President Trump is expected to nominate Kirstjen Nielsen, a cybersecurity expert and deputy White House chief of staff, to be Homeland Security secretary, a job left vacant when John F. Kelly left the department to become White House chief of staff in July, four administration officials confirmed Wednesday.
The official announcement could come as soon as Wednesday, although the officials cautioned nothing is set until Trump publicly announces her as the pick.
Nielsen, a longtime Homeland Security Department official who served as Kelly’s chief of staff when he was DHS secretary, accompanied him to the White House as his deputy.
Other contenders for the Cabinet post included Tom Bossert, Trump’s homeland security adviser, and Kevin McAleenan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
But Nielsen had one crucial advantage — the absolute trust and support of Kelly, to whom she grew close after volunteering to help “sherpa” him through the confirmation process earlier this year.
At the White House, however, as Kelly’s enforcer, Nielsen quickly emerged as a controversial presence.
Her detractors viewed her no-nonsense style as brusque, and complained that she could be unresponsive as she worked with Kelly to streamline West Wing operations and instill discipline in a White House often lacking structure. But her allies and supporters said she was simply helping to professionalize the West Wing — the sort of necessary but thankless task that often leaves some staff members griping.
The news of Nielsen’s expected nomination was first reported by Politico.
Nielsen is not expected to face a difficult confirmation in the Senate. She is widely viewed as a competent, experienced and nonpartisan security professional.
Given that polarizing, ideological figures like Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach have been previously rumored to be in the running for the DHS job, mostly for their hard line views on immigration, the Nielsen choice would be more evidence of Kelly’s ability to consolidate control and move the administration in a more conventional, mainstream direction.
Some of the president’s senior advisers, including Stephen Miller, were said to favor an immigration hard-liner who would excite Trump’s base.
But the Nielsen pick would preserve DHS’s reputation as an agency whose core mission is counterterrorism and national security.
Democrats and critics of the president said they were looking for a nominee with counterterrorism experience and a familiarity with DHS operations, and Nielsen would bring both to the job.
“Nielsen’s nomination is a strong signal of competence and experience being valued by the White House over ideologues and outsiders,” said C. Stewart Verdery, Jr., a Republican lobbyists who worked in the department during the George W. Bush administration. “The homeland mission requires an unusual diverse set of skills and she has expertise in almost all of them.”