WaPo: Acting DHS Chief To Resign After WH Pressured Her On ‘Protected Status’

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Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke told the White House she would resign once her successor is nominated, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

The reported resignation would come after White House chief of staff John Kelly and others in the Trump administration pressured Duke to end a protected status designation for tens of thousands of otherwise undocumented Hondurans living in the United States, challenging her own decision, according to the Post.

The Post, citing unnamed current and former administration officials, reported that Duke planned to resign rather than serve as deputy DHS secretary. A DHS spokesperson told TPM Thursday that “Acting Secretary Duke is committed to continuing her work at DHS.”

The report detailed Duke chafing against pressure from the White House to end TPS — Temporary Protected Status, a protection from deportation — for 57,000 Hondurans who came to the United States after Hurricane Mitch hit their home country in 1998.

Honduran and Nicaraguan TPS holders’ status had to be decided by Monday. Since the foreign nationals received the protection, each successive homeland security secretary has renewed their status every 18 months. Hundreds of thousands of people from various countries are protected from deportation by TPS.

Duke announced Monday that she would not renew TPS for the 2,500 Nicaraguans living in the United States who currently hold the status, allowing for a 12-month grace period, but that she would allow for a six-month delay to determine the status of Honduran TPS recipients, despite reported pressure from White House chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser Tom Bossert. The Post reported:

As DHS officials prepared to make that announcement, Kelly made an urgent call from Japan, where he was traveling with President Trump. He was “irritated,” administration officials said, and didn’t want his handpicked nominee for DHS Secretary, Kirstjen M. Nielsen, to face potentially uncomfortable questions about TPS during her confirmation hearing.

“He was persistent, telling her he didn’t want to kick the can down the road, and that it could hurt [Nielsen’s] nomination,” said one administration official.

Duke held her ground, the official said. “She was angry. To get a call like that from Asia, after she’d already made the decision, was a slap in the face.”

One unnamed former administration official with knowledge of the call said “they put massive pressure on her,” the Post reported.

“As with many issues, there were a variety of views inside the administration on TPS,” acting DHS press secretary Tyler Houlton told TPM. “It is perfectly normal for members of the White House team to weigh in on major decisions. The Acting Secretary took input from the White House and other sources on the path forward for TPS and made her decision based on the law.”

“As former Secretary Kelly had made a major TPS decision in May, Acting Secretary Duke called him to discuss his TPS decision making process,” he continued. “During that call, now Chief of Staff Kelly reminded her that the TPS decision was hers alone to make as the Acting Secretary. Regarding TPS, the Acting Secretary believes that the current law is clear and DHS will enforce it. Only Congress can legislate a permanent solution and provide those living in a perpetually temporary status with a certain future.”

“Acting Secretary Duke is committed to continuing her work at DHS,” Houlton’s statement concluded. “Just yesterday she hosted the Secretary’s Annual Award Ceremony to recognize many of the remarkable men and women at DHS who protect our country and whom she respects so greatly.”

The White House did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.

This post has been updated.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously assistant editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.
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