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 KingAlaska Senate race sees cash surge in final stretch Bitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Ocasio-Cortez: Republicans don't believe Democrats 'have the stones to play hardball' 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 McConnellTop Senate GOP super PAC makes final .6M investment in Michigan Senate race On The Money: McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 | Lawmakers see better prospects for COVID deal after election Overnight Health Care: House Dem report blasts Trump coronavirus response | Regeneron halts trial of antibody drug in sickest hospitalized patients | McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 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 CarperTrump signs bipartisan bill funding conservation grants  OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats allege EPA plans to withhold funding from 'anarchist' cities | Montana asks court to throw out major public lands decisions after ousting BLM director | It's unknown if fee reductions given to oil producers prevented shutdowns Democrats allege EPA plans to withhold funding from 'anarchist' cities 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.”