In Shift, Trump Will Pick Kenneth Cuccinelli to Oversee Legal Immigration

Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the immigration hard-liner who was expected to be President Trump’s pick to coordinate immigration policy, will instead be chosen to take over for the embattled official who has overseen the legal immigration system, according to two people briefed on the situation.

The official, L. Francis Cissna, whose role as the head of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has included overseeing a visa system that many White House aides view as broken, has submitted to pressure to step down, the two people said.

Mr. Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general, is expected to be tapped to replace Mr. Cissna, the two people said. Mr. Trump had asked Mr. Cuccinelli in recent days to help coordinate policy across agencies, akin to the “immigration czar” job that the president has considered creating for months. The move startled officials at the White House and at the Department of Homeland Security, where one West Wing official said Mr. Cuccinelli would work.

For now, he will be used to move out Mr. Cissna, the people familiar with the move said.

But Mr. Cissna, who was supported by a number of immigration restrictionists, held a Senate-confirmed role. And people close to the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who has been a target of Mr. Cuccinelli’s in the past, said that the former attorney general’s chances of being confirmed were close to zero, creating immediate questions about the next steps in the process.

Mr. Cissna’s resignation was previously reported by The Washington Post. The White House declined to comment.

The latest twist in the Trump administration’s personnel decisions related to immigration shows that it has become one of the most battle-scarred areas of internal turf in the past several months. Over the past several weeks, Mr. Trump has sought to shake up the leadership at the Department of Homeland Security, beginning with ousting Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in April.

The New York Times reported that month that Mr. Cissna could also be forced out, and officials in the White House have long seen him as a hindrance, particularly Mr. Trump’s top policy adviser, Stephen Miller, whose singular focus is immigration. But a number of immigration restrictionists who have sought for years to reduce legal immigration described Mr. Cissna as a reliable partner. He was also supported by prominent Republicans like Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa.

Ultimately, it was not enough to keep him in his job.

Mr. Cuccinelli, however, faces a likely insurmountable obstacle in Mr. McConnell. Mr. Cuccinelli in 2014 was part of the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee that supported a primary challenge to Mr. McConnell.

A person close to the senator said on Friday that Mr. Cuccinelli would not make it through the confirmation process.

Even if he is not confirmed, Mr. Cuccinelli is expected to be kept on at the Department of Homeland Security in some fashion.