A Wednesday hearing for President Donald J. Trump’s nominee for Department of Homeland Security secretary, which should have been focused on her credentials and views on national security, was hijacked by two Democratic senators who wanted to discuss the cause of climate change.
Trump announced Kirstjen Nielsen, the current White House principal deputy chief of staff, as his pick to fill the vacant leadership role at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
A former cybersecurity expert, Nielsen is a favorite staffer of former DHS secretary John F. Kelly, who is now the chief of staff for the president.
Nielsen has worked for the DHS before, including in the department’s Transportation Security Administration and on former Republican president George W. Bush’s White House Homeland Security Council.
“I share [the] president’s profound commitment to [the] security of our country,” she said at a brief White House ceremony. “Truly, there is nothing more valuable than to feel secure in your homeland.”
She was widely hailed as a “low-drama pick,” but Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) found something controversial to grill her over.
Carper wanted to know if Nielsen thought human activity was to blame for global warming.
“I do absolutely believe that the climate is changing. I can’t unequivocally state it’s only caused by humans,” Nielsen said.
“That’s not my question,” Carper interjected.
“There are many … many contributions,” Nielsen replied.
Carper interrupted again, asking, “My question was do you believe that it’s primarily caused by human beings?”
“I believe that climate change exists, I’m not prepared to determine causation,” Nielsen wisely responded.
“Really? Why not?” Carper asked. “Ninety-eight percent of our scientists say this is a problem. For you to sit there and say, ‘Well, it’s not really clear,’ — something’s happening here and I think it is clear.”
Hassan brought up climate change again later in the hearing, saying she was not satisfied with Nielsen’s response to Carper’s questions.
“I just wanted to start by expressing my concern to one of Senator Carper’s questions about climate change,” Hassan said. “When you are in charge of our country’s security – when you are in charge of our response to natural disasters – you need to be able to rely on science and technology, and consider and assess the science and technology that you are being advised with objectively and put it well before politics. And what I heard in your answer was politics before science.”
“If you are willing to dodge a question when 99 percent of the world’s scientists agree that the primary cause of climate change is human activity, that concerns me about your qualifications to take on this role,” Hassan added.
Nielsen said she was unable to answer Carper’s question because she was cut off when time to answer his inquiries ended.
“What I would have said is that not only do I think that the climate is changing, but I think that it is vital that we in our response, change our modeling, our preparedness, and responses,” Nielsen said.
“But if you are unwilling to acknowledge that the primary cause of it is human behavior, then you are not going to be able to change the modeling appropriately,” Hassan finished.
You may watch the exchange in the video below. Carper begins questioning Nielsen about climate at minute-mark 1:36:22. Hassan initiates her follow-up questioning about climate change at marker 2:03:44.
— Rob Portman (@senrobportman) November 8, 2017