WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is “leaving her position,” and that “Kevin McAleenan, the current U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, will become Acting Secretary” of DHS.
Nielsen had a 5 p.m. meeting Sunday at the White House with Trump where she was planning to discuss with him immigration and border issues and a path forward, senior administration officials tell CNN.
She had no intention of resigning, according to one of the sources, but rather was going there with an agenda. But the source said, it is believed within the administration that Trump will be pushing for personnel changes.
The source notes Trump’s frustration with the current asylum laws, and his desire for individuals who work for the administration to just stop central American asylum seekers from entering the United States, contrary to the law.
Separately, a source close to Nielsen and an administration official said she was blindsided by the White House pulling Ron Vitiello’s nomination to be director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and has heard of other impending immigration-related personnel changes, so she asked for a meeting with Trump to get a sense of his thinking.
While Nielsen did not enter this meeting with the intention of resigning, this source says, it’s it’s possible that if Nielsen doesn’t hear what she is hoping to that she could offer her resignation.
Sources have said Nielsen has been on thin ice before.
It also follows plans to cut aid to some Central American countries, marking a sudden reversal after Nielsen had days earlier visited Honduras to sign a regional compact agreement with Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
Nielsen has had a tumultuous tenure that saw Trump steadily ramping up pressure on his team to execute his immigration promises, which he believes is the single driving issue for his base of political supporters.
Trump has vented privately that Nielsen hasn’t adequately secured the border or enacted stricter immigration rules, even as she became the face of policies that administration critics called heartless and illegal.
Nielsen, who served in President George W. Bush’s administration, never overcame internal skepticism about her allegiance to Trump. She joined the administration as chief of staff to John Kelly, who was Trump’s first Homeland Security secretary.
When Kelly moved to the West Wing as chief of staff, Nielsen followed, becoming a deputy chief of staff tasked with helping Kelly bring rigor to a freewheeling staff.
The role didn’t gain her popularity, but it helped her gain enough of Trump’s trust to elevate her to the Cabinet post.
But at the agency that oversees border protection and immigration matters — Trump’s signature issue — it was inevitable Nielsen would find herself within the President’s crosshairs.
After a previous Cabinet meeting during which Trump berated her for not acting strongly enough on preventing illegal immigration, Nielsen considered resigning, people familiar with the matter said at the time.
She didn’t then, and went on to become one of the public faces of a controversial policy that separated undocumented children from their parents. She was heckled in restaurants as the policy came under criticism.