Senate confirms Trump's Homeland Security nominee
© Greg Nash

The Senate confirmed President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) after John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE left the agency for his White House post earlier this year.

Senators voted 62-37 on Kirstjen Nielsen’s nomination to be DHS secretary, with 10 Democratic senators and Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingMcConnell to Dems: Don't hold government 'hostage' over DACA Overnight Regulation: Regulators kill Perry plan to help coal, nuke plants | Senate Dems to force net neutrality vote | Maine senators oppose offshore drilling plan | SEC halts trading in digital currency firm Maine senators oppose Trump's offshore drilling plans MORE (Maine) siding with Republicans to support her. 

Nielsen, who was nominated in October, was expected to secure confirmation after clearing a procedural hurdle in a 59-33 vote on Monday evening.

She’ll be the department’s first Senate-confirmed secretary in months. Kelly left to become Trump’s chief of staff in July, and Elaine Duke has led the agency in an acting capacity since then.

ADVERTISEMENT
Republicans have praised Nielsen, a cybersecurity expert and former Homeland Security official.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (R-Ky.) urged senators to back her nomination ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

“It’s time for us to vote to confirm her so she can get to work for the American people. By confirming Ms. Nielsen’s nomination to lead DHS, the Senate will take a serious step to strengthen our nation’s security. [She] will be charged with leading the department at a critical time,” he said from the Senate floor.

But Democrats raised concerns during her confirmation hearing about her lack of leadership experience, noting that DHS is a sprawling agency with roughly 240,000 employees.

“Why should we believe that, as smart as you are, and as well-spoken as you are, that someone who, as far as I know, never led an organization of even 100 people, much less 240,000, is ready to take on this responsibility?” Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperSenate Finance Dems want more transparency on trade from Trump Overnight Energy: California regulators vote to close nuclear plant | Watchdog expands Pruitt travel probe | Washington state seeks exemption from offshore drilling plan Overnight Regulation: Fight erupts over gun export rules | WH meets advocates on prison reform | Officials move to allow Medicaid work requirements | New IRS guidance on taxes MORE (D-Del.) asked during her confirmation hearing.

Nielsen’s nomination was also held up for a week in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee after members sent her more than 200 requests for follow-up information.

Nielsen previously served on George W. Bush’s homeland security council. She also worked with Kelly at DHS when he served as secretary earlier this year, and followed him to the White House to become his chief of staff.

As DHS secretary, Nielsen will head an agency charged with protecting America’s borders, squashing cybersecurity threats and leading the response to natural disasters.

Her position will also drop her into the middle of multiple immigration fights, as senators debate how to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The Trump administration announced in September it would end the program, which allows certain immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to live and work.

Congress has until mid-March to pass a legislative fix to give DACA new life, or hundreds of thousands protected under the program would face deportation.

In addition to DACA, DHS is at the center of battles over a U.S.-Mexico border wall and the Trump’s administration travel ban. The Supreme Court handed Trump a win on Monday by granting his administration’s request to fully reinstate the third version of his travel ban.

Trump pledged during his presidential campaign to build a U.S-Mexico border wall. But Nielsen told the Senate’s homeland security panel that “there is no need for a wall from sea to shining sea.”