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Who Is Ken Cuccinelli? New White House Immigration Lead

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Enter Cuccinelli. The former Virginia attorney general joined the Trump administration in late May. His background includes trying to eliminate birthright citizenship, questioning whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, and proposing to make speaking Spanish on the job a fireable offense. Accordingly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell advised the president against nominating Cuccinelli to any post that required Senate confirmation. To some, Cuccinelli’s arrival meant that Miller had, at long last, found the consummate ideological ally. (A representative for Cuccinelli declined my phone-interview request with the director.)

Cuccinelli may well have been created in a Trump-branded petri dish. He’s spent decades advocating for far-right positions on a variety of social issues, and the 50-year-old practicing Catholic enjoys widespread support among conservative evangelicals. Cuccinelli used his 2013 loss to Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia gubernatorial race to reinvent himself as a conservative pundit, and, for the last few years, has offered a reliably pro-Trump perspective across cable networks (a bonus for anyone seeking this president’s favor). As someone who built much of his popularity on polarizing immigration policies and incendiary rhetoric, Cuccinelli was as natural choice as any for an administration hoping to make progress on the president’s signature issue ahead of the 2020 election.

This week, Cuccinelli has gone on a media blitz of sorts to defend the administration’s crackdown on legal immigration. The new public-charge rule specifically allows the government to deny permanent residency to legal immigrants it deems a financial burden, based on an individual’s current or likely reliance on programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. In an interview with NPR yesterday, Cuccinelli went so far as to suggest a rewrite of the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. “Would you also agree that…‘give me your tired, your poor,’ are also part of the American ethos?” host Rachel Martin asked Cuccinelli. “They certainly are,” he replied. “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.”

Cuccinelli began his career as a state senator in Virginia, where he served from 2002 to 2010. In 2008, he introduced legislation that would allow employers to fire those who didn’t speak English in the workplace. Under his plan, those fired would subsequently be ineligible for unemployment benefits. At the time, state Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw called it “the most mean-spirited piece of legislation I have seen in my 30 years down here.”

In 2009, Cuccinelli ran a successful campaign for Virginia attorney general, serving under Governor Bob McDonnell. Much of the controversy surrounding Cuccinelli’s four-year tenure touched on health care—he was the nation’s first attorney general to file a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act—and LGBTQ rights, including his defense of a state law prohibiting sodomy, which was struck down in 2013, and his attempt to remove sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes within state universities’ non-discrimination policies.

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