Trump Nominates Kirstjen Nielsen to Head Homeland Security

The president named WH Chief of Staff John Kelly's top aide to replace him at DHS

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 11 Oct 2017 at 8:20 PM

President Donald Trump named White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s top aide, Kirstjen Nielsen, to take over as head of the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday.

Nielsen, 45, served as a deputy to Kelly when he was DHS secretary before transferring with him to the White House to serve as the principal deputy chief of staff. Nielsen’s nomination as DHS secretary brings the president one step closer to filling key positions necessary to move his “America First” agenda forward.

"[Nielsen] would be the first person to run the department who has actually worked there," a person close to the administration told Politico. "She has a deep familiarity."

Besides serving under Kelly at DHS earlier in 2017, Nielsen worked at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), sat on former President George W. Bush's White House Homeland Security Council and established herself as a cybersecurity expert. Earlier in her career she worked as a corporate attorney, and as a Capitol Hill staffer. She graduated from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia.

Nielsen has reportedly stood steadfastly by Kelly's side through his transition process from DHS to the White House and topped the list of Kelly's personal recommendations to fill his old post.

"No learning curve. No one else has same policy expertise in cyber, aviation security, [Federal Emergency Management Agency]," Michael Allen, who served alongside Nielsen on the Bush administration's Homeland Security Council, told Axios in an email. "She takes it to the hoop. Moved to D.C. from Texas after 9/11 to help stand up TSA. Takes tough jobs, co-authored [the] 'Katrina: Lessons Learned' report, which made FEMA better."

Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge issued a statement praising Nielsen on Wednesday, calling her a "homeland security veteran" and saying: "Kirstjen can hit the ground running, and there won't be a learning curve. Most importantly, in this hyper-political environment, Kirstjen is not a self-promoter. She is a patriot and takes a mission-focused approach to her work. I think her no-nonsense, businesslike manner is what earned the confidence, first of General Kelly, and now the president."

Nielsen's expected appointment comes at a crucial time for the Trump administration and is expected to offer more stability after a series of turnovers. After Kelly's departure from DHS in late July, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned in late September following reports that he misused more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars by chartering private airplanes and using military aircraft for his personal travel.

The president has also been suffering from an understaffed administration while deputy security positions remain unfilled in other departments, and Health and Human Services remains without a permanent nominee —although Trump announced Tuesday night that Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan would serve as acting secretary for the time being.

In addition, the GOP-led Senate has struggled to confirm the administrative and judicial nominations that Trump has made because Democrats have been unifying largely against approving the nominees, while Republicans haven't been forceful enough with pushing the candidates through the confirmation process.

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