Top Homeland Security Dem slams White House chief of staff

Top Homeland Security Dem slams White House chief of staff
© Getty

The top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee panned White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE for allegedly pressuring acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke to end a key immigration program.

According to a report by The Washington Post Thursday, Kelly rebuked Duke for extending temporary protected status (TPS) for nearly 60,000 Honduran citizens.

“If true, the Washington Post report exposes a constellation of problems with how both John Kelly and this White House operate,” Homeland Security Committee ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement Friday. 

“Their penchant for political maneuvering over substantive policymaking is truly shameful. The Department of Homeland Security's leadership should not be subjected to constant political interference from the White House.”


TPS allows citizens of designated countries to legally live and work in the United States after man-made or natural disasters make a return dangerous or impossible; Duke on Monday allowed the Honduran TPS designation to automatically extend for six months.

In the same decision, Duke canceled TPS for Nicaragua, starting a one-year wind down process that will end with nearly 5,000 Nicaraguans losing their TPS benefits on Jan. 5, 2019.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is due to make a decision on TPS for 50,000 Haitians later this month — a designation extended by then-Secretary Kelly in May — and for nearly 200,000 Salvadorans in January.

Both DHS and the White House denied any inappropriate interference from Kelly or White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert on Duke’s decision, saying instead that calls between Duke and the White House on the matter were part of a normal review process.

“It is perfectly normal for members of the White House team to weigh in on major decisions. The Acting Secretary took input from the White House and other sources on the path forward for TPS and made her decision based on the law,” Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for Duke, told The Hill in an email.

Still, the Post report quoted White House officials as being frustrated with Duke's “lack of decisiveness” on the issue.

Since taking the reins of DHS in January, Kelly has pushed the administration's TPS policy, emphasizing the program's temporary nature and calling on Congress to decide whether permanent benefits should be extended to TPS beneficiaries.

Duke’s decision to allow Honduran TPS to automatically extend reportedly infuriated Kelly because it could dampen the chances of Kirstjen Nielsen, the administration's nominee and Kelly’s protege, to succeed Duke at the helm of DHS.

After Thursday's report, five Democratic senators called for Nielsen to reappear before the chamber's Homeland Security Committee after a mostly smooth first nomination hearing.

“With the nomination of Kirstjen Nielsen to be the sixth Secretary of Homeland Security pending in the Senate, it is incumbent upon Senators to ensure that the nominee, who currently reports to John Kelly, does not intend to continue taking orders from the former general,” said Thompson. 

“I also urge my Senate colleagues to diligently probe her with respect to plans for Temporary Protective Status immigrants,” he added.

The concerns over Kelly's interference in the TPS decision have led to mounting Democratic attacks on the former four-star Marine general's character, once viewed as a stabilizing influence in the Trump White House.

Kelly got into a public fight with Rep. Frederica WilsonFrederica Patricia WilsonFlorida Democrats call on DeSantis to accept federal help to expand COVID-19 testing In their own words: Lawmakers, staffers remember Jan. 6 insurrection FAA levies 5K in fines against unruly passengers this year MORE (D-Fla.) over a call President Trump placed to the widow of a fallen soldier, and separately irritated many with recent comments on Fox News that the Civil War was the result of a failure to compromise.

“Finally, this unsettling incident, on the heels of Kelly's praise for General Robert E. Lee and a disgraceful, unfounded attack on my Congressional colleague from Florida, brings into focus a disturbing picture of a man who many of us thought of as the last hope for instilling honor and decency for this White House,” said Thompson.