It turns out that a Fox News-centric lobbying campaign and a hard-line stance on President Donald Trump’s pet issue may not be enough to secure a Cabinet post in the Trump administration.
That’s the reality facing former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is vying to replace outgoing Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. Kobach has checked all the right policy boxes, perpetually hammering the need to crack down on immigration and warning that undocumented brown people might be stealing American elections. And he’s making his case to the president by touting his qualifications on one of Trump’s favorite cable TV shows.
He has also reached out directly to allies in the White House about the possibility of replacing Nielsen, according to a source familiar with the discussions. But it’s not clear that Kobach, even if he were nominated, could win the Senate votes necessary to be confirmed to the post amid Republican grumbling over other controversial conservative nominees.
Those close to the president say he has long held Kobach in high regard, appointing him to chair a short-lived commission on voter fraud that disbanded in early 2018 without finding any evidence that the practice was widespread. Three knowledgeable sources told The Daily Beast that Trump has, even since before the beginning of his administration, talked up his desire to get Kobach into some other senior role.
That chatter heated up again late last year, one senior administration official said. “We’ll get him something,” the official recalled Trump saying shortly after Kobach lost the 2018 gubernatorial race to a Democrat in deep-red Kansas. “We will take care of him.”
That determination came in spite of warnings by some senior aides, including former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, that Kobach would never make it past a vote for any position requiring Senate confirmation. But with Kelly gone and the job of DHS chief now in the offing, sources told The Daily Beast that the prospect of a Kobach nomination was, if not a likely possibility, at least one that can’t be discounted.
“The president is going to do what he wants. That’s what we know,” said one source familiar with Trump’s thinking. Those close to the president continue to warn him of the pitfalls of a Kobach nomination, and the uphill climb to get his nomination through the Senate. But his name continues to come up in internal deliberations, leaving some advisers hoping that their warnings of intense opposition to Kobach don’t cause the president to dig in his heels and buck the naysayers.
In terms of policy, Kobach would certainly be a neat fit for a president and an administration that appear to be embracing the sorts of hardline immigration policies that Trump promised on the campaign trail, and which his more dedicated political supporters still demand and expect. Chief among those supporters is Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, who pushed Trump to fire Nielsen over her perceived weakness on the immigration issue.
Trump is an avid viewer of Dobbs’ show, so when Kobach sought to make his pitch for the DHS job to the president on Monday, he went on Dobbs’ program to do so. In the Monday evening interview, Kobach proposed creating “camps” to house migrants to apply for asylum upon arrival in the United States.
And of course, Kobach added, we should “continue building the wall.”
As of this year, Kobach serves on the board of a group called We Build The Wall, which aims to finance construction of a southern border wall using money raised through a crowdfunding campaign.
Those sorts of immigration policies have won Kobach the support of prominent immigration hawks both within the administration and advising it from the outside. His internal allies include Stephen Miller, the top White House policy adviser who is seen to be consolidating power internally in an effort to ramp up U.S. immigration enforcement. Steve Bannon, the former White House strategist and another We Build The Wall board member, also backs Kobach for the job.
Numbers USA, a group that describes itself as an “immigration-reduction organization,” is pressing behind the scenes for Kobach to get the DHS nod. And the Federation for American Immigration Reform, another hardline group, is publicly singing his praises. “Kris Kobach has the immigration background, legal expertise, and impeccable reputation necessary to do an outstanding job for America as DHS Secretary,” said Dan Stein, the group’s president, in an emailed statement.
But it’s not clear that that support could earn Kobach the backing of enough Republican senators to secure his confirmation. Indeed, even Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts told reporters on Tuesday that Kobach lacks the necessary support. “We can’t confirm him,” Roberts said bluntly.
That uphill confirmation fight would exacerbate Republican frustrations with a White House nominating streak that is already putting the Senate GOP in a tough spot. Trump’s plan to nominate former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain to a seat on the Federal Reserve board has drawn rebukes from top Senate Republicans who say Cain simply can’t be confirmed.
Or as Sen. John Thune passively put it to Politico on Tuesday, “there are concerns that are being voiced to the administrations about qualifications.”
A Kobach nomination would exacerbate those tensions, suggested Sen. John Cornyn, the chamber’s second-ranking Republican. “Before the president starts floating names for DHS or the Federal Reserve, we need to have a conversation about who is actually confirmable up here,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “That way we spare everybody the embarrassment.”