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Republicans express concern about White House agenda after Nielsen’s departure

Chuck Grassley says it would be difficult for Stephen Miller "to demonstrate he’s accomplished anything for the president."

Stephen Miller in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on January 30, 2017. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Stephen Miller in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on January 30, 2017. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Lawmakers from both parties are unhappy about President Donald Trump’s dismissal of former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen — but for very different reasons.

Since Nielsen’s resignation was announced on Sunday, numerous Democrats have noted the former secretary will likely be remembered for the president’s family separation policy, which was implemented under her watch.

“Nielsen will always be known as the leader of the most aggressive & inhumane deportation agendas in our nation’s history,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) tweeted. “We will never forget that she separated families & treated babies like animals.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) told CNN that Trump’s former DHS chief “will be known for implementing a cruel policy of forcibly separating parents and children rather than strengthening our border” on Monday.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) took things a step further, bemoaning the fact that it took as long as it did for Nielsen to be forced out. “I only wish she’d been fired long ago, before she ever had a chance to resign,” Warren tweeted.

By contrast, most Republicans on Capitol Hill were sorry to see Nielsen go.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) praised Trump’s outgoing DHS head for her “experienced and steady leadership” on Monday, thanking her for her “tireless service to the administration.”

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“From natural disasters to cybersecurity threats, the Department of Homeland Security protects Americans on countless fronts — including, of course, the front lines of the security and humanitarian crisis on our southern border. Secretary Nielsen’s expertise and skilled management served the Department and the nation well. I thank her for her service,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) echoed that sentiment, telling Politico on Monday that Nielsen “was doing a fantastic job.”

“I would love to see some continuity. I think that’s important,” she added.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also tweeted that Nielsen “should be very proud of the service she rendered to President Trump and our nation as a whole.”

Despite the praise, numerous Republicans have expressed concern about the president’s recent personnel changes, which include a purge at Homeland Security and the decision last week to withdraw the nomination of Ron Vitiello, his pick to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Trump also fired his Secret Service director, Randolph “Tex” Alles, on Monday.

Reports emerged over the weekend that White House senior adviser Stephen Miller was behind the moves, and is also targeting the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director and DHS general counsel as he assumes even more control over the president’s hardline immigration policies.

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Already, Republicans have decried the idea. “One hard-liner is not going to dictate the outcome of this,” claimed Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) of Miller’s influence on GOP policy.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) took an even harsher stance on the prospect of a Miller-run White House agenda. “I think it would be hard for him to demonstrate he’s accomplished anything for the president,” Grassley said when asked about Miller on Monday. “It’s pretty hard to elaborate on it when there [haven’t] been any accomplishments.”

Democrats have expressed similar unease regarding how Nielsen’s ouster could impact a White House that has already engaged in unprecedented mistreatment of immigrants.

In a statement Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said it was “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.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a 2020 contender, told MSNBC on Monday that the administration’s decisions and Miller and Trump’s crackdown were already having real-life consequences. “It’s not just about whoever was or will be the next Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security,” she said. “This is about an administration that has failed to protect the morals and the values of our country […].”

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was heavily criticized on Monday after she referred to Miller — whose uncle once called him an “immigration hypocrite” whose policies would have “wiped out” his own family — as a “white nationalist” on Twitter.

“The fact that he still has influence on policy and political appointments is an outrage,” Omar tweeted.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, quickly claimed Omar’s tweet was anti-Semitic because Miller is Jewish. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), however, noted that Omar was not the first Democrat to call Trump’s senior adviser a “white nationalist.”

“Last year I called Stephen Miller a white nationalist, but @RepLeeZeldin & @DonaldJTrumpJr never accused me of anti-Semitism,” Pocan tweeted. “Rather than attacking @IlhanMN, why won’t they stand up to white nationalism & President Trump’s support for ‘very fine people’?”

Pocan was referring to Trump’s comments in August 2017, in which he blamed the “alt-left” for inciting violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in a counter-protester’s death. During his remarks, Trump notoriously praised the white nationalists as “very fine people.”

Miller never publicly condemned Trump’s remarks from that speech. As many have since pointed out, he himself has a history of repeating white nationalist talking points on immigrants and has reportedly celebrated the images of migrant families being forcibly separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.