President Trump said Friday he is looking for someone "tougher" to lead the country's top immigration enforcement agency, hours after the White House unexpectedly withdrew its nomination of Ronald Vitiello to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Asked why he had been jettisoned by Vitiello, the current acting director of ICE who was scheduled to accompany him on a trip to the border Friday, Trump told reporters: "We're going in a little different direction. Ron's a good man. But we're going in a tougher direction. "We want to go in a tougher direction."
The move was made by lawmakers, the Department of Homeland Security officials and others across the administration who said Friday they could not understand why the president would pull his ICE nominee at a moment when U.S. Government officials say that the nation's immigration enforcement system is at a "breaking point."
The sudden withdrawal – which the Senate was notified of Thursday evening – surprised Republicans who believed Vitiello was on the track to be confirmed soon. His nomination cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last month and was on track for a vote in the Judiciary Committee – which also oversees ICE position – next week.
"Yeah, I do not know what happened" Sen Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, said in a phone interview Friday. "I thought we had addressed what issues we had in our committee, and he received bipartisan support in our committee."
"I will freely admit that I was completely surprised by this," Johnson said, adding that the committee staff have been trying to figure out what happened to make the White House pull back his nomination.
Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) Supported Vitiello in the committee vote, while Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) Was the lone GOP member to side with him.
The president's previous nomination to lead ICE, Tom Homan, languished without confirmation for months until finally stepping down in frustration. The White House picked up Vitiello, a 30-year veteran of the Border Patrol, as its nominee in August.
With more than 20,000 staffers and $ 6 billion budget, ICE is the U.S. An agency responsible for immigration detention and deportations, and its Homeland Security Investigation Unit combats drug trafficking, human trafficking and other cross-border crimes, with agents deployed around the world.
Johnson declined To answer Trump's insinuation that Vitiello was not tough enough for the enforcement position, saying: "I thought he was a very dedicated public servant, he was certainly very knowledgeable, had a lot of experience with his background. . . . I thought he would've done a fine job in his new position. "
Vitiello's nomination was opposed by Chris Crane, the head of the pro-Trump union that represents ICE agents. In February, Crane, the head of the National ICE Council, sent a letter to the senator urging them to reject Vitiello, citing previous social media posts and other public comments.
During the 2016 presidential campaign on Twitter, Vitiello compared Trump to the cartoon character Dennis the Menace and in another post likened the Democrats to the Ku Klux Clan. During his confirmation hearing, Vitiello was apologized for the tweets and said they were meant as jokes.
In recent months, as unauthorized border crossings have risen to their highest level in more than a decade, Trump adviser on immigration policy Stephen Miller has been criticizing
Trump has imbued Miller with more authority over border security and immigration matters than ever before, according to two senior government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss fissures in the administration made worse by the surprise move. against Vitiello.
"Ron Vitiello has spent as much time defending our nation's borders as Stephen Miller has been alive," one official said of Miller, who is 33.
One senior official said: "This is part of an It's a desperate effort by Stephen to throw people under the bus when the policies he has advocated are not effective. When he becomes clear that Stephen's policies are not working, he tells the president, "They're not the right people."
"Stephen wants to put Attila the Hun as director of ICE," said the official who believes Miller is seeking to install someone closer to him in the top ICE job.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment or provide further explanation about what Trump meant by seeking someone "tougher."
Vitiello faced tough "They just got him out of committee a few weeks ago, after a furious lobbying campaign," a senior administration official said. "You had Thomas R. Carper, a Democratic senator, take a tough vote to confirm the head of ICE and support someone who is qualified and capable."
"Now we're getting emails from Senate staffers saying" what's wrong with you What are you doing? '' The official said. "Ron's decent and rational nature undermined his time at ICE in this administration."