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Trump bends Department of Homeland Security to his will

It's been a record 472 days since a Senate-confirmed secretary sat atop the Department of Homeland Security, the agency founded after 9/11 to defend the U.S. against terrorism and other threats.

Why it matters: Critics say President Trump's refusal to put Cabinet secretaries through the Senate confirmation process has allowed him to bend agencies like DHS to his will, Zachary Basu and Stef Kight report.


  • Acting agency leaders make it easier, former acting DHS general counsel John Sandweg tells Axios, for Trump "to get someone in charge who is going to bow more to his wishes without pushing back respectfully and defend the prerogatives of the institution."

The big picture: The consequences may now be playing out on the streets of Portland, where the mayor was among those tear-gassed last night by agents dispatched to defend federal property from "rioters, arsonists, and left-wing extremists."

  • Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf told reporters this week that the Portland situation is "unique" because of the threat to federal courthouses.
  • But Trump, who has made "law and order" rhetoric a central plank of efforts to revive his re-election bid, has linked the chaos to spikes in violence in other Democratic-run cities like Chicago — where more federal law enforcement will be "surged" this week.

Between the lines: Trump always needed DHS under his control to implement the immigration-based promises he campaigned on, Doris Meissner, who ran the Immigration and Naturalization Service before DHS was created, told Axios.

  • The unions that represent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol agents have long been vocal and aligned with Trump. Even if they’re not representative of all enforcement officers, their voice matters.
  • And Meissner agrees that the acting capacity automatically makes those positions more political, because leaders who want to keep their jobs have to keep Trump happy.

The other side: "Our mission changes all the time. Our priorities change all the time depending on who is in the White House," former acting ICE director Thomas Homan told Axios.

  • "I’ll tell you something else, it’s not a coincidence it’s happening in cities that, first of all, push back on ICE," Homan added. "Every one of these cities are sanctuary cities, they have no cooperation with ICE.”

The bottom line: Some former officials argue there's a difference between implementing a policy agenda and abusing an agency's authority.

  • DHS "was not established to be the president’s personal militia," former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who served as the first Homeland Security secretary under George W. Bush, said this week.
  • “It would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to a unilateral, uninvited intervention into one of my cities."

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