Jeff Sessions’ departure came as no surprise, given Donald Trump’s public beating of his former Attorney General over the last year-plus of his tenure. Neither should an impending departure of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, a move the Washington Post reported last night as imminent. Trump has made his displeasure with the status of immigration enforcement widely known, if not quite as publicly aimed at Nielsen:
President Trump has told advisers he has decided to remove Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and her departure from the administration is likely to occur in the coming weeks, if not sooner, according to five current and former White House officials.
Trump canceled a planned trip with Nielsen this week to visit U.S. troops at the border in South Texas and told aides over the weekend that he wants her out as soon as possible, these officials said. The president has grumbled for months about what he views as Nielsen’s lackluster performance on immigration enforcement and is believed to be looking for a replacement who will implement his policy ideas with more alacrity.
According to the Post’s report, it’s an open question as to whether Nielsen will get pushed or jump:
Nielsen has been reluctant to leave the administration before reaching the one-year mark as secretary on Dec. 6, but she has been unhappy in the job for several months, according to colleagues. Trump has berated her during Cabinet meetings, belittled her to other White House staff and tagged her months ago as a “Bushie,” a reference to her previous service under President George W. Bush and meant to cast suspicion on her loyalty.
When Nielsen has tried to explain the laws and regulations that prevent the government from drastically curtailing immigration or closing the border with Mexico, as Trump has suggested, the president has grown impatient and frustrated, aides said.
Who would Trump pick that would be more enthusiastic than Nielsen in immigration enforcement? There is one man who has already proven himself a good candidate with a track record of enforcing Trump’s get-tough immigration policies. Does anyone know what Jeff Sessions is up to at the moment? Too soon? Probably.
The departure of Nielsen might come as a surprise in one respect — she worked under John Kelly while he served in the same job at DHS and was thought to be part of his team. Would her departure be awkward for Kelly? According to ABC, that might be a moot question:
President Donald Trump is considering yet another shakeup of his administration, preparing to remove Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and looking at possible replacements for Chief of Staff John Kelly, including Vice President Mike Pence’s Chief of Staff Nick Ayers, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. …
Meanwhile, Kelly’s job is also uncertain and his fate has been in question for some time. Sources tell ABC News that within the last few weeks, the president has once again discussed Kelly’s fate with many of his top advisers; Kelly has continued to grow distant with the president, sources said.
Allahpundit had much more on this angle in our previous post, so be sure to read it all. Rumors about Kelly heading for the exits have swirled since practically the hour he took over the chief of staff position. Nothing has come of those rumors yet, and thus far Trump has had nothing but public praise for the former Marine general. This summer, Trump and Kelly agreed to keep the partnership going until after the 2020 elections, ABC notes. That’s not set in stone, obviously, but it shows that both men saw this relationship as a long-term proposition even after a year on the job for Kelly. That calculus might have changed, ABC suggests, when John Bolton signed on as national security adviser.
So who would want those jobs, especially after watching what happened to Nielsen and Sessions? Especially when Trump’s expectations exceed what can be reasonably accomplished within the law as it exists now? Aaron Blake warns that the pool of qualified candidates for these jobs will run thin quickly, if not out entirely:
The looming decision is about Nielsen’s failure to meet Trump’s expectations when it comes to curtailing illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border. An uptick in border apprehensions in recent months and the caravan of migrants coming up from Honduras have probably sealed Nielsen’s fate.
But she seems to be a victim of irrational expectations more than anything. And she has spent much of her tenure tolerating Trump’s whims and even putting her reputation on the line in the name to keeping her job. No amount of public fealty, it seems, has been enough. …
Trump puts people like Nielsen in the position of accounting for his whims and his counterfactual claims. His expectations for how much someone like Nielsen could accomplish when it comes to securing the border were almost definitely unreasonable. She tried to compensate for those shortcomings by saying things she couldn’t possibly have believed to boost Trump.
If and when she is finally ousted, it should serve as notice to anybody who would succeed her, or anyone else in the administration, that fealty is a necessary but not sufficient part of the job. And there’s no guarantee that sacrificing your own reputation for Trump will be rewarded.
It might not be that desperate at the moment, but it’s clear that Trump has grown frustrated with the statutory and court-imposed limits to his ability to impose his own immigration policies. A future DHS Secretary will have to contend with those same limits, at least until Congress acts to change the laws or Trump wins a few rounds in court on DACA and other issues. In the meantime, Nielsen’s successor will have to figure out a way to satisfy Trump on enthusiasm while producing much the same results.