Trump eyeing Homeland Security, White House shakeup
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is weighing an administration-wide shakeup as he looks to prepare his White House for divided government, but it is unclear who is going and who is staying.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was thought to be out as soon as this week, according to two people with knowledge of the issue, but she is now likely to remain in the post for a longer period because there is no obvious successor in place.
Trump has soured on Nielsen and White House chief of staff John Kelly, in part over frustration that his administration is not doing more to address what he has called a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the people. But the scope of the contemplated changes is far broader, as Trump gears up for a wave of Democratic oversight requests and to devote more effort to his own re-election campaign.
According to people familiar with the situation, Trump is also discussing replacing Kelly with Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers. Kelly, a retired Marine general, has been credited with bringing order and process to a chaotic West Wing, but he has fallen out of favor with the president as well as presidential daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Ayers, a seasoned campaign operative, would restore a political-mindset to the role, but he faces stiff opposition from some corners of the West Wing, with some aides lobbying Trump directly against the move.
Other changes are afoot, as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are being discussed for replacement. And in an extraordinary move Tuesday, first lady Melania Trump’s office called publicly for the firing of Trump’s deputy national security adviser, Mira Ricardel.
For all of the talk of churn, Trump often expresses frustration with aides and then does not take action. Talk of Kelly’s exit has percolated for months and he remains in place.
Nielsen had hoped to complete one year in the job and leave in December, but it appeared unlikely she would last that long, said two sources. Both people who had knowledge of the debate spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Curbing illegal immigration is Trump’s signature issue — and one he returns to as a way to rally his most loyal supporters.
But anyone who takes over at Homeland Security is likely to run up against the same problems that Nielsen faced. The administration has already tried to clamp down at the border but those efforts have been largely thwarted or watered down due to legal challenges.
Trump also told allies that he never fully trusted Nielsen, whom he associated with President George W. Bush, a longtime foe. And he told those close to him that he felt, at times, that her loyalty was more toward her longtime mentor — Kelly — than to the president.
Zinke, who faces several ethics investigations, said in interview with The Associated Press on Monday that he has spoken in recent days with Trump, Pence and Kelly about probes into his leadership and they remain supportive. He denied any wrongdoing.
Ross addressed turnover rumors at a Yahoo! Finance summit Tuesday, saying he was in the post to give back to the country and support Trump.