Senate confirms Trump's pick, Kirstjen Nielsen, for Homeland Security secretary


WASHINGTON, Dec 5 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed President Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a post that opened after John Kelly became Trump's chief of staff earlier this year.

Senators voted 62-37 to confirm Kirstjen Nielsen, formerly Kelly's deputy in the White House and his chief of staff when he led DHS. She is considered a cyber security expert and previously served in the administration of Republican President George W. Bush.

Nielsen, 45, will take the reins of a department with more than 240,000 employees responsible for immigration enforcement, U.S. border and airport security, disaster response, and protecting U.S. infrastructure from cyber attacks.

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Kirstjen Nielsen testifies to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on her nomination to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Washington, U.S., November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Kirstjen Nielsen is sworn in before testifying to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on her nomination to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Washington, U.S., November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Kirstjen Nielsen testifies to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on her nomination to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Washington, U.S., November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump listens to his Secretary of Homeland Security nominee Kirstjen Nielsen in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Secretary of Homeland Security nominee Kirstjen Nielsen smiles after U.S. President Donald Trump introduced Nielsen in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
REFILE - ADDING DETAIL: White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (R) walks with Kirstjen Nielsen, the chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., before his departure with President Donald Trump to Yuma, Arizona, August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. President Donald Trump smiles as he introduces his Secretary of Homeland Security nominee Kirstjen Nielsen in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 08: Kirstjen Nielsen, Homeland Security Department secretary nominee, is introduced by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, left, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., during her Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building on November 8, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 12: White House Deputy Chief of Staff Kirstjen Nielsen speaks during a nomination announcement at the East Room of the White House October 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump has nominated Nielsen to be the next homeland security secretary, the position that has left vacant by Chief of Staff John Kelly. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. secretary of Homeland Security nominee, listens to an introduction from U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Trump�announced his nomination of Nielsen, a top aide to White House Chief of Staff�John Kelly, to succeed him as secretary of Homeland Security. Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Kirstjen Nielsen listens as US President Donald Trump nominates her as next US Secretary of Homeland Security in the East Room of the White House October 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 12: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes the hand of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Kirstjen Nielsen during a nomination announcement at the East Room of the White House October 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump has nominated Nielsen to be the next homeland security secretary, the position that has left vacant by Chief of Staff John Kelly. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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The agency is at the center of Trump's efforts to enact broad changes to the U.S. immigration system.

Elaine Duke, a civil servant and the DHS deputy secretary, had been serving as acting secretary since Kelly's departure for the White House in July.

In the last five months she ha been responsible for several controversial DHS decisions, including the end of temporary protected status for thousands of immigrants living in the United States. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a DHS entity, came under criticism for its response to the humanitarian disaster wrought by Hurricane Maria when it struck Puerto Rico in September.

In a statement, Duke said she looked forward to working as Nielsen's deputy, and said Nielsen has "a deep understanding of the issues facing the Department."

Eleven Democrats voted with nearly all Republicans to confirm Nielsen. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander did not vote, and no Republicans voted against her confirmation.

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican, said in a statement that Nielsen would bring "the expertise and leadership needed to successfully run the Department."

Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson said in a statement that Nielsen had not yet shown "she has the ability to lead a workforce of 240,000 while keeping the country safe and secure," and said DHS had so far been used as a "political tool of the White House." (Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Rick Cowan in Washington Editing by Sandra Maler)

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