With the departure of former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, President Donald Trump has chosen Kevin McAleenan (former commissioner of Customs and Border Protection) to temporarily take over the position. But Trump hasn’t nominated a permanent replacement for Nielsen yet, and one of the names currently being floated is Kansas Republican Kris Kobach— birther, anti-immigrant zealot and master of voter suppression. The 53-year-old Kobach is so extreme that even fellow Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, a U.S. senator, thinks that nominating him would be a bad idea.
Although Republicans slightly increased their majority in the U.S. Senate in the 2018 midterms and enjoyed a net gain of two seats, Roberts doesn’t think Kobach would get through the Senate confirmation process. When a reporter for the Kansas City Star mentioned Kobach as a possible Homeland Security secretary nominee on Tuesday, Sen. Pat Roberts responded, “Don’t go there. We can’t confirm him.”
Roberts’ office released an official statement on Kobach on Tuesday, explaining, “The makeup of the Senate is extremely difficult for any nominee to be confirmed, and it is only going to get worse. This body has six Democrats currently running for president who wish to obstruct the president’s agenda at all costs. Kris and I have discussed this. I have supported Kris Kobach in the past, and I have supported every one of Trump’s nominees. But ultimately, this will be the president’s decision.”
The senators who would probably vote against Kobach include not only Democrats, but also, Republicans like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Although Collins (who is up for reelection in 2020) has voted with Trump more often than not, a pro-Kobach vote could prove politically toxic for her, especially after her vote to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.
Kobach has a long history of bigotry and divisiveness. After being elected to the city council in Overland Park, Kansas in 1999, Kobach went on to become chairman of the Kansas Republican Party in 2007 and was elected Kansas secretary of state in 2009—and during President Barack Obama’s first term, he was a leading proponent of the racist birther conspiracy theory (which claimed that Obama was really born in Kenya and was not a U.S. citizen).
In March 2015, Kobach told a caller on his radio program that it would not be “a huge jump” for the Obama Administration to call for an end to the prosecution of all black suspects. It was a classic example of the type of racial fear-mongering that has been Kobach’s specialty, and the remark was denounced as “a new low” by the Kansas Democratic Party.
During his years as Kansas’ secretary of state, Kobach championed one of the worst voter suppression laws in the U.S.: according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), that law prevented about 35,000 Kansas residents from being able to register to vote. And in a 118-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson struck down the law as unconstitutional and a violation of the National Voter Registration Act.
Kansas is one of the most Republican states in the U.S.—much more so than Texas, where Democrats often perform well in the large urban centers. But when Kobach ran for governor of Kansas in the 2018 midterms, he lost to Democrat Laura Kelly, who was sworn in as Kansas’ governor in January.
Interviewed by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson this week, Kobach criticized the Department of Homeland Security for not being, as he sees it, sufficiently draconian on the U.S./Mexico border—asserting that Trump has been “taking the necessary steps to clean house at DHS and put people in, hopefully, who will execute what the president orders.”
It remains to be seen who Trump will nominate as a permanent Homeland Security secretary, and whether or not that nominee will be confirmed by the Senate. But judging from Pat Roberts’ comments, Kobach’s chances of enjoying a Senate confirmation are not good—even if Trump does decide to nominate him.