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Nielsen top choice for homeland post

Trump announces plans to nominate cybersecurity expert, aide to Kelly

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Photographs by AP/ANDREW HARNIK

In this Aug. 22, 2017 photo, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Deputy Chief of Staff Kirstjen Nielsen speak together as they walk across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington.

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he intends to nominate Kirstjen Nielsen, a cybersecurity expert and deputy White House chief of staff, to be homeland security secretary, a job left vacant in July when John Kelly left the department to become White House chief of staff.

The White House said in a statement that Nielsen had "extensive professional experience in the areas of homeland security policy and strategy, cybersecurity, critical infrastructure, and emergency management."

Nielsen is a longtime Homeland Security Department official who served as Kelly's chief of staff when he was homeland security secretary and accompanied him to the White House as his deputy.

Nielsen had one crucial advantage -- the trust and support of Kelly, to whom she grew close after volunteering to help "sherpa" him through the confirmation process earlier this year.

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At the White House, as Kelly's enforcer, Nielsen quickly emerged as a contentious presence. Her detractors viewed her no-nonsense style as brusque and complained that she could be unresponsive as she worked with Kelly to streamline West Wing operations and instill discipline in a White House often lacking structure.

But her allies and supporters said she was simply helping to professionalize the West Wing -- the sort of necessary but thankless task that often leaves some staff members griping.

The Department of Homeland Security is considered a critical agency on matters of counterterrorism and national security. For example, the agency informed states that they had been targeted by Russian hackers during the 2016 election, and it is responsible for monitoring and preventing such incidents in the future.

It also bears primary responsibility for immigration enforcement and border protection -- top priorities in the Trump administration. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has been coordinating the response to recent hurricanes, and the Secret Service, which protects the president and his family, are also a part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Nielsen's nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.

Democrats and critics of the president said they were looking for a nominee with counterterrorism experience and a familiarity with Department of Homeland Security operations. Supporters say Nielsen would take both to the job.

"Nielsen's nomination is a strong signal of competence and experience being valued by the White House over ideologues and outsiders," said Stewart Verdery, a Republican lobbyist who worked in the department during the George W. Bush administration.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican and the first homeland security secretary, said in a statement that Nielsen was a "homeland security veteran" who was "extremely well versed in the all-hazard threats challenging the security and resilience of our homeland."

Information for this article was contributed by Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti of The Washington Post.

A Section on 10/12/2017

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