Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen may have been pushed out of her job by the president over the weekend. But a coalition of progressive groups now want to ensure that she finds no comfy landing in her career after Trump.
The groups are readying a plan to shame any major news networks or large corporation that hires the soon-to-be former DHS Secretary, contending that her involvement in the Trump administration’s family separation policy inherently disqualifies her from a plum gig in the private sector.
“If a corporation or university or speaking agency is going to bring her on board, there will be a significant reputational risk associated with that decision,” Karl Frisch, a spokesperson for the liberal advocacy group Restore Public Trust told The Daily Beast. “Ultimately her great moral failing irreparably harmed and traumatized thousands of families seeking help in the United States. She facilitated that, she helped plan it, she helped execute it and she defended it.”
The decision to go after Nielsen—as well as other administration officials—even after her tenure has ended shows not only how detested a figure she became among progressives, but also the degree to which political advocacy now includes campaigns to influence private sector behavior. Nielsen knows this all too well. In June 2018, she was jeered by protesters as she ate at a Washington, D.C.-based Mexican restaurant.
Prior to Nielsen’s resignation, Restore Public Trust and nearly 40 immigration and progressive advocacy groups had formed a coalition to implore corporate leaders to avoid hiring a slew of Trump officials involved in implementing the family separation policy including Nielsen, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Over the weekend, the group sent a letter to Fortune 500 CEOs listing all the names of the individuals they hoped would be blacklisted from hiring. That was followed by an ad bearing a similar message in The New York Times on Sunday, featuring a red Make America Great Again hat with the words “Put Kids In Cages.”
“Any senior administration official who leaves and thinks that they can cash in after being a part of this horrific policy has another thing coming in,” Frisch said. “We are sounding the alarm now.”
The coalition hopes that by drawing continued attention to the family separation policy and those who helped implement it, they can mobilize employees of corporations and potentially major news networks to refuse to hire those individuals most closely associated with the policy.
It’s a strategy born from the realization that even those government officials associated with deeply controversial policies often get plum gigs once they enter the private sector. It’s also an idea that is built on some past successes. Last summer, employees of Salesforce wrote a letter to the company’s CEO Marc Benioff urging him to reconsider company ties with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He declined to do so but said that their technology was not being used for family separation.
There was a similar outcry when Sarah Isgur, the former top communications aide for Sessions, was hired as a politics editor at CNN. That led to assurances from the network that she would have no involvement in actual politics coverage, town halls with Democratic presidential candidates, or the debate CNN is hosting this summer. Isgur ultimately said that she would be taking a role as political analyst instead.
Media monitors like Sleeping Giants, who led campaigns against advertisers on Tucker Carlson’s primetime Fox News show, are also keeping a close watch on Nielsen’s possible media bookings or potential signings as a contributor. The organization told The Daily Beast that they will observe the unfolding situation and develop an official plan should more news develop. And American Oversight, a progressive investigative organization, said it would continue its research into Nielsen’s role in the president’s family separation policy even though she was no longer part of the administration.
While some groups will remain focused on Nielsen even as she leaves the public sector, other organizations said their efforts will shift to the remainder of DHS and the nominee to replace her. An official with CREDO, a mobile advocacy group, said it was poised to launch an aggressive pushback on the person chosen to fill Nielsen’s role, should the president choose someone from the list of names he’s rumored to be considering.
“The names being floated so far are troubling -- the next person to take this job needs to unequivocally denounce Trump's family separation policy,” Josh Nelson, co-director of CREDO told The Daily Beast.
That has also been an early stipulation of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, many of whom had called for Nielsen’s resignation before this weekend.
“I will not support a nominee who does not forcefully and unequivocally denounce this administration’s policy of separating families at the border,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said on Monday. “The next Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security must be committed to reuniting families and protecting the human rights of those seeking asylum. Cruelty is not a substitute for a smart, lawful, and humane immigration policy. The American people deserve better.”