WASHINGTON — Elaine C. Duke, then President Trump’s performing secretary of homeland safety, arrived on the Roosevelt Room, down the corridor from
WASHINGTON — Elaine C. Duke, then President Trump’s performing secretary of homeland safety, arrived on the Roosevelt Room, down the corridor from the Oval Workplace, on a steamy August afternoon in 2017 anticipating a dialogue about President Trump’s pledge to terminate DACA, the Obama-era protections for younger immigrants. As a substitute, she mentioned, it was “an ambush.”
“The room was stacked,” she recalled. Stephen Miller, the architect of the president’s assault on immigration, Legal professional Common Jeff Classes and different White Home officers demanded that she signal a memo ending this system, which that they had already concluded was unlawful. She didn’t disagree, however she chafed at being minimize out of the actual decision-making.
“President Trump believes that he can’t belief,” Ms. Duke, now a advisor, mentioned in a wide-ranging interview concerning the 14 months she spent working for him and the results of the president’s suspicion of what he calls the “deep state” in authorities. “That has affected his capacity to get counsel from numerous teams of individuals.”
A veteran of practically 30 years on the Departments of Homeland Safety and Protection, Ms. Duke was the deputy secretary of homeland safety in the summertime of 2017 when John F. Kelly, Mr. Trump’s first secretary, left to change into White Home chief of workers. Ms. Duke served within the prime job on the division till late 2017, when Kirstjen Nielsen was confirmed as Mr. Kelly’s everlasting successor.
A lifelong Republican who describes herself as “a child from the Cleveland, Ohio, space,” Ms. Duke mentioned she supported harder enforcement of immigration legal guidelines, so long as it was tempered by a way of humanity that she tried to exhibit when she volunteered to show naturalization courses. However she described an administration that’s typically pushed by ideology as a substitute of deliberation, values politics over coverage and is dominated by a president who embraces “hate-filled, indignant and divisive” language.
“We get distracted by slogans, by perhaps phrases we heard just like the president allegedly saying ‘Haiti is a shithole,’” Ms. Duke mentioned from her house overlooking the Occoquan River about 25 minutes south of Washington. “So we get solely spun up in that, after which we by no means get to the problem.
Ms. Duke is the newest in a collection of senior officers who’ve gone public to explain — typically in vivid, behind-the-scenes element — their discomfort and generally shock on the internal workings of the Trump presidency. Like former Protection Secretary Jim Mattis, she chooses her phrases rigorously. And like John R. Bolton, the previous nationwide safety adviser who printed a ebook titled “The Room The place It Occurred,” Ms. Duke says she just isn’t able to decide to voting for Mr. Trump once more.
“That’s a extremely laborious query,” she mentioned. “However given the alternatives, I don’t know but.”
White Home officers have lengthy expressed displeasure with Ms. Duke’s brief tenure because the chief of homeland safety, describing her as unwilling to be a staff participant and immune to the president’s agenda.
Requested about Ms. Duke’s feedback, Judd Deere, a White Home spokesman mentioned that Mr. Trump “has saved his promise to the American individuals to scale back unlawful immigration, safe the border, decrease the crime fee and preserve regulation and order.”
“He has by no means wavered in his highest obligation to the American individuals: their security and safety,” Mr. Deere added.
Ms. Duke served within the Trump administration throughout a key interval, simply as a wave of hurricanes hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. And he or she was there as Mr. Trump and Mr. Miller made their earliest strikes towards immigrants — imposing a journey ban on principally Muslim international locations; in search of to sharply restrict entry by refugees; on the lookout for methods to dam asylum seekers; and ordering an finish to DACA, or the Deferred Motion for Childhood Arrivals program.
She mentioned she supported the president’s efforts to tighten immigration safety. However the president’s “America First” philosophy has veered towards “America Solely,” she mentioned.
She mentioned the president and Mr. Miller had been proper about lax immigration legal guidelines that wanted to be fastened, however she mentioned the coverage of separating households alongside the border — which her successor authorized months after she left — was mentioned, and rejected, whereas she was performing secretary.
“I feel that we now have the room to assist individuals,” she mentioned. “And one of many methods we now have the room to assist individuals is thru our immigration system.”
Considered one of her fondest recollections, she mentioned, was serving to cross out water to homeless individuals within the metropolis of Ponce on Puerto Rico’s southern coast after Hurricane Maria, the devastating storm that struck there within the late summer time of 2017. However the response to the storm by the president and his prime aides was additionally a supply of disappointment.
She mentioned that as Hurricane Maria approached Puerto Rico and Ms. Duke argued for an emergency declaration earlier than its landfall, Mick Mulvaney, then the president’s funds director, resisted.
“Stop being so emotional, Elaine, it’s not concerning the individuals, it’s concerning the cash,” she mentioned Mr. Mulvaney instructed her. Requested concerning the remark, Mr. Mulvaney mentioned on Friday: “I by no means made such a comment. My expertise with the performing director was that she hardly ever received something proper at D.H.S. No less than she’s constant.”
The subsequent day, Ms. Duke mentioned she was happy when the president himself expressed concern concerning the individuals of Puerto Rico. However she mentioned she grew annoyed as Mr. Trump later traded indignant tweets with the island’s politicians.
“My thought course of for each side is all of the damaging power is a distraction,” she mentioned.
Amongst her most searing moments through the response to the hurricanes got here when she heard Mr. Trump elevate the opportunity of “divesting” or “promoting” Puerto Rico because the island struggled to recuperate.
“The president’s preliminary concepts had been extra of as a businessman, you recognize,” she recalled. “Can we outsource the electrical energy? Can we are able to we promote the island? You recognize, or divest of that asset?”
She mentioned the concept was by no means severely thought of or mentioned after that assembly.
Ms. Duke, a soft-spoken individual with little expertise within the uncooked political fight in Washington, mentioned that she typically discovered herself on the surface of a core group of White Home advisers though she was a member of the president’s cupboard.
“There’s a singular view that energy is imply,” she mentioned, “that any form of capacity to collaborate, or not be indignant is a weak spot.”
Ms. Duke recalled that Melania Trump, the primary woman, was criticized after being photographed sporting excessive heels as she accompanied her husband to tour elements of flood-ravaged Texas.
“We had been speaking,” Ms. Duke mentioned, “and she or he mentioned, ‘It’s the White Home, and I’ll deal with it with the respect and dignity it deserves and I’ll gown accordingly.’ And I believed that was lovely.”
Ms. Duke contrasted the primary woman’s method that day with Mr. Trump’s frequent use of harsh speak in individual and on Twitter.
“The workplace of the president,” she mentioned, “ought to have a sure dignity to it that I feel is essential.”
Her public feedback — her first since leaving the administration two years in the past — got here simply days after the Supreme Court docket invalidated the president’s resolution in 2017 to terminate the DACA program, handing Mr. Trump certainly one of his most humiliating authorized defeats on a promise on the core of his political id.
Ms. Duke’s most lasting legacy is more likely to be the memo she signed — below stress — to finish that program. Her resolution to not cite any particular coverage causes was on the coronary heart of the Supreme Court docket’s ruling, which mentioned the Trump administration had did not substantively contemplate the implications of terminating this system’s protections and advantages.
Ms. Duke mentioned she didn’t embody coverage causes within the memo as a result of she didn’t agree with the concepts being pushed by Mr. Miller and Mr. Classes: that DACA amounted to an undeserved amnesty and that it will encourage new waves of unlawful immigration.
She mentioned she nonetheless agreed that DACA “isn’t a authorized program,” however hoped that Republicans and Democrats in Congress would ultimately discover a option to enable the undocumented immigrants lined by this system to dwell and work completely in the USA.
“What was lacking for me is actually that means of discussing it,” she mentioned. “It’s a grave resolution not solely from a authorized standpoint however from the impact, it can have on not simply 700,000 individuals however 700,000 individuals plus, their households.”