Trump picks White House aide Kristjen Nielsen as next DHS secretary

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President Donald J. Trump announced his pick to fill the vacant leadership role at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Thursday when he formally nominated White House staffer and cybersecurity expert Kristjen Nielsen.

“At this crucial time, we need the Senate to confirm a secretary of Homeland Security, one who is ready to lead on Day 1,” President Trump said in announcing his pick. “Kristjen has my full faith and confidence, and she also has the complete confidence of the law enforcement officers, dedicated professionals and senior leadership at the Department of Homeland Security.”

Nielsen, 45, is a cybersecurity expert and a favorite staffer of former DHS secretary John F. Kelly. She has worked for the DHS before, including in the department’s Transportation Security Administration and on former Republican president George W. Bush’s White House Homeland Security Council.

“I share [the] president’s profound commitment to [the] security of our country,” she said at a brief White House ceremony. “Truly, there is nothing more valuable than to feel secure in your homeland.”

Current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had appointed Nielsen as his chief of staff when he was DHS secretary and brought her with him to the White House to function in the same role. Kelly reportedly sought to instill more order in the White House, and believed that it needed a “No. 2 who is willing to be hated.”

He, therefore, brought in Nielsen, described as “his brusque, no-nonsense longtime aide.”

According to Axios, “nobody in the White House is closer to Kelly.” In an email to the site, Michael Allen, a national security figure who worked with Nielsen on the Bush White House Homeland Security Council, said of Nielsen: “No learning curve. No one else has same policy expertise in cyber, aviation security, FEMA. She takes it to the hoop. Moved to DC from Texas after 9/11 to help stand up TSA. Takes tough jobs, co-authored Katrina Lessons Learned Report which made FEMA better.”

If confirmed, Nielsen will replace Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke, who assumed the role when President Trump brought Kelly into the White House in July. Duke reportedly does not have a background in counterterrorism or law enforcement. She will remain at the DHS as Nielsen’s deputy.

Administration officials are optimistic about the confirmation process, hoping senators will vote to install Nielsen within a month.

“It seems like a low-drama pick. It’s a little concerning that she seems to have little background in immigration security and policy, but those individual agencies are in good hands already, and there is a strong core of career managers,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, according to Reuters.

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