Kirstjen Nielsen on child separation: Our message is simple -- if you enter the U.S. illegally you'll be prosecuted

I think she’s finally been fully Trumpified. Took a lot of effort, though!

Inside the Trump administration, current and former officials say, there is considerable unease about the policy, which is regarded by some charged with carrying it out as unfeasible in practice and questionable morally. Kirstjen Nielsen, the current homeland security secretary, has clashed privately with Mr. Trump over the practice, sometimes inviting furious lectures from the president that have pushed her to the brink of resignation

Technically, there is no Trump administration policy stating that illegal border crossers must be separated from their children. But the “zero tolerance policy” results in unlawful immigrants being taken into federal criminal custody, at which point their children are considered unaccompanied alien minors and taken away.

Whether she really did consider resigning or not, more than one paper reported last month that Trump lambasted her during a cabinet meeting at greeeeeat length over the fact that illegal border-crossings hadn’t fallen.

Trump lashed out at his Cabinet, and Nielsen in particular, when told that the number of people arrested for illegally crossing the Mexico border topped 50,000 for the second consecutive month. The blowup lasted more than 30 minutes, according to a person with knowledge of what transpired, as Trump’s face reddened and he raised his voice, saying Nielsen needed to “close down” the border…

Trump’s tirade went on so long that many present began fidgeting in their seats and flashing grimaces, White House aides said. Eventually, the topic moved on to health care, bringing relief to many in the room.

That’s from WaPo, which reported in the same piece that Trump is known to tell aides that Nielsen’s “not tough enough” and that she’s a “Bush person.” If you want to know where the separation policy came from and why Nielsen is suddenly the face of it, that’s why. Her boss made a spectacle of her in front of her colleagues, all but accusing her of dereliction of duty. Her choice implicitly was either to quit or to clench her jaw and oversee a policy that would prove to him how far she’s willing to go in the name of zero tolerance. She made her choice. Watch five minutes of the clip below from earlier today. She goes right at the administration’s critics: “We will not apologize for the job we do, or the job law enforcement does, or the job the American people expect us to do.”

She will end up apologizing, though, I expect. Not while she’s DHS chief but afterward. In fact, I’d give her a 20 percent chance of following Comey’s general career arc of leaving the government unceremoniously, becoming a harsh administration critic, then cashing in on some Democratic-pleasing tell-all. She is, after all, a “Bush person” and per the Times excerpt above she’s only a grudging supporter of the separation policy. Many prominent Republicans, even some presidential flatterers like Anthony Scaramucci and Franklin Graham, are bashing the White House over it and there are destined to be horror stories involving kids in federal detention as time wears on. (Politico already has a story out today about a federal magistrate telling a detained illegal parent who asked about the fate of her child, “Hopefully, they’ll get you to her.” Hopefully?) There’s a nonzero chance that Nielsen will spend the next few weeks doggedly defending the policy in the media, only to have Trump leave her holding the bag by suddenly changing his mind and canceling it under pressure from his buddies. How long would it take Trump to dump child separation if, say, Kim and Kanye made a direct personal appeal? Ten minutes?

Nielsen’s in fine form here, though, hitting all the major points on the policy’s behalf. This pitch is intended for an Audience of One, as are so many public appearances by Trump officials, but all populists will enjoy it.