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At the White House
THE FALL GUY: Kirstjen Nielsen is finally leaving the Trump administration, a casualty of the endless border wars that seem destined to continue through the 2020 election. And with the ouster last week of Trump's nominee to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement, it looks like Trump intends to push even “tougher” rhetoric on immigration.
The embattled secretary of homeland security attended a Sunday evening meeting with the president where she was forced to step down, two senior administration officials told The Post’s Nick Miroff, Josh Dawsey, Seung Min Kim and Maria Sacchetti. Nielsen entered the meeting with “no intention of quitting . . . The announcement of her departure came shortly after the meeting.” Via Trump’s Twitter feed.
CBS News’s Paula Reid and Major Garrett first broke the news of Nielsen’s resignation.
“I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside,” Ms. Nielsen said in a resignation letter. “I hope that the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse,” Nielsen wrote in a resignation letter.
It's not me, it's you: This makes Nielsen the 8th Cabinet secretary under Trump to resign under pressure. (See: Tom Price, Rex Tillerson, David Shulkin, Scott Pruitt, Jeff Sessions, Ryan Zinke, Jim Mattis.)
Singled out: Nielsen, who was confirmed in December 2017, leaves the administration as Trump's anger intensifies over the surge in migrants trying to cross the southern border, with “the unauthorized crossings to the highest levels in a decade.” Her fate has been repeatedly questioned over the course of her 16-month tenure as she has been privately and repeatedly berated by Trump for failing to fix the problem.
The paradox: “She has succeeded in holding on to her job, defying numerous reports that Trump had decided to fire her, but has done so by becoming the public face of controversial policies that haven’t worked as planned — and in some cases have backfired,” The Los Angeles Times’s Mollie O’Toole wrote last week.
“The president berated Ms. Nielsen regularly, calling her at home early in the mornings to demand that she take action to stop migrants from entering the country, including doing things that were clearly illegal, like blocking all migrants from seeking asylum,” the New York Times’s Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Maggie Haberman and Michael D. Shear. “She repeatedly noted the limitations imposed on her department by federal laws, court settlements and international obligations. Those responses only infuriated Mr. Trump further.”
“Mr. Trump and Stephen Miller, his top immigration adviser, have privately but regularly complained about Ms. Nielsen. They blamed her for a rise in migrants entering the United States and not finding more creative ways to secure the border,” per the Times.
“Trump began chastising Nielsen in front of other staff, and he berated her extensively during one particularly awkward Cabinet meeting last May that left White House aides squirming in their chairs, according to officials in attendance,” per Nick, Josh, Seung Min, and Maria.
The reality?: "Immigration experts say Trump’s own immigration policies have caused so much chaos along the border that they may be encouraging illegal crossings," the Associated Press's Jill Colvin and Colleen Long report.
- "Trump, who campaigned on a promise to secure the border, has thrown virtually every option his aides have been able to think of at the problem, to little avail," per Jill and Colleen.
The face of family separation: Nielsen managed to hold onto her job, largely due to her willingness to defend the administration's “zero tolerance” crackdown that separated thousands of migrant children from their parents.
- “This administration did not create a policy of separating families at the border,” Nielsen falsely claimed to White House reporters during a briefing last June.
- “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period,” Nielsen falsely tweeted at the time.
- “Some of the most intense outrage at the measures has followed instances of parents deported to Central America without their children or spending weeks unable to locate their sons and daughters,” my colleague Nick reported at the time. “In other instances, pediatricians and child advocates have reported seeing toddlers crying inconsolably for their mothers at shelters where staff are prohibited from physically comforting them.”
- “We will not apologize for the job we do,” Nielsen said at a gathering of law enforcement officers.
- It's not over: “It could take up to two years for the government to identify potentially thousands of additional immigrant families US authorities separated at the southern border, officials said in a court filing,” CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet and Priscilla Alvarez reported on Saturday.
Writing on the wall: Last week, Trump abruptly withdrew his nominee, Ronald Vitiello, to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying that he wants someone “tougher” to lead the agency.
- “Six administration officials said Friday that the decision to jettison Vitiello was a sign of the expanding influence that Miller now wields over immigration matters in the White House, particularly as Trump lashes out at Mexico and Central American nations — as well as Homeland Security officials and aides who express doubts about the legality of his ideas,” Nick, Seung Min and Josh reported on Friday.
- Next head to roll?: "An empowered [Stephen] Miller is also eyeing the removal of Lee Francis Cissna, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which runs the legal immigration system, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity," per The AP's Jill Colvin and Colleen Long.
The acting Cabinet: Right now, @realDonaldTrump has an:— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) April 7, 2019
--acting DHS secretary
--acting Defense secretary
--acting Interior secretary (Bernhardt nominated)
--acting WH chief of staff
(also an acting UN ambassador, although that position has been downgraded from Cab level)
NEXT IN LINE: Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan will serve as acting DHS secretary. Those under consideration to permanently replace Nielsen include:
- Ken Cuccinelli II, a former Virginia attorney general, two Republicans involved in the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly told Nick, Seung Min and Josh.
- Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the former Texas governor, is seen as the most confirmable.
- Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state and a prominent immigration hard-liner, “has been floated in the past for the job but is more likely to be involved in the administration as a non-Senate-confirmed adviser,” per Nick, Seung Min and Josh.
Of note: Nielsen might have a tough time landing her next gig in the private sector.
- “Immigration and civil rights groups are urging companies not to hire senior Trump administration officials who were involved in planning, carrying out or defending the separation of migrant children from their parents,” Bloomberg's Jennifer Epstein reports.
- A letter signed by 41 groups was released on Friday and will be sent to the CEOs off all Fortune 500 companies: “They should not be allowed to seek refuge in your boardrooms or corner offices,” according to the open letter. “Allowing them to step off of the revolving door and into your welcoming arms should be a non starter.
As North Korea becomes increasingly unresponsive to working-level denuclearization talks post-Hanoi, satellite images from @BeyondCSISKorea reveal normal operations are ongoing at the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Facility.— CSIS (@CSIS) April 7, 2019
Read the report: https://t.co/CclCrU8MWg pic.twitter.com/CML7uh4n6L
WEEK AHEAD: The South Koreans are coming to town. President Moon Jae-in of South Korea arrives in Washington on Thursday and plans to pitch Trump on easing sanctions on Pyongyang, according to the Korean Times's Kim Yoo-chul.
- “The failure of the Hanoi summit was still an opportunity to get a deeper understanding of what Pyongyang and Washington want to make progress in that respect. Moon plans to embrace the risk of personal diplomacy by asking Trump to grant reciprocal measures after Seoul and Washington laid out the necessary groundwork via working-level discussions,” one South Korean official told the paper.
Regain traction: The meeting will present an opportunity to "regain traction on negotiations with North Korea if [Moon] and Trump can harness each other’s pragmatic experience in dealing with Kim and drop the all or nothing approaches," Robert Carlin, a visiting fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation who worked for the State Department on North Korea until 2004, writes in the Los Angeles Times.
- “President Trump was on the right track in Singapore last year; he appeared to be on the right track in going to Hanoi in February. His instincts on engaging the North Koreans have proven to be sound. Following them, we began digging ourselves out from under 17 years of delusion about how to deal with North Korea until the reappearance of Bolton’s Libya model put us back in the hole,” Carlin argues.
- During an interview last week with CBS This Morning's Norah O'Donnell, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he's "confident” that there will be a third summit with North Korea to continue denuclearization talks.
- “We came out of Hanoi with a deeper understanding of each other,” Pompeo told O'Donnell. “The positions that the two sides had, the two leaders were able to make progress in that respect. We didn’t get as far as the world is demanding. These are global sanctions that are on North Korea today.”
Signing my tax return.... pic.twitter.com/XJfXeaORbU— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 15, 2015
THE 411 ON TRUMP'S TAX RETURNS: If the White House has its way, Democrats will never see Trump's tax returns.
We're already in unprecedented territory. Trump is the first Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan in 1980 to refuse to release at least one year of his returns. He is also the first sitting president since Jimmy Carter not to release his returns for each year as president, a tradition surprisingly begun by Richard Nixon but not surprisingly due to a scandal.
Trump himself promised he would honor that tradition, but time and again he has backtracked on whatever deal or condition he sets for himself.
How we got here: From birtherism to “I'm under audit:”
- In 2011, Trump floated a possible deal: his tax returns for President Obama's birth certificate. The offer was made one week before Obama released his long form birth certificate. As BuzzFeed News pointed out, Trump said in a follow-up interview the same year that he'll release his returns "when appropriate." Of course, he wasn't running for president at the time.
- In 2012, Trump put on his pundit hat and dinged GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for not releasing his returns earlier.
- The new explicit promise: In 2014, Trump told an Irish TV station: “If I decide to run for office, I'll produce my tax returns, absolutely. And I would love to do that.”
- In 2015 and as late as January 2016, Trump publicly gave indications he was still considering releasing his returns. He also proposed another trade: his return for Hillary Clinton's deleted emails.
- The walkback: During a February 2016 debate, Trump said “I will absolutely give my return but I'm being audited now for two or three [years' worth] now so I can't.” The audit line has stuck, despite agreement that Trump could release his returns if he wanted to.
- When he leaves office?: During a 2017 interview with the Economist, Trump said he'll release his returns “after I'm finished.”
It's in this context that White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said the issue has already been litigated by voters, as House Democrats try to use an obscure law to obtain the president's returns. FWIW, Romney, who returned the favor and chided then-candidate Trump over his refusal to release his returns, is called Democratic demands "moronic."
- “Keep in mind, that that's an issue that was already litigated during the election,” Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Voters knew the president could have given his tax returns, they knew that he didn't and they elected him anyway, which is, of course, what drives the Democrats crazy.”
50,000 feet: The question is whether Trump's lack of tax transparency bleeds over into the 2020 Democratic field.
- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) released summary pages of his 2014 return in 2016, after constant prodding from Hillary Clinton and her campaign, but is back to dragging his feet again.
- Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee have all released their returns.
On The Hill
PROGRAMMING NOTE — BARR TESTIFIES ON THE HILL: For the first time since the Mueller report was delivered to him, Attorney General William Barr will testify on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
- Technically, Barr's appearance before a House Appropriations subcommittee is about the 2020 budget, but the still-secret report is likely to suck up all the oxygen in the room.
- Remember: Barr himself said that he will turn over special counsel Mueller's report to Congress no later than the middle of this month. But he's working on redacting sensitive material, with wide leeway in what he determines to strike and what he decides can be made public.
- P.S.: The House Judiciary Committee voted to allow its chair to subpoena the report and its underlying investigative material.
In the Media
WHAT WE'RE READING:
- Safari scare: An American tourist and her tour guide who were abducted in Uganda have been rescued, officials say. By CNN's Brent Swails and Christina Maxouris.
- Nancy Pelosi is calling her shot: "Pelosi outlines a path to victory for House Democrats in 2020 — and guarantees it." By The Post's Paul Kane.
- Run North Korea: Tourists swell Pyongyang marathon turnout. Via the BBC.
- 'A kind of war': Buttigieg describes struggle with sexual orientation in emotional speech. By NBC News’s Josh Lederman.
- It's still 🌸 season: The Big Business of Japan’s Cherry Blossoms. By Chloe Whiteaker, Marika Katanuma and Paul Murray.
- Violence escalates in Libya: U.S. Military Pulls Out of Libyan Capital as Rival Militias Battle. By The New York Times’s David Kirkpatrick.