What to Know in Washington: Trump Eyes Homeland Security Purge

Donald Trump is considering the removal of more top officials at the Department of Homeland Security after demanding the resignation of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, as he purges the agency out of frustration over a spike in illegal border crossings.

The White House announced Monday that Secret Service director Randolph Alles would leave the administration, joining Nielsen, who announced she would resign effective tomorrow. DHS Undersecretary for Management Claire Grady is likely to be removed or reassigned to clear the way for Trump’s preferred replacement for Nielsen, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.

Two other top officials at DHS — L. Francis Cissna, the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and John Mitnik, the agency’s general counsel — may also depart. And the leadership of Immigration and Customs Enforcement remains in upheaval after Trump last week pulled the nomination of acting director Ronald Vitiello, saying he wanted to go in “a tougher direction.”

The reshuffling at the department, perceived to be the work of Trump’s freshly empowered hard-line aide Stephen Miller, has alarmed many of the White House’s Republican allies — even those who share the president’s desire to crack down on undocumented immigration. They questioned whether Trump has a plan to control the U.S. border with Mexico, where more than 66,000 migrants were apprehended in February alone, or if he is only adding to a long list of vacancies in the top ranks of the government ’s immigration agencies.

Trump also risks damaging political relationships. Cissna is a former staffer for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who said in a tweet that he’s doing “an excellent job” at DHS. Some Trump advisers said it would be unwise for the president to cross the senator. Read more from Justin Sink and Jennifer Jacobs.

Photographer: Eros Hoagland/Bloomberg
Mexican Federal Police patrol along a fence ahead of President Trump’s visit to Calexico, Calif.

Perry Not Interested: Trump’s Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, says he’s not interested in replacing Nielsen. “I’m happy where I am and the president is happy where I am,” Perry said during a brief interview on Capitol Hill yesterday. Perry, an Air Force veteran who was Texas’s longest-serving governor, has been previously considered to lead DHS, as well as other agencies such as Veterans Affairs, Ari Natter reports.

Cyber Issues Remain as Nielsen Ousted: Nielsen’s departure could be a blow to the department’s efforts to bolster America’s defenses against growing cyber security threats, former officials from the department, advocates and lobbyists say. Nielsen may be most remembered as the face of Trump’s most hard-line immigration policies. But over her 16-month tenure, cyber specialists and federal officials have applauded her relentless championing of cyber security priorities. She frequently warned that increasing threats of hijacking critical infrastructure — from the electric grid to voting machines — were a greater threat to America’s security than terrorism.

“The worst-case scenario is that our adversaries use this moment of leadership transition, and use it as a Trojan Horse to launch some sort of attack,” Caitlin Durkovich, former DHS assistant secretary for infrastructure protection for the Obama administration, said in an interview. Read more from Michaela Ross.

Happening on the Hill

Pruitt Protege Moves Toward Confirmation: Patrick Wyrick, an Oklahoma Supreme Court justice and a protege of former Trump EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, is likely to win confirmation to a federal district court seat this week. Wyrick’s among four trial court nominees up for procedural votes in the Senate, and is No. 2 on the list.

Wyrick was Oklahoma’s solicitor general under Pruitt, who was the state’s attorney general and later resigned as EPA administrator after ethics scandals. He faced questions from Democrats about his work with Pruitt and their ties to an energy industry lobbyist, but he squeaked through the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party line vote in February and will likely be confirmed. Read more from Patrick L. Gregory.

House Plans New Disaster Supplemental: House Democrats are working on a new disaster supplemental that would provide more money for storm-ravaged states and U.S. territories, an aide to House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said. Exactly how much more wasn’t announced. Lawmakers said they expected the new House bill to be similar to the $16.7 billion proposed by Senate Democrats. Read more from Nancy Ognanovich.

Neal Plans Next Step if No Trump Tax Returns: IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig should expect a second letter on the president’s tax returns if he misses tomorrow’s deadline to turn them over to House’s top tax writer. The next step will be another letter — likely later this week — once the deadline passes, an aide for Ways and Means Democrats told Bloomberg Tax. The aide said committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) wants to create a paper trail to improve the chances the request is upheld in court. Read more from Allyson Versprille.

Senators Open to Revising Law Firing IRS Workers: Two Democratic senators said they would consider adjusting a law that requires the IRS to fire workers if they fail to comply with the tax laws. “I fully believe we should have compassion against our federal workforce,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who sits on the Finance Committee. The change could come as a last-minute add to the tax administration bill the House plans to vote on today and the Senate intends to take up shortly thereafter, Cardin said. Read more from Allyson Versprille.

Colorado Drought Plan Passed: The House yesterday by a voice vote passed a fragile water-sharing agreement for the Colorado River basin, despite concerns that the plan would hurt some Southern California farmers. The Senate then also passed the measure by voice vote, Katherine Scott reports. Under the terms of a bipartisan negotiation, the Senate agreed to send the House version to Trump for his signature, as long as the text is identical to a Senate version that chamber also passed. For more on the measure, read the BGOV Bill Summary by Adam M. Taylor.

Around the Agencies

Pipeline Approvals: Trump is poised tomorrow to issue an executive order to speed pipeline project approvals, according to people familiar with the matter who asked for anonymity to discuss it before a formal announcement. Trump’s order, slated to be unveiled during a visit to the International Union of Operating Engineers International Training and Education Center in Crosby, Texas, comes as the president continues to chafe at regulatory barriers he says throttle the full potential of American “energy dominance,” while keeping the nation hooked on foreign gas imports. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

EPA Cuts Permit Backlog: A new “three strikes” policy has helped the EPA cut by 40 percent its backlog of air, water, and waste permit applications that are six months old or more, a top agency official said yesterday. “There is still more to do,” Henry Darwin, the agency’s acting deputy administrator, said. He spoke at a gathering of state environmental officials at the Environmental Council of the States spring meeting. He attributed the agency’s success in chipping away at the backlog over the last 10 months in part to the policy, aimed at fulfilling the Trump administration’s pledge in its 2018 infrastructure plan to streamline permitting decisions and provide permit applicants answers within six months. Read more from Amena H. Saiyid.

Pentagon Plan to Slash Costs Hits Delay: A Pentagon blueprint requested by Congress that lays out how the military will cut 25 percent from its $100 billion in annual department-wide costs is months late and still tied up in departmental review. The delay comes after acting Chief Management Officer Lisa Hershman said in January that the plan to make the cuts in 2020 would be turned over to lawmakers by a statutory Feb. 1 deadline. Instead, the Pentagon sent interim notifications of a delay to Capitol Hill in March. Read more from Travis J. Tritten.

DeVos Urges More Flexibility in States: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged state education officials to take advantage of flexibility within the 2015 update to the K-12 law. DeVos said no states had applied to allow federal, state and local funding to follow students, something that could happen on the local level through the law. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

What Else to Know

Forcing Asylum Seekers to Wait in Mexico: The Trump administration was barred by a U.S. judge from forcing Central Americans seeking asylum from persecution to wait in Mexico for months or even years while their applications are being processed. The ruling yesterday is the latest setback for Trump in his crusade to curb immigration. His policies have been repeatedly stymied by judges since he took office in January 2017.

The Department of Homeland Security announced April 1 — while the president was threatening to shut the southern border — that it was broadening its push to send migrants back to Mexico as border patrol agents faced a surge in illegal crossings. Trump said days later while visiting the border that the U.S. is “full” of people and can’t accommodate any more migrants from Latin America. Read more from Kartikay Mehrotra.

Trump Threatens Tariffs Over Airbus Subsidies: The Trump administration is proposing tariffs on new passenger helicopters, various cheeses and wines, ski-suits and certain motorcycles in response to harm the U.S. says is being caused by European Union subsidies to Boeing rival Airbus. Read more from Kim Chipman and Shawn Donnan.

EU-China Summit: The European Union and China managed to agree on a joint statement for today’s summit in Brussels, papering over divisions on trade in a bid to present a common front to Trump, EU officials said. Diplomats reached an eleventh-hour accord on a draft communique after China made concessions on wording about industrial subsidies that removed a European veto threat, said one of the officials, who asked not to be identified by name. EU Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean -Claude Juncker and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang are due to attend the gathering in the Belgian capital. Read more from Jonathan Stearns.

Israeli Election: Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu faces the political fight of his life today when voters decide whether to endorse his muscular brand of nationalism or toss him out of office to battle corruption allegations that have tainted his latest term.
Netanyahu, who could become his country’s longest-serving leader in July if he wins a fifth term, faces a tough challenge from an ex-military chief who has the security credentials prized by Israelis and a clean-hands image, but lacks the political experience the prime minister has accrued in a combined 13 years in office. With polls showing his Likud party in a tight race with Benny Gantz’s Blue & White bloc. Netanyahu has waged a bruising campaign, painting the centrist candidate as a weak leftist while wooing right-wing voters with a promise to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Read more from Amy Teibel.

MLB and Cuba: The Trump administration blocked an agreement that would have let Cuban baseball players come to the U.S. without having to defect, saying the deal would ultimately benefit the Cuban government. Under the agreement, ballplayers who met certain age and experience criteria could be signed by Major League Baseball teams. A portion of the signing bonus offered to the athletes would have been returned to the Cuban Baseball Federation, similar to the way U.S. franchises pay Asian teams when signing players to come play in America. But the White House said yesterday that it didn’t want to support a process that allowed the Cuban government to profit off America’s national pastime. Read more from Justin Sink, Eben Novy-Williams and Margaret Talev.

High Court Conflict: Two U.S. Supreme Court justices said there was “no way” to know about a conflict of interest they missed in January when the court turned away an appeal involving a United Technologies unit. Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito both owned stock in the company as of December 2017, according to their most recent financial disclosure reports, but neither disqualified himself as required under federal law. The appeal sought to revive an employment discrimination suit against Rockwell Collins, which United Technologies acquired in November. Rockwell Collins waived its right to respond, meaning that under the court’s rules it didn’t have to file a corporate disclosure statement showing United Technologies’s ownership. Read more from Greg Stohr .

Manafort-Linked Lobbyist Gave Valuable Info: A Paul Manafort-linked lobbyist who admitted using a straw buyer to get a Ukrainian oligarch into Trump’s inaugural has provided valuable information to prosecutors, the U.S. government says. The lobbyist, Sam Patten, faces sentencing on Friday. His lawyers and government prosecutors filed papers on Monday highlighting his cooperation with investigators since he was charged and pleaded guilty on Aug. 31. Read more from Andrew Harris.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brandon Lee at blee@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com

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