(CNN) — Kirstjen Nielsen, John Kelly’s principal deputy chief of staff, is expected to be named secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, according to a source close to Kelly, an administration official and a GOP source close to the White House.
Sources caution, however, that President Donald Trump has not made a final decision and could change his mind. The White House officially declined to comment and Nielsen has not responded to a request for comment.
“The decision wouldn’t have been made without the chief of staff’s endorsement,” a source close to Kelly said, referring to his involvement.
This source adds that Nielsen will be the first person to be nominated who used to work in the department.
“She would have far more knowledge than any secretary entering that job,” the source said, adding that she has built relationships with every member of the Cabinet and all the senior DHS staffers, travels with the President, and is in every meeting that Kelly attends.
“The President has confidence in her,” the source added.
A former DHS official and immigration advocate told CNN that the appointment shows Kelly’s power at the White House.
“I’d say this is very clear evidence that Kelly has more influence than Stephen Miller and wants a serious person at DHS. Other names being thrown around were (Kansas Secretary of State) Kris Kobach and (Pennsylvania Republican Rep.) Lou Barletta, who are Miller allies but got shut out,” the source told CNN.
Another source within the Republican Party characterized the pick as “bizarre,” telling CNN that Nielsen is largely unknown in Washington besides being a loyal deputy to Kelly.
News of Nielsen’s expected selection was first reported by Politico.
Nielsen previously worked as Kelly’s chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security and then followed him into the White House when he replaced Reince Priebus as Trump’s White House chief of staff at the end of July. However, this was not her first time working in the White House, as she previously served in President George W. Bush’s administration as the special assistant for prevention, preparedness and response on the Homeland Security Council.
Before being named DHS chief of staff in January, Nielsen was the president of Sunesis Consulting, a risk and security management consulting firm.
Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke was one of several candidates mentioned for the top DHS job along with Kobach, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and Thomas Homan, the acting director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House homeland security committee, was also on the short list, sources previously told CNN.
But Trump’s public criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other episodes of White House chaos gave McCaul “pause,” according to a source.
The DHS has had its hands full between dealing with security efforts following the string of hurricanes to hit the country and a recent administration decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Duke found herself in the middle of heavy criticism in late September after she made remarks about Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, saying the government’s response was “a good news story.”