WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned from her post Sunday evening, saying it was the “right time” to step aside.
Moments after Nielsen resigned President Donald Trump announced in a Tweet that Kevin McAleenan, now U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, will become acting DHS secretary.
Whether that appointment conforms with laws outlining who can become acting DHS was not immediately clear.
Nielsen’s trajectory in DHS was meteoric, quickly becoming the velvet glove of the White House immigration policy that roiled many members of Congress as well as individual Americans.
While serving as a lightning rod for criticism, Nielsen nevertheless was a regular object of Trump’s scorn. The president often criticized her for failing to do what he called a good job on dealing with the flow of migrants and other immigration issues on the U.S.-Mexico border.
She joined Trump at the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday and was part of a roundtable forum with border officers and local law enforcement. Tthe two toured a section of newly rebuilt barriers with Trump’s plaque attached to one barrier. She returned to Washington while Trump went on political fundraising stops in California and Nevada.
Nielsen became DHS head after Gen. John Kelly resigned to become the White House chief of staff in December 2017. She has been the subject of reports of being pushed out several times.
“I am immensely proud of our successes in transforming DHS to keep pace with our enemies and adversaries — whether it is in cyberspace or against emerging threats from new technologies,” Nielsen said in her resignation letter.
Among the progress she cited are “historic efforts to defend our borders, combat illegal immigration, obstruct the inflow of drugs, and uphold our laws and values,” responding “decisively to record-breaking natural disasters … prevented the disruption of U.S. elections” and “thwarting terrorist plotting.”
“Despite our progress in reforming homeland security for a new age, I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside,” she wrote.
Nielsen was viewed as resistant to some of the harshest immigration measures sought by Trump and others. In some regards, her exit mirrored that of James Mattis, who left his post as defense secretary last December.
Like Mattis, Nielsen went to the White House for a meeting with Trump unsure of her future as a member of the Cabinet. After leaving the meeting with Trump, she resigned, a pattern similar to Mattis.
Mattis had planned to stay in office several weeks for transition only to have Trump tell him to leave immediately. Nielsen did not give the president that option, as her resignation was immediate.