Senate GOP to Trump: You’re not really going to nominate Cuccinelli, are you?


At least so far, the answer appears to be yes. Donald Trump wants former Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli to take over at Citizenship and Immigration Services for the recently departed L. Frank Cissna, who left at the same time Kirstjen Nielsen resigned as Secretary of Homeland Security. That will require Cuccinelli to seek Senate confirmation from some of the people Cuccinelli targeted in earlier internecine purity campaigns within the GOP.

In other words … have fun storming the castle. Republicans would prefer to avoid that if possible, CNN reported yesterday evening:

Republican lawmakers have privately signaled to the White House that President Donald Trump should not nominate Ken Cuccinelli as the head of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services — or else he risks having another high-profile pick forced to withdraw, CNN has learned. …

People familiar with the discussions said they have made clear to the White House that Cuccinelli would face serious difficulty in being confirmed. Lawmakers have reminded officials in the West Wing that Cuccinelli, a former Virginia state attorney general, once led a political action committee that supported a primary challenge against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

It’s unclear if the White House will take their advice. Officials have been sensitive to criticism that they do not vet their expected picks after Herman Cain and Stephen Moore both withdrew from consideration for spots on the Federal Reserve Board earlier this year. But one official said the White House’s decision will likely depend on whether lawmakers come out publicly against the nomination.

They won’t have to wait long. This leak serves as a throat-clearing exercise for what will come if Trump presses forward with Cuccinelli. Politico’s Burgess Everett and Eliana Johnson report that Senate Republicans will deliver payback to Cuccinelli if they get the chance — and that they will make sure he never gets confirmed:

President Donald Trump wants Cuccinelli, who most recently led the anti-establishment Senate Conservatives Fund, to be director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. But there may be nobody in Washington whom McConnell and his allies would take more pleasure in defeating, and the bottom line is Cuccinelli has little chance of getting approved for the job, Republican senators said.

“He’s spent a fair amount of his career attacking Republicans in the Senate, so it strikes me as an odd position for him to put himself in to seek Senate confirmation,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who ran the GOP’s campaign arm for two election cycles. “It’s unlikely he’s going to be confirmed if he is nominated.”

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate GOP’s chief vote-counter, called the bid “a long shot,” adding, “They’ll go forward with it or they won’t, but I will suspect he’ll have plenty of obstacles once he gets here.”

Cuccinelli is a favorite of grassroots conservatives and Trump populists, but they won’t get to vote on his confirmation. Nor will Senate opposition to Cuccinelli likely lead to the kind of primary fights that Cuccinelli tried to generate against incumbents like Mitch McConnell and Richard Burr. Everyone is now too focused on winning enough seats to keep control of the Senate in 2020 to indulge those kinds of purity campaigns, especially on behalf of someone who endorsed Roy Moore in Alabama’s special election two years ago. That in itself might call into question why Trump wants to put him in front of Republican senators for confirmation.

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Trump’s embrace of Cuccinelli isn’t surprising, but his desire to push Cuccinelli in front of Senate Republicans is. Originally, Cuccinelli got picked to be an immigration policy czar in the administration, which wouldn’t have required Senate confirmation but still would have required plenty of coordination with Republicans in Congress. That would have been awkward enough, but Cuccinelli’s former targets couldn’t have done much about it. Now, however, they can deliver payback on Cuccinelli and remind Trump that fomenting populist revolts against incumbents might not be a good idea for occupants on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue in the next year or so, nor rewarding those who try it.

Expect this nomination to go the same way as Herman Cain’s nomination to the Fed … only maybe quieter.

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