Two and a half months after President Donald Trump picked John Kelly to replace Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff, Trump has reportedly settled on Kelly’s replacement at DHS. And unsurprisingly, it's the candidate that Kelly has been pulling for, Kirstjen Nielsen, who served as his deputy when he ran the department.
A handful of media outlets reported Wednesday afternoon that Trump would soon announce that he’s selected Nielsen, who will then need to be confirmed by the Senate.
Politico reports that Nielsen served as White House chief of staff John Kelly’s top aide during his time as DHS secretary, and moved with him to the West Wing as his principal deputy chief of staff when he decamped for the White House in July.
Nielsen, 45, is a cybersecurity expert and an attorney with an extensive background in homeland security, including stints at the Transportation Security Administration and on the White House Homeland Security Council under President George W. Bush. Elaine Duke has been serving as acting secretary since Kelly stepped down.
As Axios explains, Nielsen was picked because nobody in the White House is closer to Kelly.
Michael Allen, a respected GOP national security figure who worked with Nielsen on the White House Homeland Security Council under George W. Bush highlighted the case for Nielsen in an email to Axios:
"No learning curve. No one else has same policy expertise in cyber, aviation security, FEMA. She takes it to the hoop. Moved to DC from Texas after 9/11 to help stand up TSA. Takes tough jobs, co-authored Katrina Lessons Learned Report which made FEMA better."
Politico also noted her “deep familiarity” with the department.
“She would be the first person to run the department who has actually worked there,” said a person close to the administration. “She has a deep familiarity.”
Nielsen, who was reportedly a dark horse candidate before Kelly started pulling for her, developed a close working relationship with Kelly during the transition, in which she served as his “sherpa,” guiding him through the Senate confirmation process.
According to Politico, Nielsen has been instrumental in Kelly’s efforts to push Trump and his senior aides to adhere to a more traditional policy making process, which hasn’t exactly made her the most popular person in the West Wing.
To be sure, as people familiar with the search reportedly told Politico, nothing in the White House is final until it's publicly announced.