A Senate panel is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the nomination of President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, despite a push from Democrats to hold additional hearings.
Five Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee wrote a letter last week to the panel’s chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), urging him to bring Nielsen back for more questioning. They cited a report in The Washington Post describing efforts by top White House officials to pressure the acting DHS secretary, Elaine Duke, over an immigration decision. The report also detailed Duke’s plans to resign.
Johnson has not formally responded to the Democrats’ letter, but his decision to schedule a vote for Tuesday morning indicates the panel’s Republican majority wants to proceed with her nomination.
If Nielsen is approved Tuesday, it would set the stage for a full Senate confirmation vote in the coming weeks.
The Democrats’ letter was followed by a statement from Duke, sent Friday by a DHS spokesman, calling accounts by The Post and others alleging White House pressure “seriously flawed.”
Those accounts, from current and former officials, described calls by White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and others who were unhappy with Duke’s decision to extend the provisional residency of about 57,000 Hondurans.
Kelly and other White House officials wanted Duke to expel the Hondurans and were concerned Nielsen could face uncomfortable questions on the matter during her confirmation hearings, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations.
The Democrats who sent the letter said the reports left them with concerns about Nielsen’s ability to stand up to the Trump White House.
In the statement issued Friday by DHS officials, Duke described her talks with Kelly as “typical, expected and necessary when making a major policy decision.”
Duke’s statement denied she was preparing to leave DHS.
“Upon confirmation of Kirstjen Nielsen as the next Secretary of Homeland Security, I look forward to continuing our important work as the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security,” the statement said. “I have no plans to go anywhere and reports to the contrary are untrue.”
Nielsen was picked by Kelly for the top job at DHS, an agency with 240,000 employees and a $40 billion budget. Nielsen worked as Kelly’s chief of staff during his tenure as DHS secretary from January to July, and Kelly made Nielsen his deputy when Trump brought him to the White House.
Nielsen, 45, a cybersecurity expert who is the first nominee to have previous experience working at DHS, appeared before the Senate panel on Wednesday and made no missteps.
But Johnson, the committee chairman, postponed a vote on her confirmation he had scheduled for the next day, citing the need to give Nielsen more time to answer 197 follow-up questions senators submitted after her testimony.