Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It's been a record 472 days since a Senate-confirmed secretary sat atop the Department of Homeland Security, the agency founded after 9/11 to defend the U.S. against terrorism and other threats.

Why it matters: Critics say President Trump's refusal to put Cabinet secretaries through the Senate confirmation process has allowed him to bend agencies like DHS to his will, Zachary Basu and Stef Kight report.

  • Acting agency leaders make it easier, former acting DHS general counsel John Sandweg tells Axios, for Trump "to get someone in charge who is going to bow more to his wishes without pushing back respectfully and defend the prerogatives of the institution."

The big picture: The consequences may now be playing out on the streets of Portland, where the mayor was among those tear-gassed last night by agents dispatched to defend federal property from "rioters, arsonists, and left-wing extremists."

  • Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf told reporters this week that the Portland situation is "unique" because of the threat to federal courthouses.
  • But Trump, who has made "law and order" rhetoric a central plank of efforts to revive his re-election bid, has linked the chaos to spikes in violence in other Democratic-run cities like Chicago — where more federal law enforcement will be "surged" this week.

Between the lines: Trump always needed DHS under his control to implement the immigration-based promises he campaigned on, Doris Meissner, who ran the Immigration and Naturalization Service before DHS was created, told Axios.

  • The unions that represent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol agents have long been vocal and aligned with Trump. Even if they’re not representative of all enforcement officers, their voice matters.
  • And Meissner agrees that the acting capacity automatically makes those positions more political, because leaders who want to keep their jobs have to keep Trump happy.

The other side: "Our mission changes all the time. Our priorities change all the time depending on who is in the White House," former acting ICE director Thomas Homan told Axios.

  • "I’ll tell you something else, it’s not a coincidence it’s happening in cities that, first of all, push back on ICE," Homan added. "Every one of these cities are sanctuary cities, they have no cooperation with ICE.”

The bottom line: Some former officials argue there's a difference between implementing a policy agenda and abusing an agency's authority.

  • DHS "was not established to be the president’s personal militia," former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who served as the first Homeland Security secretary under George W. Bush, said this week.
  • “It would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to a unilateral, uninvited intervention into one of my cities."

Go deeper

Oregon governor announces "phased withdrawal" of federal agents from Portland

Protesters clash with federal police in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse on July 28 in Portland. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Trump administration has agreed to a "phased withdrawal" of Customs and Border Protection and ICE agents from Portland, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The news comes after weeks of violent clashes between protesters and federal law enforcement deployed by the Trump administration to protect Portland's federal courthouse.

Mayors face off with Trump over use of federal law enforcement

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The escalating war of words between President Trump and Democratic big-city mayors — brought it to a head by confrontations in Portland and Seattle — is a preview of what's to come in the months leading up to November.

The big picture: Trump is using Democratic mayors as the foils for his law-and-order reelection message, while they've called his deployment of federal agents in their cities "a step short of martial law" and heightened their criticism of the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump whisked out of press briefing after shooting outside White House

President Trump was escorted out of a coronavirus press briefing by a Secret Service agent on Monday after law enforcement reportedly shot an armed suspect outside of the White House.

The state of play: Trump returned to the podium approximately ten minutes later and informed reporters of the news. He said the suspect has been taken to the hospital, but was unable to provide more details and said Secret Service may give a briefing later.