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Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

A lot of people were surprised on Wednesday when word got out that President Trump would appoint Kirstjen Nielsen as the new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Those surprised included just about the entire leadership of the department, including the Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke.

Duke emailed senior DHS staff around noon on Wednesday and told them she wanted to do a conference call because General Kelly had just informed her that the president had picked a new DHS Secretary. There was silence on the call when she told them it was Nielsen.

Nielsen is not a beloved figure at DHS; just as she wasn't inside the White House. She has a very sharp-elbowed approach to doing business and doesn't command anywhere near the respect that her predecessor, Kelly, did, according to more than half a dozen sources who've worked with her.

  • Two sources familiar with the situation told me that the reaction inside DHS has been widespread shock at her appointment. There are only a few senior staff at the agency who are loyal to Nielsen. They include Elizabeth Neumann, who was Nielsen's deputy when she was chief of staff at DHS under Kelly, and Jonathan Hoffman, the assistant secretary of public affairs at the agency.

The backstory:

  • Nine months ago it would be unimaginable to senior DHS staff that Nielsen would run their agency. She wasn't even Kelly's first choice for the chief of staff job. The former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, a good friend of Kelly's, had highly recommended he retain Alan Metzler, an Obama holdover. Kelly liked the idea and submitted his name to the White House.
  • The White House explained to Kelly why Metzler was not a good pick. He accepted their advice and appointed Nielsen.
  • Three sources familiar with the situation said Nielsen was torn between whether she wanted to be Kelly's chief of staff or whether she wanted to run the DHS's powerful cyber wing, the National Protection and Programs Directorate.
  • Kelly interviewed a lot of people for the NPPD undersecretary job and ultimately submitted Nielsen's name.
  • The White House personnel office agreed with the appointment and President Trump signed off on it. But then nothing happened.Why this matters: The president never announced her nomination — leaving the crucial role, with responsibilities for protecting critical U.S. infrastructure from cyber threats, unfilled. It's one of the most critical and visible faces of cyber security for both the private sector and federal networks."
  • In the meantime, Trump appointed Kelly as White House chief of staff and he brought Nielsen over as his deputy. She had broad control of the policy process inside the West Wing.
  • Nielsen withdrew her name from the NPPD position when she was already at the White House. The widespread understanding inside DHS was that she withdrawing to be principle deputy chief of staff at the White House.

The response: Asked to comment for this story, the top DHS spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman said: "Ms Nielsen was a highly effective and well respected chief of staff to the department before and we expect that she will be a highly effective and well respected Secretary of Homeland Security if confirmed."

Go deeper

Updated 6 hours ago - World

Skripal poisoning suspects linked to Czech blast, as country expels 18 Russians

Combined images released by British police in 2018 of Alexander Petrov (L) and Ruslan Boshirov, who are suspected of carrying out an attack in the in the southern English city of Salisbury using Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, and also the2014 Czech depot explosion. Photo: Metropolitan Police via Getty Images

Czech police on Saturday connected two Russian men suspected of carrying out a poisoning attack in Salisbury, England, with a deadly ammunition depot explosion southeast of the capital, Prague, per Reuters.

Driving the news: Czech officials announced Saturday they're expelling 18 Russian diplomats they accuse of being involved in the blast in Vrbětice, AP notes. Czech police said later they're searching for two men carrying several passports — including two with the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

Indianapolis mass shooting suspect legally bought 2 guns, police say

Marion County Forensic Services vehicles are parked at the site of a mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Friday. Photo: Jeff Dean/AFP via Getty Images

The suspected gunman in this week's mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis legally purchased two "assault rifles" believed to have been used in the attack, police said late Saturday.

Of note: The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's statement that Brandon Scott Hole, 19, bought the rifles last July and September comes a day after the FBI told news outlets that a "shotgun was seized" from the suspect in March 2020 after his mother raised concerns about his mental health.

U.S. and China agree to take joint climate action

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry waves as he arrives at the Elysee Presidential Palace on March 10, 2021 in Paris. Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

Despite an increasingly tense relationship, the U.S. and China agreed Saturday to work together to tackle global climate change, including by "raising ambition" for emissions cuts during the 2020s — a key goal of the Biden administration.

Why it matters: The joint communique released Saturday evening commits the world's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases to work together to keep the most ambitious temperature target contained in the Paris Climate Agreement viable by potentially taking additional emissions cuts prior to 2030.