WASHINGTON -- On a 54-41 vote, the Senate on Wednesday confirmed Chad Wolf as undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans. Wolf is now clear to take over the mantle as head of the entire agency from Kevin McAleenan, who resigned as acting DHS secretary more than a month ago.
Wolf was nominated to the undersecretary position in February by President Donald Trump but was never confirmed. He has been performing the undersecretary responsibilities in an acting capacity. His confirmation clears a logistical hurdle to head the agency.
Wolf would be the fifth person to serve as secretary since Trump took office and would face similar challenges as his predecessors: the need to balance the White House's highly politicized agenda with the policy goals and instincts of career employees. He also would be responsible for stabilizing an agency that has seen drastic turnover and low morale in the current administration.
Nearly a month after McAleenan resigned on Oct. 11, Trump confirmed he had picked Wolf to head the agency.
"He is right now acting and we'll see what happens," Trump told reporters Nov. 1. "We have great people in there."
Immigration hard-liners had favored the much more aggressive Ken Cuccinelli, who for the past five months has served as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Cuccinelli has been a familiar face on television news shows and an avid tweeter known for his controversial statements that support Trump's restrictive immigration policies. However, Cuccinelli did not fulfill legal requisites for filling the role under the Federal Vacancies Act.
Wolf, with his confirmation as undersecretary, now satisfies those requirements.
"At least legally, the (White House) would be on far firmer footing with Wolf -- whose tenure in senior DHS positions makes him eligible to be Acting Secretary," Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, said on Twitter.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., started clearing the path for Wolf's ascent a week after Trump publicly confirmed Wolf as his latest pick for the position. McConnell filed a cloture motion to end debate on his nomination for the undersecretary late Tuesday afternoon. That motion was approved, 54-40.
Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., who earlier this year put a hold on Wolf's nomination, and other Democrats remain opposed to advancing his undersecretary appointment -- in part because it would serve as a short cut to the role of acting DHS secretary.