President Donald Trump placed Chad Wolf back in charge of the Department of Human Services after a judge previously ruled Wolf’s earlier installment was improper.
The administration explained the complex maneuver in a September 11 statement:
As DHS has consistently explained, Acting Secretary Wolf is serving lawfully under the HSA, and under valid orders altering the DHS order of succession issued by Ms. Nielsen and Mr. McAleenan. But DHS recognizes that ongoing challenges to Acting Secretary Wolf’s service risk an unnecessary “distraction to the mission of the Department of Homeland Security.” Ex. 6, Order Designating the Order of Succession for the Secretary of Homeland Security (Sept. 10, 2020). Thus, “out of an abundance of caution,” the Senate-confirmed Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Peter T. Gaynor —who, upon the submission of Mr. Wolf’s nomination and under the terms of Executive Order 13753, would be the officer next in line to serve as Acting Secretary—issued a new order of succession on September 10, 2020, relying on “any authority vested in [him] as Acting Secretary of Homeland Security.” Id.
In other words, although DHS disagrees with the legal theory advanced by plaintiffs in these and other cases, if that theory is correct, the result would be that Mr. Gaynor (not Mr. Wolf) would be the proper Acting Secretary under the Executive Order’s order of succession—and thus would be authorized under 6 U.S.C. § 113(g)(2) to alter the order of succession. And as a result of that order approved by Mr. Gaynor—through which the FEMA Administrator and the Under Secretary for Strategy, Policy, and Plans would become sixth and fourth in line, respectively—Mr. Wolf would then become Acting Secretary, as the most senior official now serving in the line of succession.
The move was performed at least in part to avoid needless lawsuits over policies set in place by Wolf.
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