President Trump announced Wednesday that he intends to nominate Kirstjen Nielsen, a cybersecurity expert and deputy White House chief of staff, to be Homeland Security secretary, a job left vacant when John F. Kelly departed to become White House chief of staff in July.
The White House, in a statement, described Nielsen as having “extensive professional experience in the areas of homeland security policy and strategy, cybersecurity, critical infrastructure, and emergency management.”
Nielsen is a longtime Homeland Security Department official who served as Kelly’s chief of staff when he was DHS secretary and accompanied him to the White House as his deputy. She also worked at the DHS during the George W. Bush administration and founded a consulting firm focused on risk and security management.
Other contenders for the Cabinet post included Tom Bossert, Trump’s homeland security adviser, and Kevin McAleenan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Nielsen had one crucial advantage — the absolute trust and support of Kelly, to whom she grew close after volunteering to be a “sherpa” to him as he went through the confirmation process this year.
At the White House, as Kelly’s enforcer, Nielsen quickly emerged as a controversial presence. Her detractors viewed her no-nonsense style as brusque and complained that she could be unresponsive as she worked with Kelly to streamline operations and instill discipline in a White House often lacking structure. But her allies and supporters said she was simply helping to professionalize the West Wing — the sort of necessary but thankless task that often leaves some staff members griping.
Nielsen will inherit a massive and important portfolio. The Department of Homeland Security is considered a critical agency on matters of counterterrorism and national security. It is the agency, for example, that informed states they had been targeted by Russian hackers during the 2016 election campaign, and it would be responsible for monitoring and preventing such incidents in the future.
But it also bears primary responsibility for immigration enforcement and border protection — top priorities in the Trump administration. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has been coordinating the government’s response to several recent hurricanes, the Secret Service, which protects the president and his family, and the Transportation Security Administration, which handles airport and other transportation-related security, are also a part of the DHS.
Nielsen is likely to have to navigate no shortage of controversies. Homeland Security officials will play a key role in implementing Trump’s new entry ban, which is scheduled to fully take effect Oct. 18, and agency officials are also at the center of the president’s decision to wind down DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which allowed undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to avoid deportation.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Ashley Parker and Matt Zapotosky