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 KingRestoring our national parks would be a bipartisan win for Congress Restore our parks Renaming Senate office building after McCain sparks GOP backlash 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.

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

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify McConnell rips Democrats for handling of Kavanaugh nomination Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow 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 CarperPrimary turnout soars in 2018 with Dems leading charge Cynthia Nixon camp partially blames high turnout for loss Raimondo beats back primary challenge in Rhode Island 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.”