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President Donald J. Trump’s time in office has been marked by multiple shifts in his administration’s personnel, not to mention his own personal scandals. Michael Flynn resigned as national security advisor only a month into Trump’s term, and major players including chief of staff John Kelly, press secretary Sean Spicer, and attorney general Jeff Sessions have all left the administration, whether by choice or not. Trump’s administration has seen the highest turnover rate in history, and now, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is leaving, too.
Nielsen abruptly resigned following a meeting with Trump on April 7th. A source with inside knowledge claims that Nielsen was pressured into resigning and did not intend to do so, but she did not attempt to keep her position in the face of mounting pressure. Those paying close attention to Trump administration matters in recent months have expected Nielsen to leave, whether voluntarily or against her will, for quite some time.
Speculation of Nielsen’s official departure from the administration first broke on the afternoon of April 7th, after which President Trump confirmed the news via his oft-used Twitter. Trump also announced Nielsen’s acting replacement, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. Nielsen intends to stay on through April 10th to ensure an “orderly transition.”
Nielsen leaves the Trump administration after months of battling with colleagues who felt her approach to immigration issues was not stern enough. National security advisor John Bolton and senior advisor Stephen Miller, who has long been especially outspoken about toughening immigration policy, have openly told the president many times that Nielsen’s approach to the U.S.-Mexico border situation has not been as aggressive as necessary. Trump himself has previously advocated for a full-on closure of the border, although he has seen fierce opposition to this idea from even longstanding allies such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Many people who are familiar with the Trump administration’s internal matters have suggested that Nielsen’s fate was sealed the moment Chief of Staff John Kelly left the administration late last year. Kelly was known as Nielsen’s top advocate within the administration, and after his departure, many say that her relations with Bolton and Miller, not to mention Kelly’s successor Mick Mulvaney and Trump’s controversial son-in-law Jared Kushner, completely deteriorated. Nevertheless, Nielsen stood at Trump’s side on April 5th, during a speech in which he restated his belief that only a border wall would properly quell the national security issues present along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In recent months, the U.S. has seen a surge in migration across its border with Mexico. Nielsen was key in implementing policies intended to address the burden this surge has placed on the U.S. immigration system. Like Trump himself, she saw the situation as quite intense, infamously comparing it to a Category 5 hurricane. Three days before her resignation, she expressed further frustrations about her department’s lack of resources and said something that, in retrospect, may have foreshadowed her departure: “We have tried everything that we can at DHS.”