newstream

Americas

Kelly aide picked to lead homeland security dept

Kelly aide picked to lead homeland security dept
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Deputy Chief of Staff Kirstjen Nielsen speak together as they walk across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. President Donald Trump is expected to nominate Kirstjen Nielsen as his next Secretary of Homeland Security. AP file photo

Kelly aide picked to lead homeland security dept

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said on Wednesday (Oct 11) that he intended to name Kirstjen Nielsen, a top White House aide, to lead the Department of Homeland Security, elevating a former homeland security official in the George W Bush administration who has lately worked to impose order in Mr Trump's chaotic West Wing.

Mr Trump announced his choice in a statement that noted Ms Nielsen's "extensive professional experience in the areas of homeland security policy and strategy, cybersecurity, critical infrastructure and emergency management." She is the first nominee for the homeland security post who had served in the department, according to the statement.

If confirmed, Ms Nielsen would replace John F Kelly, who was homeland security secretary until he left in July to serve as the White House chief of staff and bring discipline and direction to a West Wing plagued by disorganisation and infighting. Mr Kelly had drafted Ms Nielsen to be his chief of staff at the Homeland Security department, and when the president plucked him for the White House, he brought her as his No 2.

Known as a no-nonsense player and policy wonk, Ms Nielsen appears unlikely to land at the centre of the type of controversies that have engulfed Trump's presidency. But her regimented style in a freewheeling and often dysfunctional West Wing frustrated some senior officials and people close to the president, who chafed under her dictates. On Wednesday, some of them described Ms Nielsen's promotion as a solution to a toxic personnel situation, while others fretted privately that her departure would create a void at the White House that would be difficult to fill.

Mr Kelly pushed hard for her selection, making a personal appeal to Mr Trump during a monthslong search process. Among the other candidates considered, according to people familiar with the process, was Rep Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Former colleagues said on Wednesday that Ms Nielsen was well qualified.

"She's a total homeland security expert — absolutely has no learning curve," said Michael Allen, who worked with Ms Nielsen during the Bush administration. "She's an experienced manager, she's an implementer, she knows how to get under the hood and figure out what needs to be connected to what."

Added Frances Townsend, her boss at the White House during the Bush administration: "She is tough as nails, competent and has rightly earned the president's respect."

Mr Kelly and Ms Nielsen arrived at the White House after a tumultuous period that led to the departure of Reince Priebus, Trump's first chief of staff, and Sean Spicer, his original press secretary. Mr Kelly, who spends much of his time managing the president and working to defuse brewing confrontations between Mr Trump and senior advisers, has leaned on Ms Nielsen to manage and impose discipline on the rest of the White House staff.

It is not clear who will play that role after she leaves, and her departure will leave a hole at the White House as Mr Trump faces an array of challenges, including confronting the threat from North Korea, addressing ruptures with his Cabinet and crucial Republican lawmakers and trying to push a large tax cut through Congress.

Ms Nielsen's experience at the Homeland Security department began after the Sept 11 attacks, when she joined the newly formed Transportation Security Administration, housed within the department. She also served on Mr Bush's homeland security council, devising a national response plan for domestic incidents and helping to compile a report on lessons from the bungled federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

As a private-sector consultant, she helped government entities and private companies devise preparedness plans to guard against cyberattacks.

Tom Ridge, who served under Mr Bush as the nation's first homeland security secretary, called Ms Nielsen "extremely well versed in the all-hazard threats challenging the security and resilience of our homeland."

"Most importantly, in this hyperpolitical environment, Kirstjen is not a self-promoter," Mr Ridge said in a statement. "She is a patriot and takes a mission-focused approach to her work."

Some Democrats, however, expressed reservations about Ms Nielsen's extensive resume, and her closeness to the president and his chief of staff.

"I am very concerned about her past work in the Bush administration during its botched response to Hurricane Katrina and am fearful that DHS — as well as this president — has not learned all the lessons from that tragedy given what we are seeing unravel in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands," said Rep Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, referring to the federal response to hurricane damage on those islands, which has been widely criticised.

"It is extremely important that the DHS secretary stay above the partisan fray," Mr Thompson added, "and not allow the position be a political pawn of the White House." THE NEW YORK TIMES