Kirstjen Nielsen, a 45-year-old security expert and current deputy to White House chief of staff John Kelly, was nominated by President Donald Trump on Wednesday to head the Department of Homeland Security.
In a statement, the White House said Nielsen had “extensive professional experience in the areas of homeland security policy and strategy, cybersecurity, critical infrastructure, and emergency management.”
Nielsen, a workaholic who refused to take time off during Trump’s transition to the presidency even after a bad cough left her with a cracked rib, is widely respected at the department. She served there as a hands-on deputy to Kelly when he was Homeland Security secretary until his move to the White House in July. In the West Wing she has received mixed reviews, given her no-nonsense managerial style and her boss’s brief to change what had been a chaotic working environment.
She has played a key -– and not always welcome ― role in Kelly’s efforts to bring order to the building by serving as a gatekeeper to him and, by extension, Trump.
Trump in his initial months in office had worked with few restrictions on who could drop in for a visit or leave him something to read. This sometimes resulted in the president receiving material from fringe web sites that would wind up infuriating him. Under Kelly, anyone wanting to see Trump or leave him a news article had to go through him first.
Nielsen’s promotion, assuming the Senate confirms her, will require Kelly to find a new gatekeeper.But it will also give him an additional ally on the National Security Council, which she would join in her new role.
A source familiar with Kelly’s thinking told HuffPost that he “wanted someone [as DHS secretary] acceptable to the base but also ... going to be somebody that’s loyal, not only to Trump, but to Kelly.” Nielsen, says this source, may have to “work hard” during the Senate confirmation process to appeal to the far right on immigration issues. This part of Trump’s base distrusts Kelly’s commitment ― and by extension Nielsen’s ― to a hardline stance on undocumented immigrants.
Her appointment is also a nod to appease to critics who have noted Trump’s Cabinet includes only two women ― Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
This piece was updated with the White House’s official announcement on Nielsen.