Nineteen leaders of conservative groups sent a letter to President Donald Trump Thursday, urging him to select Ken Cuccinelli to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Cuccinelli, a former attorney general of Virginia, is a staunch conservative with a significant track record of racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric.
“In this time of national crisis and emergency over national security and immigration, Ken’s background as a no-nonsense law enforcement officer and a major constitutional lawyer, along with his reputation as a fighter, combined with his extensive media experience, including television, make him ideally suited to carry out the duties of the Department of Homeland Security and your immigration agenda,” the letter reads.
The conservative leaders added that they have “every confidence in his abilities; his tough on crime stance, his solution-oriented approach, his dedication to the rule of law, his love for America, and most importantly, his loyalty to the cause of making America great again.”
The letter was organized by Conservative HQ Chairman Richard Viguerie and signatories include organizations like Tea Party Patriots Action, Concerned Women For America, and even former Republican senator and current Heritage Foundation big-wig, Jim DeMint.
According to the Washington Post, Cuccinelli has visited the White House recently and two Republican officials involved in the process confirmed to the outlet that he is being considered for the post.
With multiple vacancies among top posts in DHS, Trump is under pressure to name a new secretary. Cuccinelli’s history of making racist, bigoted remarks about the immigrant community might seem like a liability, but after former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was fired for reportedly not being tough enough, Cuccinelli’s past may be considered a positive by members of the White House.
Cuccinelli appeared on a conservative radio show in early 2012 to discuss the Occupy Wall Street movement and, in doing so, compared immigrants to rats. Responding to reports that rodents had appeared at the Occupy encampment at McPherson Square in Washington, D.C., Cuccinelli invoked a D.C. city law aimed at protecting wildlife and said incorrectly stated that pest control is prohibited from breaking up rodent families.
“[The D.C. wildlife protection policy] is worse than our immigration policy — you can’t break up rat families. Or raccoons or all the rest and you can’t even kill them,” Cuccinelli said. “It’s unbelievable.”
For years, Cuccinelli has used the same heavily-coded language frequently invoked by Trump and members of his administration when discussing immigration.
In 2015, the former Virginia AG appeared on another conservative radio show and claimed former President Barack Obama was encouraging an “invasion.”
“We’re being invaded, right? One person at a time, we’re being invaded,” he said. “And the president isn’t protecting us from invasion, he’s encouraging the invasion, and he’s doing it unconstitutionally.”
Trump frequently referred to the caravan of migrants and asylum seekers from Central America as an “invasion” and used the term in justifying his national declaration emergency last February.
Like Trump, Cuccinelli has opposed birthright citizenship, which grants U.S. citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants born in the country.
While preparing an unsuccessful run for governor in 2013, Cuccinelli wiped his anti-immigrant record from his campaign website. A cached version of the site boasted how he “voted consistently against in-state tuition for illegal aliens,” ramped up deportations, and defended Arizona’s SB 1070, which included the controversial “show me your papers” provision.
More recently, Cuccinelli supported the president’s decision to deploy troops at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Appointing Cuccinelli to the top post at DHS would signal a significant shift to an even more hardline immigration approach. Senior adviser Stephen Miller, who has a history of using anti-immigrant and white supremacist dog-whistles, is said to be gaining more prominence within the White House and led the charge to clean house at DHS. Within a week, Nielsen, Ron Vitiello, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Randolph Alles, Secret Service director, and John Mitnik, the agency’s general counsel, all announced their resignations.
Trump and Miller are reportedly considering implementing harsher asylum rules and are pushing for family separations to resume.