, just to remind, the outgoing guy - the outgoing acting.

ORDOÑEZ: Right. The outgoing acting DHS secretary accomplished a lot, you know, on issues that were very important to Trump like getting Mexico to do more to stop the flow of immigrants across the border. At the same time, McAleenan complained that the department had become too political and it was being used in a political way. And McAleenan and only got through six months. Supporters, on the other hand - of Wolf - tell me that he's the most qualified person for the job.

KELLY: And very briefly, Franco, there's a whole lot of actings in this conversation - any sense over whether Chad Wolf might become the permanent DHS secretary?

ORDOÑEZ: According to our sources, White House is saying this is a temporary position. But as we know, President Trump likes acting people and keeping them there indefinitely.

KELLY: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

Thank you, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.