Chad Wolf cleared a vote Tuesday that paves the way for him to become undersecretary for the Office of Strategy, Policy and Plans at the Department of Homeland Security – and eventually acting Homeland Security secretary.
Wolf is expected to take the helm at the Department of Homeland Security following Kevin McAleenan’s resignation last month. President Donald Trump abruptly named Wolf to succeed McAleenan this month after weeks of uncertainty and speculation over who would lead the third largest department in the federal government.
Minutes before Tuesday’s procedural vote, Democratic senators expressed their opposition to Wolf’s nomination, noting that the vote carries additional weight given Wolf’s expected ascension to the acting secretary role.
“Officially we’re considering Wolf’s nomination as the Department of Homeland Security’s undersecretary for the Office of Strategy, Policy and Plans. In that role, Mr. Wolf would lead the DHS policy office, an important but little-known part of the department,” said Sen. Gary Peters, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, in remarks on the Senate floor.
“However, that is not the role Mr. Wolf will actually have. We’ve recently learned the President has bigger plans for Mr. Wolf,” Peters, a Michigan Democrat, added in reference to Wolf being tapped as acting Homeland Security secretary.
Democratic lawmakers have previously grilled Wolf over his involvement in the Trump administration’s controversial “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which led to the separation of thousands of families on the US-Mexico border. Wolf previously served as the chief of staff to then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
When asked if he had concerns about the policy during his Senate confirmation hearing, Wolf said, “My job wasn’t to determine whether it was the right or wrong policy. My job, at the time, was to ensure that the secretary had all the information.”
Still, Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada raised Wolf’s role on the Senate floor Tuesday. “This evening’s vote will advance a nominee who played an integral role in this administration’s cruel family separation policy,” said Rosen, who opposed Wolf’s nomination in committee.
But Tuesday’s vote went beyond Wolf’s record. It also lent an opportunity for senators to comment on Trump’s preference to lean on acting officials, instead of nominating people to serve in a permanent capacity.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, along with Peters, urged Trump in a letter last week to fill the vacancies at the Department of Homeland Security and address the absence of Senate-confirmed leadership.
“This widespread use of temporary leadership—individuals who, though perhaps qualified, do not serve with the imprimatur of having been confirmed by the Senate—makes it more difficult for the Department to achieve its long-term strategic objectives,” the senators wrote.
Johnson reiterated that call on the Senate floor Tuesday, saying, “I fully expect to nominate a permanent secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.”
For now, however, Wolf is expected to fill the acting Homeland Security post, becoming the fifth person to lead the department under the Trump administration.