President Donald Trump’s frustration with Kirstjen Nielsen, which boiled over Wednesday in a Cabinet meeting tirade, has been growing for weeks — stoked by associates who have privately made the case that she’s a closeted “never Trumper” who still doesn’t fully back his agenda.
Trump’s advisers have been increasingly criticizing the Homeland Security chief in private conversations with the president, arguing that she isn’t doing enough to improve border security and noting that she wasn’t a vocal Trump supporter during the campaign, three people familiar with the internal discussions told POLITICO.
As a result, Trump has come to believe that Nielsen — who considered quitting this week after the president berated her over an uptick in migrant arrests — is not focused enough on carrying out his immigration agenda, one of the people said. The president has told friends that he believes chief of staff John Kelly, with whom he has a strained relationship, foisted his deputy Nielsen upon him, according to two of the people, complaining that he didn’t know what he was getting.
“He was surprised, after Kelly pushed for her nomination, to learn that she was a Bushie in the 43 administration and was not a Trump supporter during the campaign,” one former administration official said.
For now at least, Nielsen is staying put. Fox News reported Friday afternoon that Trump called Nielsen this week to implore her not to quit. And White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Friday the president still backs Nielsen: “As we’ve said many times before, if the president no longer has confidence in a Cabinet member, he’ll let you know.”