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Nielsen previously served at the Department of Homeland Security as the chief of staff for John Kelly before he left to become the White House chief of staff. She followed him to the White House, where she has worked as an assistant to the president and the principal deputy chief of staff since early September.
“Ms. Nielsen has extensive professional experience in the areas of homeland security policy and strategy, cybersecurity, critical infrastructure, and emergency management,” read a statement from the White House, which also noted that “she is the first nominee for this position to have previously worked within the Department of Homeland Security.”
According to a senior administration official, Nielsen knows the department across the board from her time as chief of staff under Kelly and won’t need much time to adjust to the new position.
Kelly served as DHS secretary for just over six months before the resignation of White House chief of staff Reince Priebus in late July. White House aides familiar with Nielsen’s work told ABC News that she was viewed as one of Kelly’s enforcers — someone who brought structure to the day-to-day operations at the White House, though some were frustrated by her direct style and role in limiting access to meetings and the Oval Office.
After Kelly’s move, Elaine Duke was named acting DHS secretary and has coordinated the department’s efforts in the wake of three major hurricanes, the largest mass shooting in modern American history and an ongoing debate over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.
Duke was criticized in September when she described Hurricane Maria relief efforts in Puerto Rico — where a large majority of the…