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Report: Kirstjen Nielsen Was Forced to Step Down

Sources say hardliners are demanding DHS shakeup
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 8, 2019 6:33 AM CDT
Updated Apr 8, 2019 6:50 AM CDT

(Newser) – Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's abrupt resignation Sunday wasn't her idea, reports the Washington Post, which cites "two senior administration officials." The sources say Nielsen wasn't planning to resign when she went to a meeting with President Trump on Sunday, two days after the president visited the border, but she was forced to step down. Trump, angered by a surge in migrants, was influenced in the decision by national security adviser John Bolton and increasingly powerful senior adviser Stephen Miller, who shares Trump's hardline views on immigration and has "privately derided other officials to the president for not being tough enough," the insiders say. More:

  • "Rocky tenure." Nielsen's resignation follows what CBS calls a "rocky" tenure at DHS, with the president frustrated by a rise in illegal border crossings. Insiders say Trump, who frequently berated Nielsen at meetings, said months ago that he wanted to fire her. They say Trump was angered by her insistence that her actions were limited by federal law.

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  • Replacement "not an ideologue." Kevin McAleenan, who will be acting chief of the agency after Nielsen departs, is a career official and "not an ideologue or fire breather," a DHS official tells CNN. McAleenan, currently commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection, was deputy commissioner under the Obama administration and is respected by Democrats and Republicans alike. It's not clear how long he will be in charge of DHS, though few expect him to be nominated to be Nielsen's permanent replacement.
  • Pelosi reacts. "It is deeply alarming that the Trump Administration official who put children in cages is reportedly resigning because she is not extreme enough for the White House’s liking," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, per USA Today.
  • A "disaster from the start." House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson slammed Nielsen's time at DHS as a "disaster from the start," the AP reports. The policies she helped create "have been an abysmal failure and have helped create the humanitarian crisis at the border," the Democrat said.
  • Those policies. Nielsen firmly defended the administration policy of separating families at the border, though she also played a major role in ending it. She also helped bring in the policy of having asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their cases are dealt with, and was still pushing for expansion of that program last week.

  • Miller time. Politico reports that Nielsen's departure comes as part of a wider shakeup led by Stephen Miller and other immigration hardliners in the administration. The nomination of Ron Vitiello for head of ICE was abruptly pulled on Thursday, and insiders say Nielson strongly disagreed with the move. The sources say Miller also wants Trump to fire Lee Francis Cissna, director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  • Tough task for McAleenan. The Washington Post looks at the tough task McAleenan will face when he takes over after a transition period expected to end Wednesday. Almost 100,000 migrants were detained at the border in March, the highest total in more than a decade, and McAleenan has said the system is at "breaking point." He will also have to deal with an "impatient" boss demanding tougher policies. According to the Post, potential nominees for a permanent Nielsen replacement include Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
  • The NYT won't miss her. While there's every chance that her replacement could be enact even crueller policies, Nielsen will not be missed by the New York Times' editorial board. "Whatever the secretary’s personal views, and no matter how impossible her job, she was the face of some of the administration’s most poorly conceived and gratuitously callous policies," they write. "At best, she was complicit and, yes, hopelessly weak."
(Read more Kirstjen Nielsen stories.)

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