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Reports: Trump passing on U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul to lead Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul was widely viewed as a top contender for the position in Trump's Cabinet.

U.S. Congressman Michael McCaul waits to go onstage with editor Evan Smith at TTEvents on Oct. 25, 2016.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

President-elect Donald Trump has settled on Gen. John F. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, as his nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, bypassing U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texan and top contender for the position, according to multiple media reports.

Kelly is a former commander of the United States Southern Command and has a career in the Marine Corps stretching back to 1970.

For a period, McCaul had seemed like the leading candidate for the job, and he openly campaigned for it. McCaul developed a rapport with Trump while serving as a national security adviser to his campaign. 

In the end, Trump was debating between Kelly and McCaul for the position, according to the Washington Post, citing people familiar with the transition.

During a high-profile speech on the State of Homeland Security at the Heritage Foundation Wednesday morning, McCaul indicated he expected to be a partner with Trump on national security issues from a legislative perspective rather than as a member of his Cabinet.

"Now is a time to come together to give this commander-in-chief an opportunity to turn the tide in this war," McCaul said of the United States' efforts against foreign terrorism.

"I will work with him in the Congress to implement the biggest domestic counterterrorism overhaul in a decade," he added.

In recent days, hard-line opponents of illegal immigration had assailed McCaul's congressional record, saying he has not done enough to address the millions of people in the country unlawfully. 

McCaul had vigorously fought back against his critics on the right, at one point denouncing their claims as slanderous. He had also taken steps to show he was in lockstep with Trump on border issues, publishing a Fox News op-ed last week that said: "We are going to build the wall. Period."

Sources close to McCaul told the Tribune in recent weeks that McCaul was eager to serve in this capacity. Yet now, interest will shift to whether the Austin Republican opts to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2018 Senate Republican primary. 

McCaul has another term left in his tenure as House Homeland Security Committee chairman. Since becoming that committee's chairman in 2013, McCaul has served as his party’s chief spokesman on national security matters, frequently appearing  on television to brief the public in response to terrorist attacks at home and abroad.  

McCaul has a reliably conservative voting record. But at least one Texas Democrat who serves on the committee, U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela of Brownsville, will be pleased if McCaul stays put, at least for the time being.

“I think to the extent we’re in opposing parties, I can think of nobody I’d rather deal with as chairman of the committee than Michael McCaul,” said Vela. 

Speaking on a panel at Heritage after McCaul's speech, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, said he did not personally know Kelly but said his experience in Central America and South America will be valuable. Kelly oversaw the regions as commander of the United States Southern Command.

Read more on our coverage of the Trump transition:

  • Aside from McCaul, Trump cultivated a number of loyal allies in Texas, making for no shortage of options as his transition team looks to staff the incoming administration. 
  • In tapping U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama to be his attorney general, Trump bypassed Cruz.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

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