WASHINGTON — Virginia Democrats said they were outraged by reports that President Donald Trump’s administration plans to hire Ken Cuccinelli to play a lead role in shaping immigration policy.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the former Virginia attorney general is expected to coordinate the administration’s immigration efforts. The scope of his job was still being ironed out, according to the Times, but Cuccinelli was expected to work out of the Department of Homeland Security rather than as a “czar” from the White House.
Cuccinelli, who unsuccessfully ran for governor of Virginia in 2013, is considered an immigration hard-liner. He could become a central figure in Trump’s efforts to toughen immigration enforcement, a top priority of the president that has put him at odds with House Democrats and many others.
“Ken Cuccinelli was too extreme for Virginia. He’s also too extreme for the federal government,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th). “The truth is no decent person would take this job in this administration.”
Three Virginia Republican congressmen did not respond to a request for comment from the Virginia Mercury. The fourth, U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-5th, would not comment.
As Virginia’s attorney general in 2012, Cuccinelli sided with Arizona in a lawsuit in which President Barack Obama’s administration sued the state over a law aimed at boosting police’s ability to enforce federal immigration laws, USA Today reported. Cuccinelli also wrote a legal opinion stating that Virginia police could ask people they stopped about their immigration status.
Cuccinelli was criticized as a CNN commentator for the way he treated women on air, telling one woman to “shut up for a minute” and telling another he was “sick and tired of listening” to her “shrill voice,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.
“Ken Cuccinelli has a long history of being anti-immigrant and anti-woman, making him unfit for any role within the Department of Homeland Security,” Rep. Don McEachin (D-4th).
“I am not surprised the Trump Administration would choose such an individual, but the American people deserve better,” McEachin added. “We need true immigration reform with officials who will prioritize providing a path to citizenship, protecting Dreamers and ending the horrific practice of family separation. Mr. Cuccinelli’s history indicates he will do the exact opposite.”
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-3rd), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, told the Virginia Mercury on Tuesday afternoon that he hadn’t yet seen the reports about Cuccinelli’s expected appointment. He questioned the former attorney general’s qualifications for the federal immigration post, noting, “most of his experience is in state issues.”
The Democratic Party of Virginia took aim at his record as attorney general, from an ill-fated Obamacare lawsuit to his defense of anti-sodomy laws and a vendetta against a University of Virginia climate scientist.
“Virginians know our former disaster of an attorney general all too well,” the party said.
Cuccinelli’s anticipated appointment came as a surprise to some, given his previous rifts with Trump and with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
During the 2016 presidential primaries, Cuccinelli led a charge to strip Trump of delegates in favor of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
McConnell told reporters last month that he had expressed his “shall I say, lack of enthusiasm” about Cuccinelli getting the job, the Hill reported. As the head of the fundraising committee the Senate Conservatives Fund, Cuccinelli backed McConnell’s Tea Party primary challenger in 2014.
Cuccinelli has the support of other prominent conservative groups, however, some of whom sent a letter to Trump earlier this year touting his credentials.
In the letter, the leaders of groups like FreedomWorks, a libertarian group that lists Cuccinelli as director of its Regulatory Action Center, Tea Party Patriots Action and others said 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 Washington Examiner reported.
Since his unsuccessful gubernatorial run and bid to deny Trump the nomination, Cuccinelli has taken up other causes, for example joining with some odd political bedfellows to challenge Dominion Energy’s electric monopoly in Virginia.
At the roll out of the Virginia Energy Reform Coalition earlier this month, Cuccinelli, who is involved in the effort through his work FreedomWorks, demurred when asked if he was being considered for a post in the Trump administration.
“Still floating, no comment beyond saying I’m still alive,” Cuccinelli said.
“I wouldn’t venture to say there’s anything specific. I think it’s just, if I can help, I’ll help, if there’s something they want me to help with.”
Ned Oliver contributed.