The vote, originally scheduled for Monday, has been pushed to Tuesday due to the winter storm that hit the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, which is impacting flights of senators coming into town, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office.
“You can tell that we are in a semi-holding pattern at the very top until Mr. Mayorkas is confirmed as Secretary and starts giving more clear public direction and more specific leadership effort,” one department official said.
While DHS political appointees have begun to fill out their jobs, according to department officials, leadership roles continue to be filled by officials in acting capacities — a trend that was ubiquitous during the Trump administration.
Another DHS official said the delayed confirmation was “more of the same,” as acting officials have led the department for much of the past four years.
“More than any other department with national and homeland security responsibilities, DHS is in severe need of new strategic vision and day to day operational leadership, as the Trump administration gutted the top leadership ranks across the department,” said Carrie Cordero, CNN legal and national security analyst and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, who served at the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Last week, the White House delayed an executive order to launch a family reunification taskforce because of the holdup on Mayorkas’ confirmation, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday. The taskforce, aimed at reuniting children who were separated from their parents at the border under the Trump-era enforcement policies, will be led by Mayorkas once he is confirmed, she said.
“We had hoped that Ali Mayorkas would be confirmed” by the end of last week, Psaki added.
“We are facing unprecedented challenges and threats to our national security during these emergencies, and our country urgently needs our Secretary of Homeland Security in place to guard against these dangers and keep the American people safe,” a White House spokesperson told CNN in a statement Friday.
Heading into the second full week of Biden’s presidency, the delayed transition at the top of DHS prompted two former Homeland Security secretaries to hold a press conference urging a swift confirmation.
“The tradition has been, understandably, that national security positions within the incoming administration are confirmed on the day of inauguration,” former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday during a virtual press conference. “The Department of Homeland Security has been operating under temporary leaders for the last four years, certainly in the last two years. And the department is hungry to have permanent experienced leadership.”
Obama-era Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano argued that having a permanent, confirmed security “sends an important signal” through the federal government and to states and localities that “this is the person they’re going to be dealing with during President Biden’s term.”
“The stability that you have from a confirmed appointment, versus a bunch of actors, would be refreshing,” a DHS official told CNN.
A number of top positions inside DHS require Senate confirmation, including the heads of FEMA, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the immigration and border agencies, all of which remain helmed by officials in an acting capacity.
Completing the confirmation process for the Secretary is a “critical first step,” said Cordero.
Biden is expected to install Rob Silvers, a top Obama-era official who previously led cyber efforts at DHS, to lead DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, but he has yet to take the helm or be publicly announced. Silvers would join another of Obama’s cyber officials, Eric Goldstein, who has already started as a senior CISA adviser and comes from Goldman Sachs where he worked as the head of cybersecurity policy.
Officials have briefed new political appointees at DHS headquarters on the SolarWinds incident, a CISA official told CNN.
“[I]ncident response support is ongoing, as a cyber incident of this complexity, and because of the length of time that the adversary has had access to some of these networks, remediation — both short term and long-term rebuilding — will be a protracted process,” the CISA official said.
Several GOP senators, led by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, called for the additional hearing, citing Mayorkas’ role overseeing many of the Biden administration’s immigration policies. Cornyn told reporters last week that “there’s a number of problems” with the Mayorkas nomination.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois called the request for a hearing “totally political.”
“This is indefensible. We are withholding the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security,” Durbin added.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, Manu Raju, Clare Foran and Ryan Nobles contributed to this story.