Trump nominates Chad Wolf as permanent DHS chief

Wolf has served as acting secretary since November 2019 but is currently embroiled in a controversy over the legitimacy of his appointment.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf makes opening remarks at a NFL Public Safety Press Conference with Miami-Dade Police Department and DHS Super Bowl LIV partners.  CBP photo by Dusan Ilic

President Donald Trump announced Aug. 25 that he plans to nominate Chad Wolf to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security.

Trump announced the decision on Twitter, saying "Chad has done an outstanding job and we greatly appreciate his service!"

Wolf has operated as acting secretary at DHS since November 2019, but is currently embroiled in controversy over his legitimacy after the Government Accountability Office determined he, his processor as acting agency head Kevin McAleenan and top deputy Ken Cuccinelli had all been elevated to their posts outside the legal chain of succession established by the 2002 Homeland Security Act. DHS has disputed the charge and asked GAO to rescind its opinion, but the agency has stood by its legal analysis.

Wolf was confirmed by the Senate to serve as DHS undersecretary for the Office of Strategy, Policy and Plans. He had served as chief of staff to Kirstjen Nielsen, the last Senate-confirmed head of DHS. The agency has gone more than 500 days without a confirmed leader.

Wolf will be able to continue in his acting role during his nomination process because DHS is covered by its own succession rules and not by the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, law professor Steve Vladeck explained in a series of tweets about Wolf's nomination.

"Probably because the White House is concerned about the validity of his current appointment—and the collateral consequences if it's thrown out," Vladeck tweeted.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) agreed with that assessment. Trump took the step of nominating Wolf to the job, Thompson said in a statement, mostly to avoid legal fallout from the GAO's decision, adding that he was also opposed to Wolf's nomination based on his performance as acting agency head.

"In the over nine months that Mr. Wolf has been illegitimately serving as acting secretary, instead of focusing on the top threats to the nation and the ongoing pandemic that has killed over 175,000, his number one focus has been to please the President and carry out his radical political agenda," Thompson said. "I have seen no indication that he understands the Department’s non-partisan national security mission or is willing to carry it out. It's quite clear he is simply not up to the job and his nomination should not move forward."

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), ranking member of the committee, greeted the nomination. "As the Department continues to monitor evolving threats, Wolf will provide much needed stability to the Department's leadership. He has led the Department well, and I urge the Senate to quickly confirm him," Rogers said.

Wolf said he was "honored by his nomination" in a statement. "As the Homeland faces evolving threats from natural disasters, violent opportunists, malign cyber actors, and transnational criminal organizations, the mission of DHS is as critical as ever," he said.

In addition to challenges to his legal status as acting department head, Wolf has faced staunch criticism for overseeing the deployment of DHS law enforcement personnel to protect federal property in Portland, Ore., and elsewhere during Black Lives Matter protests, with Democrats and civil rights groups charging that the efforts were intentionally designed to raise tensions and incite violence.