Trump told Wallace in a pretaped interview that aired Sunday that while he liked and respected Nielsen, he wanted her “to get much tougher on the border,” adding “I want to be extremely tough.”
He also refused to commit to Nielsen retaining the role into the future. When asked by Wallace, “What are the chances that she’ll be DHS secretary?” he answered, “Well there’s a chance, there’s a chance everybody, I mean that’s what happens in government, you leave, you make a name, you go,” adding that the people who have left his White House have done “very well.”
President Trump on DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “Well, I like her a lot. I respect her a lot. She’s very smart. I want her to get much tougher and we’ll see what happens there. But I want to be extremely tough.“ #POTUSonFNS pic.twitter.com/vLRLgqiWEh— FoxNewsSunday (@FoxNewsSunday) November 18, 2018
Trump has reportedly been dissatisfied with Nielsen for not being “tough enough” in implementing his immigration agenda. But as Vox’s Dara Lind notes, Nielsen’s policy record has been extremely “tough”:
Nielsen has spent most of her tenure executing an ongoing crackdown at the US-Mexico border. Under her watch, thousands of National Guard units and active-duty military have been deployed to the border (many for no obvious purpose).
Specifically, the uptick in US-Mexico border crossings has reportedly displeased Trump, with Politico reporting that Kelly has been fighting to save Nielsen’s job by convincing the president that she isn’t to blame for this. When it comes to what she does have control over, Nielsen has been exacting, Lind writes:
Nielsen’s DHS has made it near-impossible for people to seek asylum. Under a proclamation signed by Trump on Friday, people who enter the US between official border crossings (called points of entry) are categorically ineligible for asylum; asylum-seekers who do try to come to ports of entry, meanwhile, are forced to wait for weeks (or simply turned away) under a department policy of “metering.”
Most famously, Nielsen signed off on the “zero-tolerance” prosecution policy that resulted, in late spring and early summer, in the separation of thousands of families at the US-Mexico border without any apparent plans to reunite them. And her department continues to work on regulations that will allow them to detain families together indefinitely.
Nielsen’s not the only one possibly on the chopping block
Trump has reportedly been considering an administration-wide shake-up in the wake of the midterms. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is already out the door, and according to a report by the Washington Post, Trump has decided to ask for Nielsen’s resignation next.
The future of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is also unclear. Kelly has clashed with the first lady over staffing and travel, and did so again recently, leading to an NBC report that he “may soon exit White House.”
In his conversation with Wallace, Trump was more positive on Kelly, saying, “we get along well. There are certain things I love what he does. And there are certain things that I don’t like that he does, that aren’t his strength.”
“But I haven’t even thought of John in terms of this,” Trump added, “but John at some point is gonna wanna move on.”
President Trump on Chief of Staff Gen John Kelly: We get along well. There are certain things I love what he does. And there are certain things that I don’t like that he does -- that aren’t his strength. #POTUSonFNS pic.twitter.com/7Gu6qhgp6P— FoxNewsSunday (@FoxNewsSunday) November 18, 2018
According to an administration official quoted by Olivia Nuzzi in New York magazine, Trump has tried to fire Kelly before, but has failed because the retired Marine general simply ignores him, with Trump not knowing who else to call in to help.
But Kelly and Nielsen are close allies, leading to speculation they could be out at same time. If Nielsen were to go, Kelly would be down another ally in an ever-unfriendlier White House; if he were to leave, she’s probably even worse off: As Lind wrote, “It’s generally accepted that the influence of Kelly, her mentor, is the biggest reason she’s kept the job as long as she has.”