No one doubts that Donald Trump has gotten frustrated at the slow pace in which his border and immigration policies have progressed. The natural focal point of that frustration would be the Department of Homeland Security, although perhaps only because the entire Congress can’t squeeze into a Cabinet meeting. And perhaps Trump’s anger would be enough to get Kirstjen Nielsen to freshen up the ‘ol resumé, but this seems a little far-fetched:
Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, told colleagues she was close to resigning after President Trump berated her on Wednesday in front of the entire cabinet for what he said was her failure to adequately secure the nation’s borders, according to several current and former officials familiar with the episode.
Ms. Nielsen, who is a protégée of John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, has drafted a resignation letter but has not submitted it, according to two of the people. As the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Ms. Nielsen is in charge of the 20,000 employees who work for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Mr. Trump’s anger toward Ms. Nielsen, who was sitting several seats to his left at the meeting, was part of a lengthy tirade in which the president railed at his cabinet about what he said was its lack of progress toward sealing the country’s borders against illegal immigrants, according to one person who was present at the meeting.
The far-fetched part is the resignation threat, not the tirade. The Washington Post corroborates the latter, but says the resignation threat simply didn’t happen:
President Trump berated Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in a dispiriting Cabinet meeting on immigration Wednesday, according to three administration officials, but her colleagues denied reports that she has threatened to quit.
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.
“Why don’t you have solutions? How is this still happening?” he said, adding later, “We need to shut it down. We’re closed.”
No one likes to be at the epicenter of the boss’ wrath, no matter the boss nor the reason for the wrath. Nielsen, however, has plenty of experience in high-pressure jobs, having served John Kelly as chief of staff at DHS before he moved over to the White House to become Trump’s chief of staff. She moved over with him as deputy chief of staff to Trump for three months before moving back to run DHS. She’s familiar with Trump’s mercurial temperament, even if perhaps not necessarily taking the brunt of it. Nielsen’s not a lightweight nor a shrinking violet.
Besides, Trump can’t afford to let Nielsen resign, even though he won’t stop being Trump around her. He won’t have the Senate votes to replace her with someone who will crack down even harder, assuming that Nielsen’s somehow holding back. John McCain’s out, which leaves 50 Republicans and 49 to an opposition party that’s very hostile to Trump’s immigration policies. Joe Manchin might be inclined to vote for a hardliner candidate just to save his bacon in West Virginia, but some Republicans might not come along on that kind of nominee. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Dean Heller all come to mind, the latter especially given his own electoral fragility in November.
Perhaps the resignation narrative was a reminder of this to Trump, who follows the media coverage of his administration closely. Push too hard and he might find himself having to consult with Chuck Schumer on immigration policy, the message might be. Or at the very least, find DHS in the hands of career bureaucrats who will run their own policies with civil-service protections buffering them from tirades in conference rooms.