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Politics & Government

Trump Picks Chad Wolf To Lead Department Of Homeland Security


Who is the latest acting secretary of Homeland Security? Chad Wolf is President Trump's most recent choice. He's not well-known outside the agency. He is well-known in the agency, where he's worked for years. He kept a low profile until he became one of the architects of the administration's family separation policy. NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Chad Wolf got a taste of the spotlight in June. At his confirmation hearing for a top policy job at Homeland Security, Senator Jacky Rosen of Nevada asked Wolf about the rollout of the Trump administration's controversial zero-tolerance policy.


JACKY ROSEN: That led to thousands of children being separated from their parents at the U.S. border. What was your involvement?

ROSE: Wolf's involvement was that, in late 2017, he put together a memo for his boss - then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen - that laid out more than a dozen ways that DHS could deter a surge of migrants arriving at the border. Option No. 2, quote - "separate family units."


ROSEN: Did you have concerns with that policy? And if so, did you bring those concerns to the secretary at that time?

CHAD WOLF: So my job wasn't to - 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 that she had.

ROSE: Wolf said it wasn't his job to determine right and wrong, but it will be now. He'll lead the entire Department of Homeland Security, at least in an acting role, with a $50 billion budget, 240,000 employees and a broad mandate to protect the country and the southern border. Jess Morales Rocketto is the chair of the nonprofit group Families Belong Together. She worries that Wolf will be a rubber stamp for the White House's immigration crackdown.

JESS MORALES ROCKETTO: That memo and everything he did under Nielsen demonstrates that he's willing to put forward super-evil immigration policy.

ROSE: It's not just immigrant advocates who don't like Wolf. Hard-liners are unhappy about the pick, too.

RJ HAUMAN: It's as swampy as it gets.

ROSE: RJ Hauman is with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for less immigration. What makes him angry is that Wolf worked as a lobbyist on behalf of companies that want to bring in more foreign guest workers instead of hiring Americans.

HAUMAN: We can't understand why the president and his personnel team are continuing a pattern of installing DHS leaders who don't really support or care about his immigration agenda. I mean, he's gone through four DHS secretaries in less than three years. I mean, it's baffling.

ROSE: Even President Trump himself doesn't sound that sure about Wolf.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I put in a very good man who's highly respected. And he's acting right now, and we'll see where that goes.

ROSE: Wolf was not the president's first pick for the job. He had his eye on a pair of immigration hard-liners in the administration. But there were serious questions about whether they were eligible under the law governing federal personnel moves. So the White House is turning to Wolf.


WOLF: For me, the call of service began on 9/11.

ROSE: On Sept. 11, Wolf was working as a Senate staffer. He went on to help create the Transportation Security Administration. After a decade lobbying, he came back to DHS in 2017, holding a series of increasingly powerful posts. Here he is testifying before Congress in June.


WOLF: Through these positions, I've had a front-row seat in understanding how the department operates and the need for a strong, dynamic and repeatable policy process.

ROSE: Wolf has a reputation for wonkiness, not for riveting oratory.

DAVID LAPAN: He's not going to be out there on television making pronouncements. That's not his nature.

ROSE: David Lapan worked closely with Wolf at DHS. Lapan is now at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank in Washington. He says Wolf faces a couple of challenges. He's not an expert on immigration policy, and he's got the word acting in his title.

LAPAN: You are seen as a caretaker, if you will. So the ability to push back, to suggest other things to the president and his team is limited.

ROSE: The Senate is expected to take a procedural vote on Wolf this week, clearing the way for him to become the acting secretary.

Joel Rose, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.