Today Kirstjen Nielsen put to rest rumors swirling about her resignation as secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security. Nielsen is leaving, she told president Donald Trump in a Sunday afternoon meeting. The commander in chief promptly tweeted the news, as well as the name of her interim replacement.
The president thanked Nielsen for her service and immediately followed up with the announcement that Kevin McAleenan, the current Customs and Border Protection commissioner, will become acting secretary of the DHS, writing, “I have confidence that Kevin will do a great job!”
Nielsen’s departure comes just as Trump has announced that he wants to take a harder-line approach to illegal immigration. On April 5, in Calexico, a town in California at the border with Mexico, Trump made clear that the tougher approach would also apply to asylum seekers, saying some who come to the US seeking refuge are actually gang members and calling asylum “a scam” and “a hoax,” CBS reported. Nielsen was by his side at the border visit and there was no indication from either her or the president of her impending resignation.
Still, no one is surprised and it’s unlikely that she will be missed. Nielsen has presided over the DHS during very turbulent times and talk of her leaving started months ago. She defended the administration’s stance on child separations from their parents and family at the border last year, despite the known long-term trauma this causes children and outrage about the policy expressed by many Americans. Quartz’s White House correspondent, Heather Timmons, wrote in November that Nielsen’s legacy at the department is “ugly” and explained that her failures go beyond supporting the controversial policy, stating:
Nielsen leaves the agency responsible for threats to US transportation systems, borders, internet, air, and water weakened, disorganized, and dangerously politicized, security experts say. Many top jobs still haven’t been filled. Senior DHS officials described her to Quartz as indecisive and as having a dangerous tendency to over-promise to the White House.
“Kirstjen Nielsen’s tenure at the Department of Homeland Security was a disaster from the start,” said Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the House committee on homeland security, after her resignation was made public. The Trump administration policies on immigration “that she enacted and helped craft have been an abysmal failure and have helped create the humanitarian crisis at the border.”
It is not clear based on public statements whether Nielsen resigned voluntarily or was pushed out under pressure from the president. In November, Trump said he would decide her future “shortly,” less than a year after she assumed the DHS post in December 2017. Based on his prior statements and the relatively terse tweet announcing her resignation today, it seems safe to assume the president isn’t too broken up about the news she’s out.