Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, resigned on Sunday after meeting with President Donald Trump, ending a tumultuous tenure in charge of the border security agency that had made her the target of the President’s criticism, the New York Times reported.
“I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside. I hope that the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse,” Nielsen said in a resignation letter.
Nielsen had requested the meeting to plan “a way forward” at the border, in part thinking she could have a reasoned conversation with Trump about the role, according to three people familiar with the meeting. She came prepared with a list of things that needed to change to improve the relationship with the President, the Times added.
Trump in recent weeks had asked Nielsen to close the ports of entry along the border and to stop accepting asylum seekers, which Nielsen found ineffective and inappropriate. While the 30-minute meeting was cordial, Trump was determined to ask for her resignation.
The move comes just two days after Trump, who has repeatedly expressed anger at a rise in migrants at the southwestern border, withdrew his nominee to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement because he wanted the agency to go in a “tougher” direction.
Trump has ratcheted up his anti-immigration message in recent months as he seeks to galvanize supporters before the 2020 election, shutting down the government and then declaring a national emergency to secure funding to build a border wall, cutting aid to Central American countries and repeatedly denouncing what he believes is a crisis of migrants trying to enter the country, the Times writes.
He took aim again Sunday night after announcing Nielsen’s departure, tweeting, “Our Country is FULL!” Nielsen’s most enduring legacy as secretary was carrying out the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the southwestern border, which initially resulted in the separation of thousands of migrant children from their families.
She also said that she was planning “to stay on as secretary through Wednesday” in order “to assist with an orderly transition.” The abruptness was unusual because the Department of Homeland Security currently does not have a deputy secretary, who would normally take the reins.
The President said in a tweet that Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, would take over as the acting replacement for Nielsen, who became the sixth secretary to lead the agency in late 2017. But by law, the under secretary for management, Claire Grady, who is currently serving as acting deputy secretary, is next in line to be acting secretary.
The White House will have to fire her to make McAleenan acting secretary, people familiar with the transition said. Grady has told colleagues that she has no intention of resigning to make way for McAleenan, the Times added.
Among the possible replacements for Nielsen in the long term is Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general who is a favorite among conservative activists and who fits the profile that Trump wants the next homeland secretary to have, people familiar with the discussions told the New York Times.