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 back at “square one,” 68 days after President Trump announced Kelly would be coming on as his chief of staff.
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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, the implementation of a new travel ban, a roll-back of the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program and a host of national security and counterterrorism 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 is no one at this point who is considered an active contender, the sources said.
Initially, Trump seemed to have settled on Texas Rep. Mike McCaul, telling Kelly at one point to “hire him.” But McCaul was recently ruled out of contention after vocal objections from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other immigration hard-liners at the White House who thought McCaul was not tough enough on immigration issues.
Duke is considered unlikely to be appointed the permanent director and is currently not an “active contender,” sources said. However, a senior DHS official emphasized that there is no real pressure to name a new secretary right away because she has 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 said.
The White House has not responded to ABC News' request for comment.