Will Donald Trump Fire Claire Grady? By Law, Acting Deputy Secretary Is Next in Line to Replace Nielsen at DHS

President Donald Trump may be preparing to push another senior official out of the Department of Homeland Security to allow Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, to take over as acting secretary of the agency.

The DHS shake-up began with the resignation—reportedly at the president's request—of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who had held the position since December 2017.

Trump tweeted that McAleenan would become Nielsen's acting replacement, declaring on Twitter, "I have confidence that Kevin will do a great job!" But by law, Nielsen's responsibilities must be transferred to the DHS under secretary for management, The New York Times reported.

Claire Grady has been working as under secretary since August 2017. She has also become acting deputy secretary at DHS, taking over the responsibilities of the vacant position. Before that, she worked in procurement and acquisition at the Department of Defense, as well as other positions at the DHS.

She is reportedly not willing to make life easy for the president. According to anonymous colleagues quoted by the Times, Grady said she had no intention of stepping aside to clear a path for McAleenan to take over Nielsen's job. As such, the president could be forced to push Grady out.

If Trump manages to install McAleenan, the 47-year-old will be tasked with implementing a tougher approach to border security, something Trump reportedly believed Nielsen was unable or unwilling to do. CBS News reported that Nielsen's Sunday meeting with the president was widely expected to mark the end of her DHS tenure, during which time she faced regular criticism from Trump over a perceived lack of action on immigration.

While under attack from the White House, Nielsen was also forced to defend Trump's zero tolerance border practice, which led to thousands of migrant children being separated from their parents. She became the focus of attacks from those opposing the contentious strategy, which has left tens of thousands of families split up, with officials struggling to reunite them.

Nielsen defended the family-separation policy in March, telling the House Homeland Security Committee that "we don't use cages for children." And earlier this year, Democratic Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley formally requested an FBI investigation into whether Nielsen lied to Congress under oath in December 2018, telling lawmakers the DHS "never had a policy for family separation."

But all this was not enough for Trump, who still believed Nielsen was soft on immigration. The president blamed her for a recent spike in the number of migrants arriving at the U.S. border from Central America, which Trump described as "a colossal surge."

McAleenan made his own public intervention amid the arrivals, suggesting the U.S. immigration system had reached a "breaking point." Such cataclysmic rhetoric echoes the president's bombast and will likely play well with Trump as he continues to use migration to energize his base.

Claire Grady Donald Trump fired
Claire Grady (center), DHS under secretary for management, during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee roundtable in Washington, D.C., on February 7, 2018. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call