WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Deputy White House chief of staff Kirstjen Nielsen asto lead the Department of Homeland Security.
Senators approved Nielsen’s nomination, 62-37, on Tuesday. Nielsen, 45, is a former DHS official who is considered a protege of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former DHS secretary.
Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Nielsen a qualified candidate with the talent and experience to succeed. As a former DHS chief of staff,understands the department’s daily operations and is ready to lead on her first day, McConnell said.
Democrats complained that Nielsen lacks the experience needed to run a major agency with 240,000 employees. They also cited concerns about possible White House interference in a recent DHS decision to send home thousands of Nicaraguans and Haitians long granted U.S. protection.
Homeland Security oversees the nation’s borders, cybersecurity and response to natural disasters, among other areas.
“Ms. Nielsen is a homeland security expert with a deep understanding of the issues facing the Department and is well-positioned to lead us into the future,” Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke said in a statement Tuesday. “It has been an honor to serve as the Department’s Acting Secretary, and I look forward to working alongside Ms. Nielsen as her deputy as we continue to carry out the DHS mission of safeguarding the American people, our homeland, and our values.”
Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said Nielsen brings valuable, practical experience to DHS. He called her an expert in risk management, with a focus on cybersecurity, emergency management and critical infrastructure.
Nielsen “is ready to answer this call to duty,” Johnson said. “She has been working in and around the Department of Homeland Security since its creation.”
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said Nielsen has played a role in several questionable Trump administration decisions, including a travel ban to restrict entry from six mostly Muslim countries, termination of a program for young immigrants and what Harris called a “feeble response to Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey.”
Harris also said she was troubled by Nielsen’s failure to acknowledge at her confirmation hearing how human behavior contributes to climate change.
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