GOP senators raise concerns about Miller's ascension

Senate Republicans are raising red flags over the purge at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the apparent rise of White House adviser Stephen Miller.

GOP senators are publicly and privately voicing their concerns, praising outgoing secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenOvernight Energy: Mueller report reveals Russian efforts to sow division over coal jobs | NYC passes sweeping climate bill likened to 'Green New Deal' | EPA official says agency may ban asbestos | Energy Dept. denies Perry planning exit The Hill's 12:30 Report: Inside the Mueller report Energy Dept denies report that Rick Perry is planning to leave Trump admin MORE and questioning the dynamics between Trump’s team of advisers and the embattled agency.

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The shakeup at DHS is increasing tensions between Republicans and, in particular, Miller, whose influence appears to be growing. Known for his conservative views and work as a staffer for then-Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Memo: Mueller's depictions will fuel Trump angst Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump Trump frustrated with aides who talked to Mueller MORE (R-Ala.), the 33-year-old White House aide is to the right of several Republican senators on immigration.

“I hope that he’s got more voices than that one in his ear on these issues, because, yeah, I think it’s important that he get a whole perspective and range of opinions,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTelehealth is calling — will Congress pick up? GOP grows tired of being blindsided by Trump Hillicon Valley: Assange faces US charges after arrest | Trump says WikiLeaks 'not my thing' | Uber officially files to go public | Bezos challenges retail rivals on wages | Kremlin tightens its control over internet MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.

Pressed on who else the president should also be listening to, Thune added with a chuckle, “Some of them are now gone.”

Sen. John CornynJohn Cornyn Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Trump struggles to reshape Fed Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks MORE (Texas), a member of GOP leadership, said Miller appears to be the “guy behind the curtain.”

“I think what we need is a consistent message because I think there are some voices in the White House who are working counter to that message and particularly creating more problems for the administration by losing senior leadership,” Cornyn said when asked if he had concerns about Miller’s growing influence.

The musical chairs atop DHS, and broader concerns that the department could move further to the right on immigration, isn’t the first time Miller has sparked ire from Senate Republicans. He has had a hand in some of the most controversial policies emanating from the White House.

And before that, while working for Sessions in the Senate, he fought against the 2013 Gang of Eight immigration bill that died in the GOP-controlled House.

Reports that Miller wants to oust Lee Cissna, head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), are putting him at odds with Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost The 7 most interesting nuggets from the Mueller report Government report says new NAFTA would have minimal impact on economy MORE (R-Iowa). The GOP senator called acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump frustrated with aides who talked to Mueller The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday MORE this week to make the case for keeping Cissna, a former Grassley staffer, and Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, who is head of policy and strategy at USCIS and previously worked for Grassley on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I know Cissna well. I know Kathy Kovarik well. They’re qualified people. They are good for the president,” Grassley said. “I heard that they were going to be dismissed and that irritates me.”

Grassley added that he could “be suspicious” of Miller’s intentions; however, he had only heard a “rumor” of Miller’s involvement in further high-level personnel changes at DHS.

But Grassley also questioned Miller's ability to counsel Trump on immigration.

“I don’t know whether he’s been an effective adviser for the president,” Grassley said.

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The concerns about Miller’s ascension come after Trump announced that Nielsen would be leaving, and after the White House withdrew Ron Vitiello’s nomination to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a decision that has mystified lawmakers.

The administration pushed back Tuesday against concerns that Nielsen’s exit signaled the start of a larger reshuffling at DHS, which has been a source of frustration at the White House for months.

Trump bristled on Tuesday at the notion that he is trying to institute widespread staff changes, telling reporters at the White House, “I never said I’m cleaning house.”

A senior administration official later repeated the president’s position but didn’t rule out additional staffing changes.

There’s been “a lot of misinformation as to why things are changing,” the official said, while adding that there are ongoing talks about concerns at DHS and USCIS, “although that’s not to say that situations can’t be rehabilitated.”

Later that day, DHS acting Deputy Secretary Claire Grady offered her resignation.

The back-to-back moves have increased speculation that Trump is seeking to shake up his team amid anger over the spike in migrant families crossing the southern border. Trump put hard-line immigration rhetoric and promises of building a border wall at the heart of his 2016 campaign, but his proposals have run into hurdles both on Capitol Hill and in the courts.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator: 'No problem' with Mueller testifying The Hill's Morning Report — Category 5 Mueller storm to hit today GOP senators double down on demand for Clinton email probe documents MORE (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said he reached out to Mulvaney this week to raise concerns about DHS.

“I’ve expressed publicly my concerns about the growing leadership void and also the growing number of people performing their duties in an acting capacity. But he indicated to me that the intention is to name nominees and have them go through the confirmation process,” Johnson said, referring to his talk with Mulvaney.

He added that Mulvaney did not provide clarity about reports that Miller and others are trying to force out additional DHS officials, but that it was his impression that Trump “was not necessarily happy” about the direction of the department.

“There may be more personnel changes, but again I think it’s more driven by who the new secretary would want in those positions,” Johnson said.

GOP senators have been full of praise for Nielsen, who was confirmed in the Senate at the end of 2017 in a 62-37 vote.

Cornyn said he reached out to Nielsen to thank her for her work, adding that she had been “put through the ringer.”

“Churn is not helpful to [Trump] or to DHS,” Cornyn said. “It creates more churning and it takes more oxygen out of the environment.”

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) defended Trump’s ability to replace his Cabinet officials but ripped White House staff, who he said had offered “classless,” “anonymous” attacks on Nielsen after her resignation was announced.

“Secretary Nielsen left … And then anonymous sources from the White House, White House staff, cut the secretary to pieces. I don’t think that was right,” Kennedy said. “I think the staff who did that to the secretary hurt their boss, and I thought it was classless.”

Jordan Fabian contributed.