Brandi Carlile Drops Out of Powerful Woman Summit in Protest of Kirstjen Nielsen

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by Katie Herzog

Brandi Carlile will not be seen with Kirstjen Nielsen.

Brandi Carlile will not be seen with the kid-caging former head of Homeland Security. ALBERTO E. RODRIGUEZ / GETTY IMAGES

Seattle area Grammy-winner Brandi Carlile has announced that she will be dropping out of Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women conference over the inclusion of former Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Carlile said, “Respectfully, I absolutely cannot support Kirstjen Nielsen having a voice among the most powerful and inspiring women in America. Her access to power is righteously over. I forgive her. I mean no disrespect. I wish her well and hope that she comes to understand the error in her part of this shameful policy.”

Nielsen resigned from her position in April. According to the New York Times, her decision came after Trump asked Nielsen to stop accepting asylum seekers and close entry points on along the border, two positions she apparently found “ineffective and inappropriate.” Still, as Homeland Secretary, Nielsen oversaw the Trump administration’s policy of separating parents and children accused of entering the U.S. unlawfully from the southern border. She also lied about it: In June 2018, Nielsen tweeted, “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”

This, as we now know, wasn’t true: The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy separated thousands of children from their parents, and even after Trump signed an executive order ending family separations, they continued: In July 2019, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform reported that over 700 children have been separated from their parents since the policy was supposed to have ended. And, of course, the administration had no plan to actually reunite these children with their parents, many of whom had been deported without them. Nielsen was an integral part of this process.

Filmmaker Dream Hampton also pulled out of the summit over Nielsen’s inclusion, as did, possibly, Hillary Clinton. (Clinton cited a scheduling conflict, but Slate claims that “a person close to Clinton’s decision-making process told Slate that she had decided to drop out after hearing that Nielsen was also on the docket.”)

The summit, which began on Monday, is only open to Most Powerful Women members, an organization with an annual membership fee of $13,500. Nielsen, according to HuffPo, is scheduled to be interviewed by PBS NewsHour’s Anna Nawaz in a session titled “The Hard Questions.” The description reads: “An interview with the former Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen about the horror of family separation, border security, and more.”

When asked about Nielson’s inclusion by HuffPo, a spokesperson for Fortune said, “We believe that the most powerful women in business, who also happen to be some of the most powerful women in the world, have strong views about how the U.S. Administration has handled its immigration policy… We sought out an opportunity to bring the woman who was effectively responsible for that policy to ask her tough questions publicly and on stage about that policy. We brought in Amna Nawaz from PBS NewsHour to do the interview with the clear understanding that this would be a no-holds-barred interview, and that there would be an opportunity for our MPW members to ask questions, as well. That’s how we practice live journalism.”

Plenty of people besides Brandi Carlile and the other drop-outs, however, disagree with this decision: An online petition calling for Nielsen’s disinvitation from the conference has received over 50,000 signatures. But for those interested in what she has to say for herself, the event will be livestreamed at 11:35 PDT Tuesday, no $13,500 fee required.

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