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Wake Up To Politics - April 8, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, April 8, 2019. 301 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 575 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigns

President Donald Trump announced on Sunday that Kirstjen Nielsen, his secretary of homeland security, had resigned. The two clashed frequently over border security throughout Nielsen's 16 months in the position; her departure, which appears to have been forced, signals Trump's plan to double down on his hardline immigration policies.

"I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside," Nielsen said in her resignation letter, which came after a final meeting with President Trump on Sunday. "I hope that the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse."

As has often been the case in the Trump era, news of her resignation was first announced on the president's Twitter feed. President Trump also announced on Sunday that Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), would take over as Acting DHS Secretary, despite a legal statute that puts Under Secretary for Management Claire Grady next in the departmental line of succession.

Nielsen's departure comes just days after Trump abruptly withdrew his nomination of Ronald Vitiello to be director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), telling reporters that "we want to go in a tougher direction."

Trump, along with his senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, reportedly blamed Nielsen for the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. "The president grew frustrated with Nielsen again early this year as the number of migrants rose and as she raised legal concerns about some of Trump’s more severe impulses, particularly when his demands clashed with U.S. immigration laws and federal court orders," according to the Washington Post.

According to the New York Times, "the president called Nielsen at home early in the mornings to demand that she take action to stop migrants from entering the country, including doing things that were clearly illegal, such as blocking all migrants from seeking asylum."

Her failure to follow through on some of his demands led to his increasing frustration with her job performance, which was expressed on at least one occasion at a Cabinet meeting surrounded by other top Trump administration officials. According to the Times, Trump most recently asked Nielsen "to close the ports of entry along the border and to stop accepting asylum seekers," a plan Nielsen "found ineffective and inappropriate." She was reportedly summoned to the White House on Sunday with the understanding that her job was likely in jeopardy.

In a series of tweets after announcing Nielsen's resignation, the president threatened to take further action to respond to the record-high number of border arrests, including closing the southern border. "Our Country is FULL!" he said. With Nielsen out of the way, Politico reported that immigration hardliner Miller is set to play "a more aggressive behind-the-scenes role" inside the administration. He was also seen as a key player behind the withdrawal of Vitiello's ICE nomination last week, another sign of his attempts to institute a larger shakeup to install other like-minded officials across the government.

Despite Trump's private ruminations that Nielsen was not being tough enough on immigration, her tenure at DHS was marked by her enforcement of his controversial border security agenda. Last summer, Nielsen emerged as the public face of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" border policy, which resulted in thousands of migrant children being separated from their families. The government recently said that the process of reuniting the separated families could take up to two years.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) bluntly referred to the child separation policy in a statement responding to Nielsen's ouster. "It is deeply alarming that the Trump Administration official who put children in cages is reportedly resigning because she is not extreme enough for the White House’s liking," Pelosi said.

Nielsen, 46, served as chief of staff to her DHS predecessor John Kelly in the first months of the Trump administration; when Kelly became White House chief of staff, she moved to the West Wing and became his deputy, before being appointed to lead the sprawling Department of Homeland Security herself. Kelly's departure at the end of last year meant Nielsen lost her highest-profile protector in Trump's inner circle.

Although Nielsen's letter to the president said her resignation was effective immediately, she later amended on Twitter that she would remain in office through Wednesday "to assist with an orderly transition and ensure that key DHS missions are not impacted."

According to multiple news outlets, contenders being discussed to replace her on a permanent basis include Energy Secretary Rick Perry and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

--- Nielsen has been added to the Wake Up To Politics master list of Trump administration departures. She is the 12th Cabinet official to resign since Trump took office; by the end of this week, Trump's acting DHS Secretary will join a Cabinet that also includes an acting White House chief of staff, acting Defense Secretary, acting Interior Secretary, acting Small Business Administration (SBA) chief, and acting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) administrator.

The Rundown

--- 2020 Central: "Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is quieting critics who questioned whether he could recapture the energy of his upstart 2016 campaign, surpassing his rivals in early fundraising and establishing himself as an indisputable front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination." (Associated Press)

--- Mueller report: "The escalating political battle over special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report centers on redactions — a lawyerly editing process that has angered distrustful Democrats eager to see the all evidence and conclusions from his 22-month investigation of President Trump’s conduct and Russia’s elaborate interference operation during the 2016 campaign." (Washington Post)

--- Trump tax returns: "Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told 'Fox News Sunday' in an exclusive interview that Democrats will 'never' see President Trump's tax returns, days after a House Democrat committee chairman made the unprecedented demand that the IRS provide the documents." (Fox News)

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White House schedule

--- At 11:45 a.m., President Trump participates in a credentialing ceremony for newly appointed ambassadors to Washington, D.C. At 12:30 p.m., Trump has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. At 1:45 p.m., he receives his daily intelligence briefing. At 2:30 p.m., he meets with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

--- In addition to his lunch with the president, Vice President Pence participates in a bilateral meeting with Brazillian Vice President Hamilton Mourão at 4 p.m.

Congress schedule

--- The Senate convenes at 4 p.m. today. No roll call votes are expected.

--- The House convenes at 12 p.m. today. The chamber is scheduled to vote on five pieces of legislation:

  1. H.Con.Res. 16 – Authorizing the use of the Capitol Grounds for the National Peace Officers Memorial Service and the National Honor Guard and Pipe Band Exhibition
  2. H.Con.Res. 19 – Authorizing the use of the Capitol Grounds for the Greater Washington Soap Box Derby
  3. H.R. 1331 – Local Water Protection Act
  4. H.R. 639 – To amend section 327 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to clarify that National Urban Search and Rescue Response System task forces may include Federal employees
  5. H.R. 2030 – Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act

Supreme Court schedule

--- The justices have no oral arguments or conferences scheduled for today.

*All times Eastern