/Is Kirstjen Nielsen next? DHS chief may follow Sessions, Kelly

Is Kirstjen Nielsen next? DHS chief may follow Sessions, Kelly

With President Donald Trump making good on his promise last month to shake things up at the White House, many are wondering who could be next to walk out of the Trump administration’s ever-revolving door. 

So far, the U.S. leader’s administrative overhaul has seen former Attorney General Jeff Sessions ousted, with Chief of Staff John Kelly and embattled Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke following not far behind.

Read more: Trump’s new chief of staff Mick Mulvaney described president as ‘terrible human being’

Now, all eyes appear to be on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, whose name has been floated several times as the next official potentially up on the chopping block.

In November, Trump told Fox News’ Chris Wallace during an interview that he had “three or four or five positions that I’m thinking about.” 

“Of that, maybe it’s going to end up being two,” he said. “Maybe. But I want to—I need flexibility.” 

The president hinted that Nielsen could be one such official he had in mind, asserting that while he likes and respects her “a lot,” he needed the DHS chief to be “much tougher on the border.” “I want to be extremely tough,” he said. 

Asked by Wallace what the chances were that Nielsen would remain DHS secretary,” Trump would only say, “Well, there’s a chance, there’s a chance [for] everybody, I mean that’s what happens in government. You leave, you make a name, you go.” 

Earlier that month, The New York Times’  Maggie Haberman and Ron Nixon reported that Trump was “almost certain to fire Kirstjen Nielsen,” noting that she had “long been a target of the president’s displeasure.” 

Citing three people close to the U.S. leader, the Times reporters said Trump had already openly discussed the possibility of dismissing Nielsen ahead of a trip to Paris for a World War I commemoration. 

If Nielsen is ultimately fired, there are several potential candidates to replace her.

Among those is Claire Grady, who currently serves as undersecretary for DHS management, overseeing the department’s budget and work force, in addition to the management programs that support Homeland Security operations. 

If Trump does not name someone else to serve as acting DHS secretary, the role would likely fall to Grady. 

It is unclear who the president would be seeking to appoint in the long-term however, with several names emerging as potential contenders.

Among them are Kris Kobach, an immigration hardliner who recently lost the Kansas governor’s race, potentially freeing him up to take on the role, and Kevin McAleenan, who currently serves as commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). 

Nominated by Trump and sworn in on March 20, 2018, the CBP head oversees 60,000 employees and manages a budget of more than $13 billion. 

McAleenan has been a strong defender of the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies, including its widely condemned “zero tolerance” child separation policy.

Even if Trump does have his sights set on a potential candidate to replace Nielsen, he would still need them to accept the role, which has already proven to be a difficult task in the case of replacing Kelly. 

After a difficult week of embarrassing rejections from his picks for chief of staff, Trump finally found a new leader for his ever-changing workforce in White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who has previously made his own feelings about the president known, describing him as a “terrible human being” in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

Despite Trump’s apparent struggle to find a willing chief of staff, Trump insisted on Saturday that the White House is a “happy place,” while hosting the annual Congressional Ball. 

“To me, it’s a happy place,” the president said, adding that it was also a “very exciting” one. 

“It starts, it sort of moves along,” he said, “and then it starts all over again if you don’t get it right.” 

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Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen stands alongside President Donald Trump as he speaks prior to signing the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, November 16, 2018. Nielsen’s name has been floated as the next official to potentially be axed from White House leadership. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty