As if Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wasn't already having problems, Donald Trump has effectively made her the face of his deeply controversial family-separation policy, which she appears to have already lied about. Yesterday, in the White House press briefing room, the embattled DHS chief did little to restore her failing credibility.
For example, early on in her appearance, Nielsen insisted, "Congress and the courts created this problem and Congress alone can fix it." As is painfully obvious to everyone involved in the debate, this is plainly false: the president ordered this policy and he can undo it at any time. For now, Trump simply chooses not to.
Later, she argued, "The kids are being used by pawns by the smugglers and the traffickers. Again, let's just pause to think about this statistic: 314 percent increase in adults showing up with kids that are not a family unit. Those are traffickers, those are smugglers and that is MS-13, those are criminals, those are abusers." A Washington Post analysis explained how wildly misleading her argument was.
But perhaps the most important exchange from the briefing was this back and forth between a reporter and the cabinet secretary:
Q: Are you intending for this to play out as it is playing out? Are you intending for parents to be separated from children? Are you intending to send a message?NIELSEN: I find that offensive. No. Because why would I ever create a policy that purposely does that?Q: Perhaps as a deterrence?NIELSEN: No.
And this gets to one of the more glaring political problems facing this White House: Trump and his team can't seem to keep their stories straight.
On the one hand, the Homeland Security secretary finds it "offensive" to even be asked whether the administration is trying to deter border crossings by separating children from their parents. On the other hand, Nielsen's colleagues in the administration are on record saying the exact opposite.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who was also Nielsen's predecessor at DHS, said last year he was considering -- not because of a law, but as part of a deliberate choice -- separating children from their families "in order to deter" illegal border crossings. Last month, Kelly, a close Nielsen ally, told NPR, "[A] big name of the game is deterrence. [Family separation] could be a tough deterrent -- would be a tough deterrent."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, meanwhile, an ardent proponent of the family-separation policy, has made similar comments.
What we're left with is a Homeland Security secretary who was asked about her own administration's rationale, and who rejected the question as "offensive."
If Nielsen is offended by the Trump White House's perspective, maybe she's in the wrong job?
Postscript: Some congressional Democrats yesterday argued that Nielsen is, in fact, in the wrong job. Among those calling for her resignation are House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Kamala Harris, and Sen. Mazie Hirono.