Washington veteran Elaine Duke is set to temporarily take the helm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) following a dramatic shakeup up at the White House this week.
A DHS spokesperson confirmed Friday evening that Duke, who currently serves as Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly’s deputy, would become acting secretary starting Monday when the agency’s current chief steps aside to take on a role at the White House, The Hill reports.
President Donald Trump abruptly announced Friday evening on Twitter that the current DHS secretary would be replacing Reince Priebus as chief of staff as part of a major staff shakeup.
Trump spoke briefly to reporters to explain his decision, calling Kelly a “star” in his administration. Kelly, who previously led U.S. Southern Command, praised DHS employees for their “exceptional work” in a statement on his decision to accept the White House position.
The announcement is stirring speculation about who will now replace Kelly, a retired four-star Marine Corps general who has led DHS since January, and whether Duke could become the permanent U.S. security chief.
Trump nominated Duke to serve as the No. 2 at DHS in January, and the Senate voted overwhelmingly to confirm her in an 85-14 vote.
Duke has nearly three decades of experience working for the federal government, including time at DHS and the Department of Defense, serving under both Democratic and Republican presidents.
She previously served as under secretary for management and chief procurement for DHS, where she was responsible for managing the agency’s $47 billion budget.
Duke was also the deputy assistant administrator for acquisition at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), where she delivered a program to meet a new mandate after 9/11 to federalize passenger and baggage screening at U.S. airports.
“It’s an honor to return to public service and, in particular, return to the Department of Homeland Security. I look forward to meeting new colleagues and reconnecting with former colleagues as we strive to further the Department’s vital mission.” Duke said in statement after she was sworn in this past April.
As DHS’s chief operating officer, Duke is tasked with running the 240,000-strong agency and its work on immigration and national security.
Since stepping into the role, Duke has also represented Kelly in meetings abroad with European officials about a potential laptop ban on U.S.-bound flights. The negotiations resulted in a new aviation security plan from the DHS that will provide a way for international flights to avoid a laptop ban.
While Duke could be a noncontroversial and bipartisan pick to permanently lead the department, that hasn’t stopped some lawmakers from expressing concern about a potentially lengthy confirmation process, given the monthlong August recess, The Hill comments.
Representative Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said that a new DHS secretary would not be confirmed “until the fall at the earliest”.
“The President and Republicans insisted the DHS Secretary be confirmed on day one but now the President leaves this critical national security cabinet post vacant,” he said in a statement.
“The timing could not be worse: the Senate went into summer recess today and a new Secretary will not be confirmed until the fall at the earliest. With the approval of the Senate, the President must now replace Secretary Kelly with someone who is experienced, measured, and understands that homeland security is not a partisan issue,” he added.