Originally published by The Washington Post
At the White House
NOT A CZAR BUT: Former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II finally found his way into the Trump administration: the hard-right firebrand will serve as Trump’s immigration policy coordinator at the Department of Homeland Security, three administration officials told my colleagues Josh Dawsey and Nick Miroff on Tuesday.
The appointment of the hawkish conservative comes on the heels of major upheaval at DHS after Trump ousted Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, replacing her with acting DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan — all while the administration scrambles to contain a record number of Central American families overwhelming U.S. immigration authorities at the U.S.-Mexico border.
- “Cuccinelli will work at DHS in a senior role and will report to acting DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan, while also providing regular briefings to President Trump at the White House, according to two officials briefed on the appointment,” per Josh and Nick.
But questions have already begun about whether Cuccinelli’s appointment will be productive for an administration desperate to improve its "performance index,” and coordinate and streamline the immigration policy of federal agencies responding to the unfolding migrant crisis at the border — perhaps Trump's biggest priority going into his 2020 reelection campaign.
- Cuccinelli is not well liked on the Hill (he backed a number of insurgent challengers to Senate Republicans in 2014): “How effective can this guy be in a role that doesn't require Senate confirmation when he is such a lightening rod?," a GOP Senate staffer told Power Up.
- “If he does not answer directly to the president, he’s not likely to be able to get much done,” Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank whose immigration-reduction agenda has had significant influence in the White House, told Nick and Josh.
Cuccinelli's appointment also further undercuts the seriousness of Jared Kushner's recently unveiled merit-based immigration proposal, according to staffers on the Hill. White House staffers held a briefing Monday on the issue on with Senate communicators on how to discuss Kushner's plan in the media — calling the current coverage of the proposal “fake news” — and made no mention of Cuccinelli's new role.
- “It's like every time they try to do something on this issue, they end up putting someone extreme in charge of it. Now it's Ken Cuccinelli,” a second GOP senate staffer told Power Up. “It’s hard for people to take things seriously and if the effort was to find a middle road on immigration with this new plan . . . ”
Cuccinelli certainly has his work cut out for him: In April, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detained 109,144 migrants along the southern Border — the highest numbers in a decade, according to Miroff. The pace of arrests has continued into May, while a number of controversial policy proposals floated by the White House, aimed at deterrence, have flopped, caused public outrage or failed to pass legal muster.
A few of the more recently enacted policies:
- Continuing to separate migrant families
- Deploying additional troops to the border
- Tighter control over asylum claims
- Returning asylum seekers to Mexico while they wait on an immigration court to decide their fate.
- National emergency declaration to fund Trump's border wall (which is currently facing it's first legal test)
- A lawyer for the U.S. House told a federal judge that "U.S. Customs and Border Protection has put up just 1.7 miles of fencing with the $1.57 billion that Congress appropriated last year."
Meanwhile, the interagency drama and real-life implications of the crisis continue:
- Five children dead: Three children have died in the hands of U.S. custody since April 30, bringing the total up to five migrant children who have died after detention by U.S. border agents since December.
- “A 16-year-old Guatemala migrant who died Monday in U.S. custody had been held by immigration authorities for six days — twice as long as federal law generally permits — then transferred him to another holding facility even after he was diagnosed with the flu,” per the Associated Press's Nomaan Merchant.
- Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan threatened to leave his post unless he was given more control over the agency after Stephen Miller attempted to “engineer a new shake-up” at the Department last week, per Miroff and Dawsey.
- President Trump is preoccupied with micromanaging the design details of the barrier that he wants to build along the Mexico border, including painting the fence black with pointy spikes.
MORE DEMOCRATS JOIN CALL FOR IMPEACHMENT: “A growing number of House Democrats are publicly calling for a formal inquiry into President Trump’s impeachment amid continued stonewalling from his administration, applying new pressure to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other party leaders who have been determined to stick to a methodical course of investigation and litigation,” our colleagues Mike DeBonis, Rachael Bade and John Wagner reported.
- McGahn tests patience: As expected, former White House counsel Don McGahn did not testify on Tuesday. His absence only further incensed Democratic lawmakers as the White House has once again foiled their efforts to secure a witness or documents.
- Why now?: “McGahn’s no-show has particularly rankled Democrats who have been exasperated by Trump’s sweeping claims of immunity from congressional oversight,” our colleagues write. “McGahn told lawmakers he would skip the hearing pursuant to a White House request rooted in a new Justice Department opinion barring testimony from close presidential advisers.”
- Rep. David Cicilline followed through on his threat if McGahn was a no show and is now the highest ranking Democrat to publicly call for impeachment (though he added that he’s is not speaking for leadership)
- In the meantime: The House Judiciary Committee, where McGahn was supposed to testify, issued subpoenas for Annie Donaldson, McGahn’s note-taking former chief of staff; and Hope Hicks, Trump’s former White House communications director.
- Pay attention: House Democrats are meeting this morning to talk it all out. “Pelosi scheduled a Democratic caucus meeting for Wednesday morning, billing it as an opportunity for members to receive updates on oversight and investigations. But many lawmakers said Tuesday that they expect it will become a robust discussion of whether to pursue an impeachment inquiry …,” Mike, Rachael and John report.
Inquiry versus impeachment: Many of the new Democrats, including Cicilline, stress that they just want an impeachment inquiry, or a look into whether they should kick off a formal impeachment process.
- The distinction probably means little politically, especially to the White House, but a vote for an inquiry is not a vote to recommend removing Trump from office.
- As we’ve also discussed many times before, an inquiry would also give Democrats extra legal heft in their fight with the Trump administration as courts have generally found such an inquiry a compelling reason to obtain information they might not normally be able to access.
Even some of the more vulnerable Democrats have finally started to warm to the idea of initiating impeachment proceedings against Trump. Politico's Laura Barron Lopez and Sarah Ferris report that while the group that delivered the Democratic House majority is still split, the shift could be the strongest sign yet “that the Democratic Caucus as a whole is inching toward taking drastic action to rebuke Trump — over the objections of leadership. Multiple vulnerable Democrats have said privately that refusing to pursue impeachment could hurt their reelection chances by depressing enthusiasm among the party's base.”
- “'We’re just getting closer and closer to a point where we have to do something,' said Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.), a freshman member of leadership who beat a GOP incumbent last fall. 'Each of us is personally struggling because we see on so many levels ... where he’s committed impeachable offenses," Barron Lopez and Ferris report.