Only one word applies to what President Donald Trump has been doing to the Department of Homeland Security: Purge.
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen: Asked to resign. Acting Deputy Secretary Claire Grady: Resigned. Secret Service Director Randolph D. Alles: Gone. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting chief Ronald Vitiello: Nomination withdrawn.
Rumors swirl that more departures are imminent — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services chief L. Francis Cissna and Homeland Security General Counsel John M. Mitnick are reportedly on borrowed time.
Even normally steadfast allies of the president are sounding the alarm about the unprecedented upheaval at the massive department that oversees nearly every aspect of domestic security and emergency response, from the Transportation Security Administration and Coast Guard to the U.S. Secret Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The purge appears to be one more Trumpian temper tantrum over a spike in the number of illegal border crossings and asylum-seekers to levels not seen in more than a decade. The president might now realize that demonstrating progress on immigration, his signature issue, won’t be easy as the 2020 election draws nearer.
But the resulting chaos is unnerving other Republican leaders. Many of them don’t fully share Trump’s hard-line attitude toward immigration and don’t think that it is a winning issue for 2020. They also are wary of the growing influence of controversial presidential adviser Stephen Miller, who has been embraced by white nationalists as one of their own.
“It’s a mess,” U.S. Sen. Jon Cornyn told Politico. The Republican should know as his state of Texas has the longest border with Mexico. “Strikes me as just a frustration of not being able to solve a problem.”
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, urged Trump not to fire any more leaders at DHS. “He’s pulling the rug out from the very people that are trying to help him accomplish his goal,” he told The Washington Post.
Trump’s actions are concerning — especially amid multiple reports that his frustrations are the result of chafing at legal constraints he neither understands nor feels the need to abide by.
Congress normally would serve as the check on a president’s authoritarian purge. Democrats would do so, but Republicans have yet to do anything more than share sound bites. The nation’s domestic-security apparatus is too important to be flung into turmoil by a presidential temper tantrum.