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Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks as President Donald Trump holds a roundtable discussion with law enforcement officials. Photo: MANDEL NGAN / AFP / Getty Images

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has become Trump’s immigration scapegoat — which generates friction between the president and his chief of staff, John Kelly, who is extremely close with her and believes his criticism of her is unwarranted and misplaced.

The bottom line: From when Nielsen was first nominated as secretary of homeland security, Trump had misgivings. I’ve learned that Trump even threatened to pull Nielsen’s nomination in a heated Oval Office meeting the week after she was nominated. Trump had been watching several Fox News personalities, including Ann Coulter, rip Nielsen as soft on the border. And as the Washington Post first reported, Trump claimed not to have known that Nielsen worked for George W. Bush, who he views as worse than most Democrats.

Kelly was standing up in the Oval and left the room visibly agitated, according to sources with direct knowledge. As Kelly was walking out he said, “Maybe I should just quit then.” Kelly stood by Nielsen, she got the job, and it doesn’t seem to be in jeopardy.  

Since then, she’s taken on an unforgiving role: having to shoot down the president’s frequently unvetted immigration enforcement ideas (including a recent suggestion to send active duty military — not simply National Guard — to the border.) A senior administration source said some of Trump’s unvetted ideas are coming from people outside the White House, including Fox News personalities. The source added that Nielsen fully supports the president on the wall and on closing loopholes, but often had to be “Ms. No.” Trump was being fed legally unvetted ideas that would look flashy on TV but are of dubious operational value.  

Kelly has been trying to direct Trump’s ire away from Nielsen and toward Congress, according to sources with direct knowledge.

The result: Trump lashes out at Nielsen and blames her — as well as Congress — for the uptick in illegal crossings of the southern border. There’s no empirical reason to think Nielsen has done anything to cause more illegal immigration — violence in Mexico is a likely culprit and the administration has argued that congressional inaction is to blame as smugglers and others feel emboldened after an initial "Trump effect." But Trump sees the bad numbers and recalls that the influx of illegal immigrants was going down when Kelly ran DHS.

What’s next: The administration is putting together a legislation package to see to address the loopholes in the system and the failures at the southern border.  

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.