DHS Head Kirstjen Nielson Resigns Amid Claims Trump is ‘Cleaning House’
“Strikes me as just a frustration of not being able to solve a problem. Honestly, it wasn’t Secretary Nielsen’s fault.”
In the past four days, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson resigned, U.S. Secret Service Director Randolph Alles was ousted, and President Trump withdrew his nomination for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Sources say the abrupt leadership changes are part of a broader overhaul in DHS policy led by hardline Trump advisor Stephen Miller.
President Trump rejected claims he has been “cleaning house” in the DHS, saying “I never said I‘m cleaning house. I don’t know who came up with that expression,” during a meeting with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.
Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) was one of many GOP lawmakers expressing concern over the rapid-fire dismissals of senior officials, saying, “Strikes me as just a frustration of not being able to solve a problem. Honestly, it wasn’t Secretary Nielsen’s fault. It wasn’t for lack of effort on her part. I don’t know if there’s anybody who’s going to be able to do more.”
Nielsen, Trump Butted Heads Over Family Separation
Internal sources say Nielsen frustrated the President by pointing to the legal restraints imposed on her department. The former secretary threatened to resign last spring after reportedly being unwilling to approve the memo demanding routine family separations at the border. According to NBC News, President Trump’s relationship with Nielsen most recently soured over President Trump’s desire to reinstate child separation policy at the border, a policy which was rescinded after causing public outrage.
Nielsen will remain at the post until Wednesday, April 10, before being replaced by Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.
“I don’t have any new announcements. I just want to thank the president again for the tremendous opportunity to serve this country. I’m forever grateful and proud of the men and women of DHS who work so hard every day to execute their missions and support the homeland,” Nielsen told reporters.
Nielsen’s departure means acting heads (rather than fully established secretaries) will be running the DHS, the Pentagon and the U.S. Department of the Interior, illustrating the high rate of turnover that has defined the Trump administration.
Is Stephen Miller Running the Trump Show?
Moderate GOP Rep. Tom Reed expressed discontent with the use of immigration as a political tool, saying “one hard-liner is not going to dictate the outcome of this,” in reference to top advisor Stephen Miller. Inside sources say the leadership changes are a result of Miller’s growing influence in the White House.
“People don’t appreciate the extent to which we’ve set in motion a substantial and long-overdue change to U.S. immigration policy,” Miller told Bloomberg in an interview.
Senator Cornyn told Politico he didn’t understand Miller’s motivations, as he is not Senate-confirmed and does not interact with the Hill.
Senator Grassley expressed concern that the Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Lee Francis Cissna and Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, head of the office of policy and strategy at USCIS would be next on the chopping block, saying, “I heard that they are on the list to be fired.”
Representative Ilhan Omar tweeted her interpretation of Miller’s actions, saying, “Stephen Miller is a white nationalist. The fact that he still has influence on policy and political appointments is an outrage.”
While Republican lawmakers generally expressed favorable opinions of Nielsen, progressives see her as responsible for child abuse in carrying out Trump’s family separation policy. Under Nielsen’s watch, the DHS failed to make records of the families it split apart, and the Trump administration has said it could take two years to identify the thousands of separated children.
Nielsen reportedly lied to Congress about her role in child separation policy, and the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman tweeted that insiders say Nielsen stayed on for so long because “she was aware how awful life would/will be for her on the outside,” after defending policies many deem to be abhorrent. Thousands of migrant children have complained of sexual assault in the detention centers, and multiple children have died.
President Trump started the longest government shutdown in American history to push for his immigration agenda earlier this year. If reports he is “cleaning house” in the DHS to double down on immigration are correct, the battle over the border will remain a central issue in America’s polarized politics.