Two sources familiar with the process have told ABC News the search for Gen. John Kelly’s replacement as Department of Homeland Security secretary is currently back at “square one,” 68 days after President Trump announced Kelly would be coming on as his chief of staff.
President Trump told ABC News Friday that he would make his decision on a new secretary within a month.
The delay comes as DHS is wrestling with the massive response to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, implementation of a new travel ban, rollback of the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program, as well as a host of national security and counter-terrorism priorities.
Trump today repeatedly stressed his satisfaction with the job being done by Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke and FEMA administrator Brock Long. But sources say the administration is having a tough time finding a permanent nominee. There are currently no names at this point who are actively considered “contenders,” the sources said.
Initially, Trump seemed to have settled on Texas Rep. Mike McCaul – telling Gen. Kelly at one point to “hire him.” But he was recently ruled out of contention after vocal objections from Attorney Gen. Sessions and other immigration hardliners inside the White House who thought McCaul was not tough enough on immigration issues.
In addition, acting Secretary Duke is considered unlikely to be appointed the permanent director, and is currently not an “active contender,” sources say. However a senior DHS official emphasized that there is no real pressure to name a new secretary right away because she’s done a good job thus far leading the agency.
Kelly and Deputy White House Chief of Staff Kirstjen Nielsen continue to be “very involved” in the search process, one source says.
The White House has not responded to ABC News’ request for comment.