Donald Trump’s pick to oversee American immigration enforcement said a promised wall would not need to cover the entire US-Mexico border and signalled leniency toward young unauthorised immigrants.
The President selected Kirstjen Nielsen to head the Department of Homeland Security, which would place her in charge of the agency that manages immigration enforcement – one of Mr Trump’s signature policies. He has vowed to build a wall spanning the border.
But Ms Nielsen said such a wall would not need to stretch from “sea to shining sea”, echoing DHS chiefs and others – including her former boss, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly – who say geography and cost would make that idea unfeasible.
After months of Elaine Duke filling in as the acting secretary of Homeland Security, President Trump finally announced his choice to lead the department on a permanent basis Wednesday.
If confirmed, Kirstjen Nielsen would be the successor to John Kelly, who left the department in July to become the White House chief of staff. Nielsen currently serves as the White House principal deputy chief of staff, and she would be the first Homeland Security secretary with previous experience in the department.
Nielsen was the senior legislative policy director at the Transportation Security Administration during the George W. Bush administration, and worked as Homeland Security’s chief of staff under Trump. Between her stints in government, she founded a private risk and security management consulting firm.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, was optimistic about her qualifications in a statement.
“Ms. Nielsen’s long history of service with the department, her cybersecurity experience and her tenure serving with Gen. John Kelly would serve her well as the next secretary of the Department of Homeland Security,” Johnson said.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., the committee’s ranking member, said she looked forward to examining Nielsen’s record during her confirmation hearing.
“Given the threats posed to the United States by everything from terrorism to natural disasters, having permanent leadership in place at the Department of Homeland Security is more important than ever,” McCaskill said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Chairman Johnson to ensure that the committee’s process is comprehensive and fair.”
Elsewhere in Cabinet-level appointments, Trump announced Tuesday that he has designated Eric Hargan to be acting secretary of Health and Human Services. The news came more than a week after Tom Price resigned from the post following outcry over his use of private charter flights, which cost taxpayers an estimated $400,000 and has led to broad scrutiny of administration officials’ travel habits.
Before the White House’s announcement, Hargan had been serving as deputy secretary of Health and Human Services since the Senate voted 57-38 to confirm him on Oct. 4. Before his nomination to that job in March, Hargan was a shareholder in the health and FDA business practice of Greenberg Traurig LLP, a Chicago-based firm. He was deputy general counsel for HHS from 2003 until 2007, and he was on Trump’s HHS transition team.