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Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan Is Out

Oct 11, 2019
Originally published on October 11, 2019 10:30 pm

Updated at 10:02 p.m. ET

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan is leaving his post, the latest casualty at the department responsible for protecting U.S. borders.

President Trump said in a tweet Friday night that McAleenan had done an "outstanding job" but that he wanted to "spend more time with family and go to the private sector."

Trump added that he would announce a new acting secretary next week.

During his tenure, McAleenan, a career civil servant, managed to decrease the number of people entering the United States illegally across the southern border. But in an interview with The Washington Post last week, he complained about the "tone, the message, the public face and approach" of the nation's immigration policy.

The departure continues a purge of leadership at the Department of Homeland Security at Trump's behest and raises more uncertainty over management at the massive agency created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Trump supporters praised the decision.

"President Trump is now completely rid of the team that delayed, undermined, and stalled the 2016 election's mandate," a hard-line immigration enforcement ally of the administration said. "He has what he's never had before: competent personnel to carry out his vision on immigration."

Some are already calling for Trump to move acting Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli into the role.

"The president understands that the opposition seeks to stop his efforts to secure the border and restore control over our nation's immigration system through court orders and injunctions," the ally said. "What better force to stop this than the former AG of Virginia and one of the most skilled appellate lawyers in the country?"

Since April, former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Secret Service Director Randolph "Tex" Alles and acting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Ronald Vitiello have resigned.

In June, Trump also accepted the resignation of acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders.

Trump elevated McAleenan to serve as acting replacement for Nielsen just days after he said he wanted the administration to go in a "tougher direction" as illegal border crossings had increased.

McAleenan previously served as commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection after having served as acting commissioner since the beginning of the Trump administration.

He was well-liked among Republican and Democratic administrations. In a letter to Congress obtained by ABC News expressing "enthusiastic support" for McAleenan's nomination to lead U.S. Customs and Border Protection, officials from both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations called McAleenan "supremely qualified."

But he quickly drew scrutiny from hard-liners close to Trump for his ties to the Obama administration, where he was deputy commissioner of the agency.

McAleenan thanked Trump for the opportunity to serve and said DHS had "made tremendous progress mitigating the border security and humanitarian crisis."

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


The turnover in the Trump administration keeps churning on. Tonight the latest news is that acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan is out. He has served in this position since the spring of this year. He took over after Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in April. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez joins us to talk about this latest departure.

Hi, Franco.


SHAPIRO: There's a bit of a delay on the line. But to begin with, what can you tell us about why McAleenan is out?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, President Trump tweeted out. He said this news. He said that McAleenan did an outstanding job, that they had a good working relationship, that he is proud of the work that he did but that he want - that Kevin - and he used his first name - wanted to spend more time with his family.

SHAPIRO: He also said he was going to go into the private sector. As we mentioned, he was in this acting role for less than a year. How much was he able to accomplish in that time?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, we do know that, you know, it was a challenging time. He actually accomplished quite a bit in regards to issues that were important to President Trump. Those included getting Mexico to boost enforcement on its southern border to help stop or slow the flow of immigrants north. And he also got Guatemala and other countries to carry out agreements - to enter into agreements that would require asylum-seekers to seek asylum and ask for asylum in those countries instead of the United States. Those were very significant.

SHAPIRO: We saw so much controversy involving the Department of Homeland Security play out in the public space (inaudible). Privately, do you know if there were tensions between McAleenan and President Trump as there were with so many people who have left the Trump administration?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, there has - as you know, there have been so much tension. He came in under the most difficult circumstances at the time when President Trump was literally going through a purge of the department, as you noted earlier. He pushed out Secretary Nielsen and other top officials. And when Kevin McAleenan came in, from the start, he was drawing scrutiny from hard-liners who were close to President Trump and were very concerned about McAleenan and his ties to the Obama administration, where McAleenan had served before. Many did not feel that he was tough enough. And look. McAleenan - in an interview with The Washington Post, he actually complained about the conditions of his - where he was working. He complained about the tone, the message. He had concerns about the public face and approach of the nation's immigration policy. He said he tried to keep it a neutral agency, but that was really impossible. Just tonight, after the news broke, I spoke to David Lapan, who was the press secretary for DHS earlier in the administration. And he said it's simply an impossible job right now, considering the outside expectations that President Trump has put on it. And if the measure of success is stopping immigrants from even coming to the border, then that is just not going to be achievable.

SHAPIRO: Well, given how high that bar is for whoever the new Homeland Security secretary - acting or otherwise - happens to be, any guess of who that would be and when we would find out? - just briefly.

ORDOÑEZ: We don't know who that will be. President Trump did tweet out, though, that he would be naming a new acting secretary next week.

SHAPIRO: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.